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Book Review

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Beyond the Homestretch: What Saving Racehorses Taught Me About Starting Over, Facing Fear & Finding My Inner Cowgirl
By Lynn Reardon
New World Library, February 2011, 290 pages trade paperback

In recent years, after the high-profile slaughters of Ferdinand and Exceller, the issue of horse rescue has become a popular topic of discussion among racing fans and animal activists alike. Thoroughbreds no longer able to compete on the racetrack risk being sold to be slaughtered for meat in Mexico or Canada, now that the practice has been banned in the United States. Because of their competitive spirit, honed through years of selective breeding as well as training from a young age, racehorses need to be carefully and patiently retrained for calmer duties such as trail riding, show jumping, or polo. In her latest book, Lynn Reardon, the founder and executive director of the Austin, Texas-based LOPE (LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers) shows how difficult this task can be, but more importantly, how rewarding it is when successful.

Reardon was not a life-long horsewoman. She learned to ride horses as an adult and made the bold leap into the unknown, quitting her office job in Washington, DC and relocating to Austin to pursue her dream. Clearly she was out of her element, having to learn everything on the job, as trainers and owners began donating horses for her to retrain and then ultimately adopt out. Thankfully, many people admired her for her work, donating both their time and money to allow her to transition over 725 thoroughbreds into new homes. She explains what kinds of characteristics the adopters are looking for; clearly the needs of a polo player are different from someone whose child needs a horse for trail riding, and she must determine which would be the best route for her ex-racers to go.

Rather than tell her story in chronological order, Reardon opted to dedicate each chapter to her experiences retraining and adopting out one or two specific horses. She chose the horses based on their significance to the farm and to her personal and professional development, and clearly, like people, no two horses are alike. Each has his or her own "personality" which Reardon had to take into account and make adjustments for while retraining, and ultimately when it came time to recommend a horse to someone wanting to adopt. Many horses come to her with various medical ailments which require expensive veterinary care before they can be adopted out. She notes that she cannot ride any horse too often or else the horse develops too close of a bond to her, making adoption more difficult. The reader will learn about Zuper, retired from racing at age 9, who Reardon "hired" as assistant ranch manager; Sally, the "prom queen"; and Sugarfoot, who was slow on the racetrack but once retired, was so gentle she was a perfect match for a developmentally challenged young woman to ride.

She also brings into the story the many interesting human characters, including trainers, owners, veterinarians, cowboys, polo players, and of course those who adopted her horses (successfully or not). Horsemen are an entertaining group, as their outlook on life in general often differs from the general population, and Reardon seeks to highlight this fact through her interactions with them. With few exceptions she only uses their first names in the story to protect their identities. Racing fans who have heard about horse rescue and want to learn more will appreciate this first hand story told by a true "insider". The casual fan may have assumed that adopting out ex-racehorses would be a simple task limited only by the number of adopters, but after reading her book, will soon realize that nothing could be further from the truth. Reardon's work is labor-intensive, stressful, and dangerous.

Horse lovers and racing fans will all enjoy reading about Reardon's adventures in horse rescue. The noble animals who keep us entertained in person and on television, and give us a source of results on which to bet our money on, deserve a comfortable retirement after risking their lives for our enjoyment. Reardon has made that possible for hundreds of racehorses in Texas and it is hoped that her book will inspire others worldwide to follow in her footsteps. This is an enjoyable read about racehorses and the people who give them a second chance after they have become too slow, too old, or too injured for the track.

Beyond the Homestretch has a list price of $14.95 and can be purchased from Amazon.com for $9.74.

Rating:     4.5/5

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