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Equine enigma

A Christmas miracle: 300 North Texas horses find a new home

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Horses on Olympian Ranch
Three hundred horses had been living on Olympian Ranch prior to its sale. Photo courtesy of Kay Marie
Horses on Olympian Ranch
The new owners were busy assessing the number and condition of the horses prior to taking possession of the land. Photo courtesy of Kay Marie
Horses on Olympian Ranch
With the help of the Humane Society of North Texas, the owners found a new home for the horses. Photo courtesy of Kay Marie
Horses on Olympian Ranch
Horses on Olympian Ranch
Horses on Olympian Ranch

The Olympian Ranch in North Texas has sold to a new owner — which wouldn’t be uncommon or news at all, except for one fact: The property has been home to 300 heritage horses, which have been living on the land for 10 years.

New property owners Janice and Ricky Beard of Rock Enterprises had been trying to figure out what to do with the horses. The Beards closed on the land but did not actually own the horses until December 21. They were open to selling them to interested parties, including rescue groups, but first had to round up the animals to assess their number and condition.

 The new owners were open to selling the horses to interested parties, including rescue groups, but first had to round up the animals to assess their number and condition.

Joan and Bob Richards owned the 5,000-acre spread, located 60 miles west of Fort Worth, for nearly 20 years. There they bred miniature and heritage show horses, some of which have become world champions. “Here at Olympian Ranch, your dream horse is waiting,” states the website.

Bob Richards earned fame as a three-time Olympic athlete who won two gold medals and was inducted to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983 — the same year as Jesse Owens, Mark Spitz, Peggy Fleming and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali). He was also the first athlete to be featured on the Wheaties box, in 1958.

Over the last few years, however, Richards has experienced significant health problems, which led to the sale of the ranch to the Beards. It has been reported that they plan to run the ranch as Laroca Range Whitetails, a game ranch for deer hunting. The Beards filed as Laroca Range, LLC with the Texas Secretary of State in November. They have closed on the property sale but have not taken possession of it yet.

What the Beards planned to do with 300 horses was unclear. Beyond keeping the animals themselves, options in such situations include selling them, giving them away or having them slaughtered.

Kay Marie, a 32-year-old horse trainer and worker, was hired by the Richards family in July to help care for the horses. She was recently let go, and the fate of the horses formerly in her charge was up in the air. Marie began networking with rescue groups and posting messages on Facebook about the situation.

“I have lost my job and my ability to be able to work closely and keep an eye on the horses and what’s going on there,” she wrote on Facebook. ”I am not allowed on the property anymore. I am no longer able to feed, care for or visit any of my old friends there that I’ve grown to love and vowed to help. I challenge the new owners to do the right thing.”

 The Humane Society of North Texas assisted with quality placement for the horses, and the new owners confirmed they found a “nice and responsible” buyer.

Her plea reached Shari Frederick, founder and president of Happy Horse Haven Rescue in Goldthwaite, Texas, through the National Equine Resource Network. Frederick had launched her own efforts to find new “responsible, financially stable, preapproved adopters” for these horses, if necessary.

“For we rescuers our interest is, are there 300 horses? And do they no longer have a home and therefore need placement?

“I don’t care who you are or where you are, I always try to help,” Frederick said. “We save them, but then you have to put them somewhere. You have to find people to take them, to care for them and train them.” Frederick found a buyer for the horses but still needed to find a place for them.

By Saturday, December 22, the Humane Society of North Texas had gotten involved. They picked up four of the heritage horses that day and will be taking in more in the near future.

“Laroca Range sought out our help with the placement of the horses they obtained just days ago with the purchase of property,” said Shelly Meeks of the Humane Society, who added that Laroca has been very cooperative.

“HSNT is assisting them with quality placement,” she said. “Laroca Range has released some horses to HSNT for that reason. They have helped with corralling and loading of these horses and are going to continue to do so. We are still evaluating these horses for any special needs.”

When we contacted Janice Beard by telephone last week, she said she had no official comment. “There is no comment to be made, because the horses don’t even belong to us yet.”

Word spreading about the sale and the involvement of rescue groups have created an unwelcome invasion of privacy. The Beards have been afraid for their employees as they attempted to round up and treat the horses.

The Beards were already working with the HSNT by the time the horses became their legal property, on December 21. Janice Beard confirmed by telephone that they have found a buyer for all the horses, a very “nice and responsible” man whom they checked out thoroughly and required to sign papers stating the animals would not be sold to a slaughter buyer.

“We are animal lovers,” she said. “We’ve been trying to do the right thing.”

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