By Martha Claussen
On May 1 at Churchill Downs, millions will watch the most elite 3-year-old Thoroughbreds compete in the Kentucky Derby. The Run for the Roses is a heralded sporting event, with festive hats, Mint Juleps and two minutes of heart-pounding excitement.
The reality is that the majority of all racehorses will never make a start in a Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup race. Many will win a race of two, some will advance to stakes company and others be retired to stud. There will be another group of horses that are not destined to continue racing. Injuries might curtail their careers or they may simply not be fast enough to compete. Fortunately for Texas racing, a knight in shining armor has emerged. Her name is Lynn Reardon and her organization is called, LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers (LOPE).
Since its inception in 2003, LOPE has helped transition over 750 Texas Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and Arabian racehorses into new careers.
Reardon is a fascinating human-interest story. Ten years ago she was working a desk job in Washington, D.C. She was highly stressed, a chain smoker and felt strongly that a better road lay ahead. So Reardon and her husband, Tom, packed up their possessions and headed to Texas.
She found that she loved being outdoors, exchanging business suits for jeans and getting her hands dirty. But it was her first visit to the backside of a racetrack that forever changed her life.
“The moment I stepped onto the backside, I was inspired,” admits Reardon. “There is something so heroic about racehorses and the way that they give 110% when they walk onto the track. I had to figure out a way to work with them and to assist the ones that could no longer run.”
Thus, Reardon opened the LOPE Ranch, a 26-acre adoption facility located near Austin, Texas, in a town called Cedar Creek. The program gives trainers an opportunity to donate their injured or at-risk horses to LOPE. Evaluation, rest and sometimes rehab will follow before Reardon secures adoption into approved non-race homes. Reardon marvels at the transformation that many of the ex-racers have as they are turned out into a grassy pasture and learn to be “just horses” again.
Reardon is saddened by the message that many animal rights organizations deliver about horse racing and ex-racers.
“They portray horses as horrible, pathetic victims,” notes Reardon. “We have a silent rule that means don't respect what you pity. Our success at adoption is predicated on the fact that we believe in these horses; we think they are cool and have wonderful personalities.”
Reardon credits each of the Texas racetracks for spreading the word about LOPE.
Eric Johnston, vice president of racing at Sam Houston Race Park, welcomed Reardon when LOPE was in its infancy. She visited the backside, introduced herself to trainers, grooms, exercise riders and owners and made sure they knew how to contact her if one of their horses needed placement.
Each of the Texas racetracks is required by the Texas Racing Commission to set two charity days where 2% of the handle is donated. Sam Houston Race Park designated LOPE as well as Racetrack Chaplaincy of America. Johnston is pleased that LOPE is a beneficiary.
“Lynn is totally committed to finding homes for racehorses and deserves a lot of credit for including breeds other than Thoroughbreds,” said Johnston of LOPE's willingness to include Quarter Horses and Arabians to the program. “There are many outstanding resources in the country, but many are restricted to Thoroughbreds.”
Dave Hooper, executive director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association, also acknowledges that Texas is lucky to have Reardon on board.
“Lynn is a veritable dynamo and loves the work she is doing to transition racehorses into new careers,” said Hooper. “Her outgoing personality makes her a natural when it comes to public relations and that is in large part why her development of LOPE has enjoyed such wide-ranging exposure from television networks to the New York Times as well as her own book, Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses. She's a real winner.”
On the LOPE website, there is a wonderful link appropriately titled Success Stories. There, accompanied by photos, are the horses that have been placed by LOPE showing their skills in the show ring, eventing, dressage or simple trail and pleasure riding.
Trainer Bret Calhoun donated Bridge Place to LOPE after a knee injury sent him to the sidelines in 2007. The bay gelding possessed a laid-back attitude and was gentle with kids. He has a new occupation as a children's lesson horse in a Houston-area stable. Virga, a Texas-bred filly, was winless from 10 starts when she was sent to LOPE. The beautiful dark bay now boasts a wall full of blue ribbons from the show ring.
Sadly, some of the horses can never be ridden again due to injuries. What becomes of them? Reardon, who now has an email list of 1,000, is continually amazed at the generosity of horse lovers.
Catalissa is a recent success story worth noting. Bred in Texas by Stonerside Stable, Catalissa was a black-type winner with 14 wins, including the 2002 Groovy Stakes on Texas Champions Day at Sam Houston Race Park. The son of Tale of the Cat amassed earnings of over $350,000. Claimed and racing on the East Coast, he fractured a sesamoid while training and his future was in jeopardy. Janice and Robert McNair, who are members of LOPE's Founders Circle, paid for the dark bay gelding to be shipped to LOPE. He developed laminitis, but battled through and now makes his home with a retired couple in Caldwell County, Texas.
“They built him a special paddock,” reports Reardon. “While he will never be able to be ridden, he is happy and healthy and cared for by this wonderful couple.”
One special Thoroughbred remains with Reardon. Lightening Ball, winner of the $100,000 Star of Texas Stakes in the 1999 edition of Texas Champions Day, was retired by his owner Bob Orth of Houston. Orth wanted to make sure that Lightening Ball had a good home. He sensed that the chestnut gelding would make a great pleasure horse and Reardon concurred.
Dressage, pleasure riding and even cattle herding have been post-racing pursuits for Lightening Ball, who stands over 16 hands. Reardon was proud of his most recent accomplishment when he mastered a herd of cattle at first asking.
“He is awesome,” Reardon said. “I took him to Tom Curtin's horsemanship camp where he worked cows. He knew he was the dude.”
TEAMWORK WITH TOM
Reardon runs LOPE with husband Tom and the assistance of volunteers across Texas.
“He is a saint,” said Reardon of her husband of eight years. “When I first met him, he didn't even have a canary. Now we are living on a farm with horses!”
Tom brings his web and graphic design experience to LOPE. He updates the LOPE website, takes the photographs of all the LOPE horses and created a slick, compelling book trailer for Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses.
“Tom is laid back, calm and organized,” credits Reardon. “The only thing he gets upset about is when I attempt to drive the tractor; that is his territory, period.”
The couple has embraced the internet and social media such as Facebook to facilitate adoptions and request help. Several weeks ago, an injured horse needed to be transported to LOPE. Reardon sent the details on Facebook and immediately received several offers of a trailer.
FUNDRAISING IS CRITICAL
LOPE, is a 501(c) (3) non-profit that operates on an annual budget of $100,000 and is totally dependent on donations for its survival. Reardon has seven members of the Founder's Circle who donate $8,000 annually and raises an additional $8,000 from a June horse show.
It's no surprise that Reardon is a natural at fundraising. Her motivation is the goal of developing two additional farms; one for adoption and another geared toward rehabilitation. Of course, education and clinics are also on her to-do list.
AUTHOR AND AWARD NOMINEE
She is totally passionate about horses, helping others and works tirelessly for her cause. If feeding, wrangling, riding, transporting and fundraising weren't enough, she just published her first book Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses. Inspired by the distinctive personalities and the heroic nature of racehorses, Beyond the Homestretch is a beautifully written and captivating account of her personal voyage and the horses that compel her to keep LOPE firing on all cylinders.
Dedicated and disciplined, Reardon set a goal to write on a daily basis. An admitted night owl, she would curl up on her sofa with her laptop and write, sometimes until 2 or 3 a.m.
Here is an excerpt about a Texas-bred named Zuper, who won 10 of his 44 career starts before being vanned off the track in his last claiming race on Feb. 28, 2004:
“At the start of his race career, Zuper was known for courting mares during track workouts, nickering suggestively as he galloped beside them. Once gelded, he concentrated on racing instead of flirting–earning nearly $180,000. Even as a gelding, Zuper still preferred mares and female riders, his Southern gentleman ways making him a favorite with both. Tom dubbed him the ‘Sean Connery' of horses, commenting, ‘He looks like he should be smoking a pipe, with a Bond girl nearby.'”
Reardon's book is one of six published works that have been named semifinalists for the fourth annual Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, presented by Lexington's Castleton Lyons farms and Thoroughbred Times. The winning author receives a $10,000 prize and a trophy made of custom-designed Irish crystal. The runners-up will each receive a trophy and a check for $1,000.
Reardon will travel to Kentucky to attend the ceremony on April 23 and is still stunned by the nomination. Winning the award would be a wonderful accomplishment for the first-time author, who admitted to being “ecstatic to be a semi-finalist.”
You can purchase a copy of Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses online, or visit Lynn at one of her upcoming book signings across the country. A significant portion of the book royalties will go to help the LOPE horses.
With her intelligence, work ethic, resolve and aptitude for problem solving, wouldn't politics be a logical next step for Reardon?
“I'd be an awful politician,” stated Reardon.
Actually, she would be terrific, but thankfully for the people involved in the Texas racing industry, and more importantly, the horses, she will remain focused on LOPE.
Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report
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