The Education of LOPE
LOPE is approaching its 12-year anniversary in 2015. That’s an exciting milestone, especially when you consider how far LOPE has come since 2003. We’ve helped over 1000 ex-racehorses find new careers. Our work has morphed from a simple listing service to multiple adoption farms. Our latest growth has been in the area of education — for horse and human — so we can share what the horses have taught us over the years.
In addition to the knowledge given to us by the horses, we have seen pretty much every type of trainer in action, as inexpensive OTTBs can attract a wide variety of professional trainers (along with their amateur clients). More significantly, we have watched the best horsemen at work. The first clinic LOPE ever hosted (and the first clinic I ever personally rode in) was with Ray Hunt. Since then, we have been fortunate to ride with Buck Brannaman, Peter Campbell and Tom Curtin — plus we have studied classical foundation horsemanship with clinicians such as Anja Beran, Ginger Gaffney and Karen Rohlf.
A Key Principle
A key principle that we have learned is that horses greatly prefer the approach of horsemen over the techniques of trainers. As Ray Hunt said, “The slower you go, the faster you will learn.”A key principle that we have learned is that horses greatly prefer the approach of horsemen over the techniques of trainers.
Many professional trainers don’t have the time to go slow — the very nature of their career requires that they quickly produce results for their clients. Thus a green horse who rapidly becomes a show/competition mount is a testament to the trainer who creates that outcome — no matter how troubled the horse may be under the surface before, during and after the show. We have seen many seasoned show and performance horses who can’t easily load, safely trail ride or even lead quietly once outside of their competition arena or pen. Yet they (and their trainers) are considered to be successes in their specific disciplines.
Back to the Basics
At LOPE, we like to focus on the basics — such as the foundation of the horse. Just like a house, a horse first needs a solid, level foundation in order to have a stable base for anything that is added later. For example, a horse that doesn’t lead properly but jumps well enough to win a ribbon is much more likely to develop behavioral or physical issues later. Because his foundation (leading) isn’t right, the add-on (jumping) is on an unstable base — and like a shaky house, the horse’s future is likely to include damage and lengthy repairs.Just like a house, a horse first needs a solid, level foundation in order to have a stable base for anything that is added later.
Horsemen always look to the foundation first. This is why they tend to attract riders from all disciplines — because their work addresses the key principles that are important to every horse and rider. How does the horse feel about himself when he is with you? Is he gentle yet confident? And what does each horse’s unique nature require from his rider to be successful? For these horses are indeed individuals — just like people — and no “one size fits all” training technique will ever work well or for long.
Each horse’s unique nature must be understood and assessed — and then the rider has to adapt their approach (“adjust to fit the situation”) to give that horse what it needs to be successful. This is a longer, slower journey than trying to find a magic bit, tie-down or other gear to force the horse do what you want in the short-term. But it’s the only approach that will reach the right results: bringing out the best in both horse and rider.Horsemen always look to the foundation first. This is why they tend to attract riders from all disciplines — because their work addresses the key principles that are important to every horse and rider.
At LOPE, we aspire to the horsemanship values of the Dorrance school. We consider ourselves to be students of the horse, rather than masters of a specific discipline or technique. And we have a rare commodity to offer the LOPE horses: time. The time to go slow and get the basics right. The time to let down between racing and a new job as a riding horse. The time to rest and rehab sports injuries.
In the past, we geared our work toward helping the most horses we could. For the early years, that meant taking in as many horses as possible and adopting them out rapidly. Then we began to see the value of long-term education. I wrote a book about my experiences with the LOPE horses. LOPE produced a DVD on retraining racehorses with Tom Curtin. Our blog and social media posts updated our followers on our experiences with the horses and the lessons they taught us. We began teaching lessons and hosting events that focused on foundation horsemanship. It became clear that we could help more horses by taking the time to go slower — to work more deeply with the horses and to share more fully how we do that work.
The LOPE Academy
And so our work now begins its next (and most exciting) phase. The LOPE Academy will officially open on November 1, 2014. It will be a small opening without fanfare, champagne or avid media coverage. Only a few horses will be enrolled in the first Academy “kindergarten” class. There won’t be massive corporate sponsorships or a generous endowment just yet (though please feel free to prove me wrong on this point). But we will do the work with as much quality and care as we possibly can — as if we were already the MIT of our chosen academic world.The LOPE Academy will operate like a school program. For each “semester,” some LOPE horses will be selected to go through foundation work at our facilities.
The LOPE Academy will operate like a school program. For each “semester,” some LOPE horses will be selected to go through foundation work at our facilities. We will assess each horse for their needs, talents and capabilities. LOPE will customize a learning plan for each horse to help them build a strong foundation for their futures (in whatever discipline that may be). During the semester, the LOPE Academy horses will be taught for the entire duration without interruption. They will not be available for adoption until they have completed the program — but LOPE will be actively sharing details of their progress through blogging, videos and Facebook.
There will still be LOPE horses available for immediate adoption (for those of you who just can’t wait to have your own LOPE horse). But the LOPE Academy horses (or “kindergarten” students) won’t be among that group until they graduate.
As funding grows, we will be adding more horses to the Academy — and plan to include human students as interns and/or working students. If you would like to donate to the LOPE Academy scholarship fund for horses or people, please let us know. It will be a rewarding way to help a horse truly prepare for a new career while greatly reducing his chance of becoming at-risk again.
The Academy will blend nicely with our Horsemanship Education Program for people. Students who sign up for lessons through that program will also now have the option to observe work sessions with the Academy horses followed by specialized Q&A with the LOPE staff. There will be regular open house days with demonstrations on foundation horsemanship (with the Academy horses), informative seminars and tours of the facilities.
The Inaugural Class and Faculty
The first class will include Levi Wilson, Oro Rush and Onahotstreak. All three are young, willing ex- racehorses with much to give to a new career. Levi is a handsome, 3-year-old gelding with an uphill build, elegant movement and a sweet personality. Oro is a flashy 4-year-old gelding with athletic conformation, a kind heart and an intelligent nature. Onahotstreak is an adorable 3-year-old filly with a sweet face, sturdy frame and cute way of going. We are excited to have such terrific horses at the start of our Academy!
Levi is a handsome, 3-year-old gelding with an uphill build, elegant movement and a sweet personality.
Oro is a flashy 4-year-old gelding with athletic conformation, a kind heart and an intelligent nature.
Onahotstreak is an adorable 3-year- old filly with a sweet face, sturdy frame and cute way of going.
There are two other horses who are in the turnout phase of their time at LOPE. Once they have completed that phase, they will be next in line to enter the class (if they aren’t adopted by that time).
LOPE has some terrific teachers lined up. In addition to our boring human staff, we have a brand new equine intern. Rudy is a 6 yo QH with a stocky build and kind disposition. He is undergoing on-the-job training to learn how to be the LOPE Academy pony horse. He also will be teaching human students in our Horsemanship Education Program. Santo (the famous clinic horse from our blog) is an Adjunct Professor for the Horsemanship Education Program. He will be teaching people more about riding with “feel.” Both Rudy and Santo have to do some continuing education of their own, so they can be the best teachers possible. LOPE will also be sharing their learning adventures as they advance in their careers.
The LOPE Academy will kick off next week with vet exams for the horses (to assess their physical capabilities before starting consistent work at school). Photos, blog entries and curriculum goals will be posted regularly to update on the horses’ progress. We will continue our fundraising efforts to cover the ongoing expenses of the Academy program as well as to add more students to its rosters. And a more detailed schedule for the Academy will be posted shortly (with descriptions of semester length, “field trip” events and curriculum goals). And if you would like more information on how to donate to the Academy and its scholarship program, please contact Lynn.
We are excited about this new phase of LOPE’s work — and look forward to a fun first month of class with Levi and Oro!