Blog Tales from the LOPE Ranch

2016 in Review: A Tale of Two Horses

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As 2016 comes to an end, I want to share a tale of two horses who came to LOPE. Of all the horses this year, these two stories show why we are so passionate about our charitable work — and why we are asking for your continued support of the LOPE horses. The holiday season is often a time of reflection and gratitude. For us, 2016 is ending on an especially inspired and grateful note — thanks to the LOPE horses, donors, sponsors, fans, friends and supporters.

Lambert Bridge

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Lambert Bridge (aka “Beau”) was a young racehorse with class and heart. A sesamoid injury ended his track career. He had kind owners who cared deeply about their horses, so they donated him to LOPE, hoping he would find a home as a light riding horse.

His injury turned out to be more severe than expected, so riding wasn’t a possibility. Beau could only be a companion horse. And beyond that limitation, Beau was a nervous horse who required delicate handling.

But Beau had a sweetness in him, a gentle heart under that neurotic facade and hard-wired flight response. You could see his nature in his expressive face and kind eye — and it touched people. He had a Zen mirror quality. If you slowed down, he slowed down.

Beau had a sweetness in him, a gentle heart under that neurotic facade and hard-wired flight response. You could see his nature in his expressive face and kind eye — and it touched people. He had a Zen mirror quality. If you slowed down, he slowed down.

He taught LOPE handlers to be calm, gentle and quiet — so that he would mirror those same qualities back to us. Beau had a way of bringing out the best in you, while winning your heart completely. A LOPE volunteer (and talented dressage competitor) spent much time with Beau, meditatively handling and grooming him for hours.

Beau was a hard luck horse in many ways, but he was happy at LOPE. We discovered that he had a vocation for children. As part of our education work, LOPE acts as the “living” science lab for a local school. Each week, 7th & 8th grade students come to LOPE and learn about equine behavior.

Beau was usually difficult to catch, but he loved the children. So, I would instruct them how to slowly approach Beau, without eye contact, stopping and turning their backs if he stepped away. Beau was often surrounded by silent, smiling children gently petting him. It was clear he had an affinity for them; and they for him.

The day before Thanksgiving, Beau suffered a severe injury while playing in his paddock. He was humanely euthanized at the vet clinic, in the presence of people who mourned his peaceful passing. I wrote about Beau the next day (Thanksgiving) to our thousands of Facebook fans, and shared the story of his life.

His story was soon shared all over Facebook. Hundreds of people sent their sympathy for Beau’s loss. Laura Hillenbrand, author of Unbroken and Seabiscuit, generously donated to LOPE in Beau’s name. She wrote a moving tribute to his short, but meaningful, life and shared it with her fans. It comforts us that Beau’s short life left behind a legacy of hope for the horses.

Silver Spot

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Silver Spot was a lovely grey filly with much promise at the track. Then a slab fracture to her knee ended her racing career. Like Lambert Bridge, Silver Spot had racing connections who cared about her. She was donated to LOPE soon after her injury.

LOPE gave her paddock rest and rehabilitation. A few months later, radiographs showed that her knee had healed well. Soon after, LOPE entered her in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover for 2016. The competition required that Silver Spot be trained in a discipline during the year, with the hope that she would qualify for the Makeover finale in late 2016.

Silver Spot was a wonderful mover, with much natural talent for dressage. We slowly restarted her back under saddle. Although green and inexperienced, she was a delight to ride and always did her best to please her rider. She soon attracted many sponsors for her Makeover journey (including Austin Equine Hospital, Classic BMW, H&H Feed, Ashley Shaw Dressage and Equine Express).

During the year, Silver Spot and I learned dressage together, while also going to shows and clinics. An accomplished, USDF Silver medalist dressage trainer (Ashley Shaw) sponsored Silver Spot for dressage lessons and coaching. Silver Spot began to make rapid progress.

Silver Spot attracted clusters of fans at every show she attended. She soon acquired a dozen show ribbons (including many blue and red ones) — but more importantly, she was steadily gaining confidence and new skills.

Silver Spot’s journey taught LOPE many things. Along the way, we shared what we had learned. People loved hearing about her training process (as well as our own learning process)!

Silver Spot attracted clusters of fans at every show she attended. She soon acquired a dozen show ribbons (including many blue and red ones) — but more importantly, she was steadily gaining confidence and new skills.

People frequently asked us questions during the show season. About how to train a green horse, how to introduce one to showing and trail riding, how to find the right trainer or discipline for their horses, how to assess OTTBs and so on. Young show riders and equestrians followed Silver Spot’s progress avidly — and LOPE soon had a list of prospective Pony Club and 4-H volunteers.

A few weeks ago, we took Silver Spot to a clinic with renowned horsemanship master Peter Campbell. He teaches high-level equitation and travels the world as a clinician. Silver Spot caught his eye immediately — and he decided (to our delight) to adopt her! She will be developed as one of his clinic mounts (as a bridle horse). We couldn’t have imagined a better outcome for her. Silver Spot truly is a Cinderella story — complete with the happy ending.

What Beau and Silver Spot Had In Common

Beau was a horse with many limitations. Many people would have considered him “useless” — but look at the lovely ripple effect his life and his sensitive heart has left behind in the world. Beau taught us much at LOPE. And he touched the lives of children, animal lovers, equestrians, show competitors and even a famous author. His life had meaning in unexpected and deep ways.

Silver Spot’s training process and show season attracted many fans. In following her progress, people became interested in ex-racehorse education. Young equestrians, aspiring trainers and prospective OTTB adopters found her story inspiring — and they wanted to learn more about how to train young horses.

With her adoption to a top horsemanship clinician, Silver Spot will become a wonderful example of how to best prepare horses to fulfill their potential.

Thanks to support like yours, LOPE could give Beau and Silver Spot the extended time, assessment, training and handling they needed to find their ultimate vocations. We shared the stories of their progress, their lives and the many things they taught us at LOPE. Beau and Silver Spot could then inspire, teach and touch many people, in very different ways.

Changing Lives One Horse At A Time

Beau and Silver Spot have inspired LOPE to start a Scholarship Program — so that more horses and people can follow in their path. We will give scholarships to LOPE adoption horses, so that they can stay at LOPE for extended periods (like Beau and Silver Spot). And we will give scholarships to people (junior equestrians, young trainers, at-risk youth) so that they can learn from the LOPE horses (see attachment for highlights from our first two junior interns).

Our goal is raise $15,000 for the Scholarship Program by December 31. With your help, LOPE can fully launch the Scholarship Program on January 1, 2017.

The Scholarship Program already has a waiting list of junior interns, young aspiring trainers and at-risk horses eager for help and education. All of the horses on the waiting list face an uncertain future because they aren’t perfect — just like Beau and Silver Spot weren’t perfect.

They need practical training, patient handling and longer-term education to build the job skills that will give them a safe future.

With the Scholarship Program, we can help young people and at-risk horses learn from each other — and give each of them the chance to change their lives (one horse at a time).

Changing the lives of at-risk horses (and the people who want to help them) takes time, patience and practical skills. There isn’t a commercial market for taking the long, slow steady approach to educating young horses — especially ones that don’t have expensive market appeal (like an ex-racehorse with an old injury and absolutely no jumping talent). Few of the LOPE horses are destined for the Olympics or a world-class show career.

That’s why LOPE is a charity, not a for-profit training barn. We know our readers and supporters understand this — all of you “get” that what is best for the horse often requires an investment that returns long-term, rather than short-term/commercial, rewards.

We are honored to have the opportunity to work with the LOPE horses and learn from them. LOPE couldn’t help the horses without the generous support of our donors, sponsors, friends and fans. Thank you for caring about the future of these magnificent animals — and for being inspired by them as we are at LOPE.

The LOPE horses wish you a warm and happy holiday season!

Austin Equine Hospital Schleese
American Association of Equine Technicians and Assistants Paddock Foundation Sam Houston Race Park
Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance The Ranch Broker Moose Pants Studio
Thoroughbred Charities of America Scissortail Hill Equestrian Secretariat Foundation
Treaty Oak Equine Express