Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Interview: Lynn Reardon

 Last week, I was able to interview Lynn Reardon, who runs the LOPE(LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers) in Texas. She re-homes ex-racehorses, something I am interested in doing. It was a really fun interview and I thought you guys would enjoy it.

Midway, one of the horses Lynn rehomed.
Do you need any special education or a license to rescue horses? No, that is not a requirement. I had owned horses before and had some very basic understanding of horse care needs -- which was helpful.

How did you first get interested in rescuing horses? How did you get started? I wrote a book (Beyond the Homestretch) about how I began my work -- it was a bestseller in Austin and Dallas, plus became the #1 horse book on Amazon for a short period. I actually never got interested in "rescuing" horses -- instead I had fallen in love with ex-racehorses and wanted to work with them very much. I wasn't a professional trainer and didn't have the usual credentials to become a trainer. My career had been in accounting and administrative management for nonprofit organizations -- horses were a hobby. I took lessons at a polo barn -- and nearly all of the horses were ex-racehorses. When I realized that ex-racehorses often need help transitioning to new lives after racing -- and that Texas didn't have a racehorse charity to do that -- boom, I had the idea to start LOPE. It was a way to combine my previous nonprofit experience with helping ex-racehorses :) We actually see ourselves as an employment agency for at-risk equine youth rather than a fireman kind of rescue place. 

What are your primary responsibilities around the rescue? At our ranch, I supervise the care of all the horses (feeding, vet care, farrier, etc). I also do the riding and training at our farm (though we also send some of our horses to professional trainers before being adopted). I am also responsible for fundraising, event management, updating the website and social media pages -- and writing for our blog.

How do you find the horses and how much do you usually buy them for? We take donations of horses directly from the racing industry -- which means that race owners, trainers and breeders donate their horses to LOPE that aren't racing anymore. We don't usually buy horses.

How do you decide which horses to rescue? We take horses on a first come, first serve basis from the industry. We do prefer that the horses have raced within the last year and that they be able to do another job with retraining and rehab.
Lynn on Mystery Blessing. credit
How much work does it take to train and rehabilitate the horses before you set them up for adoption? Each horse is an individual, so the answer to this question varies depending on the horse. Typically, we like to give the horses a month or so off from work (like a mini-vacation) before we start retraining them. The retraining might take just a few rides or a couple months. Rehabilitation also varies, depending on the type of injury. We have taken in horses with simple mild body soreness as well as horses requiring surgery to remove bone chips -- so the range is pretty broad :)

What sort of training exercises do you do with them to get them ready for being ridden off the track and prepare them for future careers(pleasure, jumping, etc)? We like the horsemanship school of Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt. These two master horsemen are now deceased, but there are several excellent clinicians who studied with them -- such as Buck Brannaman, Peter Campbell and Tom Curtin. If you would like to get a better sense of this horsemanship, you might want to check out the documentary called "Buck" -- it is about Buck Brannaman and you might really enjoy it. The movie won the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival and made the long list for an Oscar nomination.

But back to your question -- we like to help the horses with the basic foundation training (kind of like kindergarten for horses). We do ground work exercises, a gentle re-starting under saddle (so they learn that being ridden doesn't mean racing anymore) and overall building their confidence levels. If we help the horses get a good foundation in the basics, we think that will help them no matter what career (jumping, trail riding, etc) they go into later.

What is your favorite part about rescuing horses? I really love working with the horses and riding them! It is so much fun to help a horse learn new job skills that help keep him safe in the future :)

What is your advice to someone wanting to start a career in rescuing horses?(I realize that it's more of passion than something you do to make money) First, I would say it is important to narrow your goal. Do you want to rescue horses from neglect situations? Do you want to transition racehorses to new careers? Do you want to work with senior citizen horses? Or PMU foals? All of those things (and more) are considered forms of horse rescue -- but are all very different types of work. It's kind of fire fighting. Do you want to be the firefighter who pulls people from burning buildings and leaves them safely on the curb? Or do you want to be the nonprofit shelter that takes the people in while their house is being rebuilt? Or do you want to be the person who set ups smoke detectors in homes -- so that a fire wouldn't happen at all?

Also, I worked in the nonprofit world for years before I started a horse adoption charity. There is no reason why someone who runs a horse rescue shouldn't be paid -- it helps keep the organization stable to have a paid person running it and also is reassuring to funders to know that the charity is well-managed. I am paid for my work -- it's a very small salary, but my charity's board of directors insist that I take some payment for my work -- because they think it is important to value the efforts of the executive director position.

What do you do if a horse doesn't get adopted? That has never happened :) Once a horse comes to LOPE, he or she can stay as long as necessary to find the right home. One horse (Storm, who is in my book) was with us for almost two years -- but eventually found the perfect home for him.

Do you have a favorite horse that you have rescued? In my book, I talk about a beautiful stallion named Tawakoni. He was the son of a famous winner of the Kentucky Derby (Grindstone). I had never worked with a stallion before -- and when I asked horse neighbors for advice, they all thought I was crazy to have a stallion on our place (because in their biased world view, all stallions were dangerous). But Tawakoni was very gentle and well-mannered. He was adopted by a petite woman who owned a beautiful breeding facility for show horses. She worked with her stallions easily and had no fear of them. She and Tawakoni taught me how important it is to not accept the "conventional wisdom" on face value -- but instead to keep an active, inquisitive mind to learn the truth about horses.

Is there anything else you would like to add? No, you asked excellent questions -- thank you for that!

Also, do you allow visitors? Yes, we do allow visitors by appointment :)


  1. Loved the interview! I'm planning on doing a review on "Buck" as soon as I get the time. It's an excellent documentary!!

  2. I can't wait to hear your review. From what Lynn said, it sounds like a good movie. I'm hoping I can get to watch it someday. :)

  3. Thanks for sharing that! That was really neat! = )


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