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Blog Tales from the LOPE Ranch

Tulsa Mambo


Back in 2003, I had just opened the racehorse placement program. Each weekend, I walked the tracks, looking for horses that need new homes, trying to build relationships with race trainers. I love the track and all its vivid personalities, both equine and human.

Tulsa at the track in 2003

Tulsa at the track in 2003

One August day that year, Keith, an engineer-turned-race-trainer, led Tulsa Mambo out of his stall at Retama racetrack. Tulsa was a dashing black thoroughbred with two white hind ankles. His face was wise and he carried himself with a certain bemused air, as if he found everything entertaining.

Keith was worried that Tulsa wouldn’t find a home before the race season ended. “He won’t pass a vet exam, with his racing ankles.” Charmed by Tulsa, I jokingly comment that I’ll take him if no one else does. Keith looks relieved…and thoughtful. Tulsa nuzzles my arm for a peppermint, making Keith smile.

Sure enough, Tulsa didn’t find a home in time (I suspect a conspiracy between Keith and Tulsa), and suddenly I was the unexpected owner of an ex-racehorse.

Tulsa arrived at the LOPE ranch soon after. He was magnificent, full of energy, and liked to gallop around the fields for fun. At the track, Tulsa had a reputation for running away with his exercise riders – but only the ones he didn’t like. It took me weeks to work up the nerve to ride him.

Tulsa Mambo

Tulsa at the LOPE Ranch

Slowly I inched my way from lounging to saddling to mounting him, while Tulsa dozed out of sheer boredom at my snail’s pace. When I finally rode him, he was kind and willing. Sometimes he was spirited during the pre-mounting phase, but more due to his twisted sense of humor than true misbehavior.

You had to be able take a joke, a pretend spook as you stepped into the stirrup, in order to ride Tulsa. Once in the saddle, he was a perfect gentleman. Still, I remained alert, his amused eyes and reputation as a runaway always in my mind. I didn’t fully trust him.

Until one ride – on a windy October day – when Tulsa spooked violently, then balked, as I tried to urge him forward along a path with a brush pile. Tulsa refused to move, looking over his shoulder at me, then pointedly staring at the brush rustling in the wind. I stared at him from the saddle, perplexed. Then I finally looked at the brush – where a rattlesnake was undulating in strike position, full of rage, its rattling lost in the wind.

Right then, I resolved to keep Tulsa forever – he is mischievous, has weak ankles, and is the most unlikely of Lassies. But he is the first horse to ever save me from a rattlesnake.

And hopefully the last.

Austin Equine Hospital Schleese
Paddock Foundation American Association of Equine Technicians and Assistants 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