By Suzanne Minter
Suzanne Minter is a LOPE staffer and lifelong equestrian. She adopted Wooden Phone (aka “Watson”) from LOPE in 2012. Suzanne has studied classical dressage since childhood and regularly competes in local shows. She especially likes horses with “interesting” personalities, expressive faces and natural aptitude for dressage movement.
Ex-Racehorses Aren’t Just for Pros1
It’s widely assumed that professional trainers are always more appropriate matches for green horses, particularly those newly off the track. However, 2015 has proven to be the year of the amateur! My favorite 2015 matches have been with amateurs who truly love their horses and are committed to learning how to better work with their new partner. I’ve come to realize that not all professional trainers know how to best work with these horses, and not all amateurs should be deemed “too green” to handle an ex-racehorse. We all know the old idiom, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and I feel we should apply it to our fellow equestrians. An appropriate match of horse and rider is the most important thing, and we should not be so quick to automatically assume those who are not trainers or those with less experience are not qualified. The horses truly pick their people, and in 2015 we watched horse after horse pick amateur riders of varied experience levels. The horses don’t know or care if their partner is a professional or not. They care about how they feel with that person handling them. This year, LOPE expanded more than ever into educational programs; and I most enjoyed watching those with less confidence in their riding and training abilities devote themselves to learning for their horse. Commitment to learning and doing the right thing for the horse is the most important component of horsemanship, and we had many wonderful people join us in clinics this year to further their education and foster a stronger working relationship with their horses. Watching the riders gain confidence in themselves — and the horses responding to that — has been one of the most rewarding experiences of 2015.
It’s Never Too Late2
Working with ex-racehorses, one theme is very strong: it’s never too late to start over, achieve your dreams, or make changes in your life. The Executive Director of LOPE, Lynn, left a secure office job to move across the country and make her dream of working with horses a reality. The racehorses come to LOPE to learn new skills, and leave with new owners to have successful second careers. The entire idea of LOPE is based on this belief that things can always change for the better, and there is always something more we can do; and this year that idea hit me in a more personal way. When 2015 began, Wooden Phone — my adopted LOPE horse — was recovering from life-threatening illness, and I had resigned to retiring him. I was shaken up, and couldn’t get over how fragile he had seemed. But Wooden Phone has more heart than even I realized, and the day came that he made it clear he was not done. He went on to make his show debut in the summer of this year, at age 18, and was wildly successful. If I could only share one thing I’ve learned while at LOPE in 2015, it might be this inspirational idea that we can all achieve our crazy aspirations if we only have the heart and courage to do so.
The Nice Side of Racing3
Racing is a highly controversial discipline. There is much speculation about the welfare of the horse, as well as whether or not the people involved really care about the horses in their charge, or merely see them as a tool. I’ve always believed that there is good and bad in racing, as in every other equestrian discipline. I’ve enjoyed seeing those breeders, trainers, owners, riders, and grooms who really care about the horses who come to LOPE over the years; however, 2015 has been an especially positive year.
Early in the year, a tall, leggy gelding named Pastor P’s Pulpit ended up in a dealer’s lot in Louisiana. Several of his previous racing connections immediately stepped in to save him. Although they no longer owned or trained him — and were not responsible for his current situation — they did not hesitate to spend their time, money, and great effort to pay his bail and bring him to LOPE. Pastor P’s Pulpit — now renamed Trip — has been adopted and is enjoying his new career as a jumper.
In October, I had the pleasure of speaking with my personal LOPE horse’s previous connections. Wooden Phone was trained by Bob Baffert — the trainer of 2015 Triple Crown and Grand Slam Champion, American Pharoah. The Bafferts generously donated American Pharoah’s halter to LOPE in honor of Wooden Phone; along with a lovely note about how much they had loved him, and how happy they were to see his successes. The Bafferts receive countless requests, and I was personally very touched by their immediate response and support of the charity that brought this wonderful horse into my life.
Finally, in late October, Moonlight Mystery came to LOPE. Her breeder had already worked hard to get her back after she found out the filly had — at just four years old — already had a strenuous racing career, and donated her to LOPE. Within twenty-four hours of her arrival, Moonlight severely coliced. At the vet, it was determined she would require expensive surgery to save her life. Moonlight’s breeder once again stepped up to save a filly she hadn’t owned in years, and donated a large portion of the surgery costs. Moonlight is now happy, healthy, and ready to begin her new life after the track.
These were just my favorite highlights in a year full of demonstrated love and care from the racing industry. While every discipline has its negative aspects and people, I like to focus on those who care for their horses long after they no longer have a connection or responsibility to them. Racing is full of good people who deserve recognition.
Trust Your Horse and Yourself4
One lesson I have taken away from the horses is that we must always give the benefit of the doubt. If there is a problem or misbehavior, it is likely due to genuine confusion, stress, change, or lack of proper preparation. In reflecting back on some of the horses we’ve worked with throughout 2015, the trend of horses in need of slow, steady, understanding work is evident. Too often, I hear people blaming the horse when things “suddenly” start going wrong. However, things rarely happen suddenly with horses. The signs may be subtle or unclear to us — or we may just not be paying attention — but horses give warnings. First, it’s important to pay close attention to what the horse is telling us at all times. Second, we should take a step back and try to figure out what’s causing the change in behavior. They will not make a change in personality or behavior for no reason or out of nowhere. They are astonishingly honest creatures. We must trust the horse, and trust that we know the horse. With that in mind, we can find the cause of the problem.
Running a Non-Profit is Hard5
Let me be clear: I don’t run a non-profit. I simply work for one. Which means I only see a fraction of the work that goes into it. There are countless things to get done, animals to care for, inclement weather to work around, and phones that never stop ringing. We get involved. We get attached. We spend the day putting our own blood, sweat, and tears into the work; and then we take it home with us, because we care too much to simply check it at the door. Sometimes the work is rewarding beyond belief, such as seeing a beloved horse blossoming in his new home. Sometimes it’s stressful and emotionally heavy. In 2015, I certainly got to work in more aspects of the non-profit than ever before. While I have enjoyed taking on new projects and learning more, what I’ve really learned is that I’ve only scratched the surface of how much goes into non-profits. So thank those running non-profits, and support your favorite charity in any way you can. They give their heart and soul (and often their time, money, energy, and sanity) to their work; and they deserve all the thanks and help they can get!