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Blog Tales from the LOPE Ranch

10 Lessons Learned from Racehorse Career Counseling

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I have an unusual job in the horse world. Instead of a more traditional equestrian career such as teaching lessons or training horses, I manage a nonprofit adoption program for ex-racehorses. My work is varied, often straddling the line between farm hand, equine psychologist, horse wrangler and kindergarten teacher — I often refer to myself as a career counselor for ex-racehorses. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about running a racehorse adoption ranch:

  1. If there is a single, ¼ inch long sharp object in a 15-acre pasture full of soft grass, a horse will find it and promptly fling himself on it vigorously until he has lacerated a hoof, leg or eye. This is an especially irresistible activity at midnight, so that the wound won’t be discovered until the morning feeding (by which time it is usually oozing many unpleasant secretions).
  2. When a trainer tells you that the racehorse he just sent you is “dog gentle, but really needs a job,” he means that the horse will buck, rear or spin if not ridden daily at a gallop for thirty minutes or more. If he then tells you that the horse is “playful,” he is subtly cueing you that the horse also likes to buck/rear/spin in the pasture, on the lead rope and in the trailer — plus he might occasionally bite.
  3. If you have scheduled a farm call with the vet, one or more of the following will automatically occur: a) Your emotionally fragile farrier (or hay guy or feed store delivery crew) will show up unexpectedly. Any attempt on your part to reschedule the unplanned visit will result in scowls, sulks and unreturned calls for weeks. b) it will begin to rain violently, just as the vet and farrier/hay guy/feed store delivery crew arrive simultaneously. c) Someone you’ve never seen before will pull into your driveway with a dubious looking horse trailer, demanding to drop off a horse, pick up a horse or obtain employment.
  4. One dainty, 14.3H filly can wreck complete havoc on the social structure of a herd of staid, middle-aged geldings within five minutes.
  5. If a breeder donates an unraced two-year-old and describes him as being green broke with a “good thirty days on him,” it means: a) The horse stood around in a pasture for a month before they decided to donate him; b) The ranch assistant mounted him and rode him for a total of thirty minutes spread out over a month; c) he had some halter training for about thirty days. Under no circumstances will the horse actually have thirty days of under saddle training.
  6. A clean, freshly swept barn porch and center aisle will instantly fill with manure deposits (seemingly from ghost horses), if left unattended for ten minutes. If an important visitor, such as a funder or prospective adopter, is on the way, the amount of manure doubles automatically.
  7. When riding an ex-racehorse for the first time out in the open pasture, it’s very important to turn down your cell phone’s “Good, The Bad and The Ugly” ring tone from Loud/Vibrate to Silent. Otherwise, you’ll get a call and the Hugo Montenegro score will blare (and vibrate) the instant that ten deer and a suicidal rabbit leap in front of your horse, setting him over the edge from mild spook to panicked bucking session.
  8. If you describe a horse as being green, not for beginners and spirited, you will be deluged with adoption applications from parents looking for a first horse for their 5-year-old daughter. If you describe another as being an aged, retiring track pony horse looking for an easy job as a family trail mount, your email box will fill with inquiries from avid barrel racers asking about his speed index.
  9. When a tall, 16.3H gelding is adopted, his new owner will come to pick him up in a homemade two-horse trailer with 6 foot high ceilings and a malfunctioning hay net. The horse always loads eventually, a faint memory of starting gates perhaps prompting him forward. However, when a 15.1H filly is adopted and a roomy show trailer custom made for draft horses arrives for her, she will refuse to step into it for hours.
  10. At the end of a week when all of the above incidents have occurred, when you are exhausted and contemplating a shift to an easier career (say, diesel mechanics or prison management), you will have an unusual encounter with one of the ex-racehorses. Maybe the 9-year-old gelding, the racing warrior with over 80 starts, will surprise you with his calm enjoyment of your first ride together. Or the nervous filly will finally let you catch her on the first try, her head down and eyes soft. Perhaps the mare who has been in rehab for months finally takes her first sound steps from stall rest to pasture turnout, turning to nicker at you as she strides joyfully across the grass. That one gesture, ride or step will instantly outweigh all the bad days for the week — and inspire you for the months ahead.

16 Comments

  1. Mike Thomas says:

    This is just plain Brilliant! Oh so True!!!

  2. Mary & Magoo says:

    I can so relate to all 10!!! Thank you! I just started my book and am enjoying it so much. Can’t wait to watch my DVD. I wonder if I can squeeze Magoo onto the couch to watch with me!?

  3. I can relate Lynn! Love hearing about your adventures!
    Good luck on the auction!
    MarVeena

  4. Jean Johnson says:

    I am a librarian. I just read your book. I loved it. I will be recommending it to everyone.
    Where did you learn to write so well? Did you keep a journal? Thanks for the great book.
    Jean Johnson

  5. Laurie Rosenwasser says:

    Lynn I really resent your comments on race horses. It is hard enough to get people over the false idea that TB’s are crazy. Those of us who train our own homebreds try very hard to have repeat buyers. Because of your negative comments it will make impossible to sell any at all. All race horses cannot be put in one slot. The same goes for trainers. Your article did just that. I try very hard not to misrepresent any horse and will take it back if buyer is unhappy and feels I misrepresented anything. These comments of yours are unfair and untrue.To make a sweaping category statement, in print, is wrong. Laurie

  6. Lynn, l Loved reading the excerpt of the first chapter, now I am in suspense wanting to know how Spider faired. Thanks for your insightful horse sense & knowledge. I’ve had horses, since my adult years only. To obtain my dreams I had to earn them. Now, I’m writing my first book about my horses. Yes, I had a former race horse rescused from the track. They were going to put him down since he balked at the starting gates. We had him for his lifetime of 33 yrs. Victory made an excellent trail horse.

  7. Kelly Jenkins, NC says:

    I started riding at age 46 in NC this past Nov. Yours is the first horse book that I have read. Still trying to keep my heels down, diagonals right and last week was introduced to the concept of correct lead in a canter. Your book has taught me much in the way to feel and connect with horses. Great book with lots of information and practical knowledge, just right for someone just starting to dream of owning a horse. My wife says that the house need to be painted and new roof before we can lease or buy a horse :D

  8. Julia says:

    I just ran across your blog and I have to say you have the best job ever (that’s from someone who sits in an office all day wishing I could leave and go to the barn)! I have an OTTB and I’m so glad there are organizations like yours that help them find homes.

  9. carol hill says:

    A wonderful and remarkable change of careers to fulfill a passion from the heart! I admire you so much Lynn.

  10. Bless your heart ! As caretaker of approx. 70 head on a family owned and operated TB race horse ranch, I often find myself doing what you do,… trying to place x racers, old brood mares, young unbroke or very green stock etc. etc., and upon reading your 10 Lessons learned had a good laugh to myself at the truths within them. But what prompted my reply was at the end where you describe those monumental,yet incredibly subtle moments that make our life with these horses so very rewarding. I can so relate… Best wishes and God Bless you and yours. Tracy @ January Ranch

  11. Lynn Reardon says:

    Thanks for all the terrific comments! Gayle, I especially appreciate your support — you have helped LOPE help so many horses over the years. Thank you!!

  12. Ruth says:

    Lynn, I just started reading your book and am incredibly inspired by your horses, what you do and how you got to where you are. Thank you for your book, for your blog and for LOPE.

  13. Gayle Pruitt says:

    Lynn, I’m so glad you’re on facebook now as I have my daily reminders to check your blog. I love reading about your adventures, and can relate to some of your predicaments, too. The other good thing – it’s like reading another chapter, as I so hated coming to the end of the book! Thanks for writing it and giving the Texas horses another chance at a good life, while entertaining us with your wit and sense of humor. You are the best!!! :-) .

  14. Leslie Pearson says:

    Spot on, Lynn!! I think book #2 will be in the works before you know it!!

  15. Tamara Tate says:

    Awesome. You are so right. I enjoyed your book and admire what you do.

  16. Jessica Boyd says:

    Or your “crazy” ex-racehorse will turn to you for reassurance–without running you over this time–trusting you to protect him from the out-of-control Quarter Horse on the other side of the wall.
    You do good work, Lynn. Keep it up.

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