How a childhood passion became the foundation for LOPE, one of the most successful retired racehorse placement programs in North America.
As an adult, I visited a Maryland racetrack one morning during workout hours (when the horses gallop for conditioning) and fell in love with racehorses. They have so much heart and desire to achieve! Soon after that track visit, I began volunteering with a local racehorse adoption group near DC (CANTER Mid- Atlantic) and really enjoyed it. When we later moved to Texas, I wanted to volunteer for a similar group – but there wasn’t one. So I started LOPE!
Originally, LOPE began simply as an online listing service (a sort of “Craigslist” for ex-racehorses) in 2003. But we had so many race trainers approach us who wanted to donate horses directly to LOPE that we decided to open an adoption ranch in 2004.
The LOPE Lifestyle
At the track, horses are kept in stalls except when they are being exercised in the morning or raced later in the day. Horses are naturally herd animals, so the first thing we do at LOPE is “let them be horses” – which means we have them in open pastures with other horses. It needs to be a gradual process though – we like to be conservative and limit each horse’s space at first. So the horses might start in a small corral, work their way up into a larger paddock, and eventually be turned out in the fields.
We also have a couple of retired horses that act as den mothers (or cops, if needed) to the new arrivals. Zuper is our herd boss – he is super charming, gentle, calm, and a terrific authority figure. He makes sure the younger horses don’t run around too much, gives them structure, and generally keeps the herd feeling confident and quiet.
Once the horses have had their vacation time in the pasture, we begin working with them under saddle. Mostly, they usually need some help going back over the basics. They may sometimes have been rushed a little at the track – so they might have gaps in their foundation. We like to find these and help the horses learn a fuller picture about those basics. It’s kind of like kindergarten.
Some horses come to LOPE with track injuries (knee chips, bowed tendons, etc). For them, we provide rest (in stall or pasture) and rehab care (ranging from vet exams to physical therapy to surgery).
The Adoption Process
Before meeting a LOPE horse, prospective adopters must first fill out a detailed approval questionnaire with information about their riding and horse care experience, their plans for the horse, their facility and so on. We require current vet and farrier references, as well as references from a trainer or instructor (if applicable), and we check those references carefully.
If the adopter’s application is approved, we have them come meet the horse – so we can see how well the two get along and ride together. If it looks like a good match and the person is ready to adopt, then we have them sign an adoption contract and pay a small adoption fee.
A Second Career
Our horses go to all types of careers – it depends on what each is capable of physically and what he wants to do emotionally. Horses have very distinct personalities and it is important to keep their preferences in mind when placing them into a new career. LOPE horses have gone on to do trail/pleasure riding, dressage, western play days, eventing, hunter/jumper, ranch work, polo and therapeutic riding. We have also adopted horses out to be pets or companions.
How You Can Help
LOPE is a publicly supported charity – so donations to help with the horses are greatly appreciated! Folks can sponsor horses for training, send “care” packages of barn supplies, organize barn fundraisers and so on. We also have a book about LOPE horses (Beyond the Homestretch), with royalties going to the horses, and a terrific DVD, Retraining Racehorses (with master horseman Tom Curtin); again, sale proceeds go to help the LOPE horses. www.lopetx.org