Several weeks ago, I worked on a draft of the blog post below. At LOPE, we had come to the decision that it was time to focus more on horsemanship education in 2012 — as part of our mission to help ex-racehorses find new homes and careers.
When I wrote the post, I envisioned a gradual process over the next several months — which LOPE would steadily shift its emphasis to education while sharing what we were learning.
Little did I know that nature had something else in mind. On January 25, a freak flash flood hit the LOPE Ranch after 7-9 inches of rain fell in three hours. Our facility sustained serious damage and the LOPE horses were moved to foster homes for their safety. Huge thanks to Sheila at Graymar Farm, Bill and Carol Matthews and Hy Court Farm for fostering the LOPE horses.
Because the LOPE facility has extensive damage from the flood, it wouldn't be appropriate to take in many new horses until the ranch is fully repaired. LOPE will continue to help place horses via our website, social media and other outreach options — but our usual adoption horse intakes will be reduced at this time.
So, LOPE will be taking this time to move forward more quickly on our horsemanship education program. We will be working closely with Hy Court Farm and the LOPE foster horses there. And I hope to see many success stories from those efforts — as the horses and I learn how to prepare them more fully for new careers after racing.
Please read more below:
LOPE and Horsemanship Education
LOPE was founded in 2003. Through the years, we have experimented with many different ways to help ex-racehorses find homes. The first year, we only did the website listing service — as we didn’t yet have the means or facility to take in horses at that time.
In 2004, we opened the adoption ranch — and started working directly with all types of ex-racehorses. Some years, we took in mostly rehabilitation horses — so that they could have the time to rest and heal their injuries here. Other times, we’ve had a variety of sound horses (from unstarted 2 year-olds to veteran champions retiring after many years of racing).
As we look back over the past nine years, one consistent theme has emerged. The more that we learn about horsemanship (and share what we have learned), the faster the horses find homes. A better-educated horse has more of a chance to excel at a second career — and as we become better students of horsemanship, we can help more horses.
At LOPE, we have come to believe that horsemanship and education are the keys to finding ex-racehorses new homes and careers. Too often people assume ex-racehorses are high strung, crazy or unsuitable for post-track careers — because they don’t understand the racehorse’s track training as well as his sensitive and willing nature.
Over the last few years, we’ve steadily learned more about horsemanship technique, equine biomechanics and horse psychology. Hy Court Farm has been LOPE’s horsemanship sponsor since 2008 and has helped us discover such terrific teachers as Janet Manley, Tom Curtin, Buck Brannaman, Ginger Gaffney, Anja Beran and Linda Hoover. These teachers hail from many disciplines of riding (from jumping to dressage to western). Yet at the core, they all stress the same principles — the foundation work that is the most important to the horse’s development and well-being (whether as a pleasure riding mount or as a competitive performer in any discipline).
With this style of horsemanship, the kind of tack on the horse is less important than how he feels about himself, his work and his rider. The horsemanship foundation work is fun and beneficial to every kind of horse and rider — but especially to the ex-racehorses (with their negative reputations) and to the riders who own and love them.
Many of you know from my book, Beyond The Homestretch, that I didn’t learn to ride until I was an adult. Although I have worked with nearly 200 horses directly over the years at the LOPE ranch, there are many gaps in my technical equestrian skills. At the same time, the LOPE horses have taught me a huge amount about horsemanship at a very fundamental level. So I often find myself with sophisticated knowledge about some aspects of horsemanship but only rudimentary knowledge about other elements.
In the past couple of years, I have written the book about my experiences with the LOPE horses — plus LOPE has produced a DVD on Retraining Racehorses (with renowned horsemanship teacher Tom Curtin). Since then, we have seen a large increase in interest about the LOPE program, the ex-racehorses here and our approach (of a student perspective, rather than an expert) to our work. People from all areas of the US have contacted us to share stories of their ex-racehorses, how they work with them and what they are learning. Even more exciting, we often hear from people who had ruled out ex-racehorses as mounts until they watched the DVD or read the book.
For the next phase of LOPE’s work, we will be concentrating more on horsemanship and sharing our learning journey with the horses here. As the first and most important step, I will become a working student at Hy Court Farm — to deepen my understanding of the horsemanship philosophy they teach. In the past few years, every significant step forward in LOPE’s understanding of the horses has come in some way from Hy Court Farm (for example, we met Tom Curtin and filmed our DVD there). So I am excited and honored to be a part of their program as a working student.
The LOPE horses at our adoption ranch will now be put in more formal career paths. We will select a couple LOPE horses to go through training and/or lessons at Hy Court Farm — so that we can give these horses a better “job training” plan, as well as learn more ourselves in the process. There might be fewer horses at the LOPE Ranch for adoption, but each horse will be able to receive more specialized attention and handling.
I will be blogging about my experiences as a working student at Hy Court Farm, as well as sharing the training adventures of the LOPE horses there too. Our hope is that one day the blog might help some ex-racehorses (and their owners) in their training — as well as encourage people to take a chance on an ex-racehorse as their next riding mount, teacher and friend.