Put out to pasture

POCO woman helps save standardbred horses

Felicia Allen must run one of the only fan clubs where success is measured by the members' ability to keep the object of their affection from being sold off by the pound and then slaughtered.

Allen is the founder and heart of the Standardbred Horse Fan Club, based in Port Coquitlam but home to members from around the world.

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All of them share a love of the solid, powerful, personable animals known best for their skill at harness racing.

She's also a master at making an eloquent argument that standardbreds - trained in the unique trot or pace suited to pulling a sulky but useless for carrying a rider - should not be sold for slaughter when their careers end.

Allen, like others in the club, has made it her life's work to provide an alternative for the "talented, magnificent" horses.

Through her Epona stable, she retrains retired standardbreds to carry riders. Along the way, she offers training and riding lessons, "re-homes" horses headed to the auction ring (sometimes rescuing them directly at auctions by outbidding the "kill buyers") and spreads the word about the breeds suitability for riding, police work, therapy and competitive jumping - their "second careers," as she calls them.

Allen rode as a child in Copenhagen and when her family landed in North Vancouver, they operated a stable on their property.

Showing and training became her "life's work," and she has gone on to study humanequine communication and the value of horses in therapy for people with social challenges like autism.

"Horses are the supreme survivors," Allen says. "They date back to the dinosaurs. They are animals of highly developed instinct, and they sense their environment like an antenna."

From early in her work, she says, she was troubled by standardbreds' bad reputation as riding horses - especially when it meant that most were sent to auction directly from their last racing season, often for $500 or $600.

Ten years ago, Allen founded the club to share her enthusiasm for the breed with other horse fans, and to launch her fundraising, rescue and education programs.

Every race season is different. One year, 10 horses might be saved; once, it was 23. Homes are found, and horses retrained or retired as companion animals.

The public is invited to get a look at the stable and join in celebrating national Standardbred Horse Day on July 13.

The club is hosting a family fun day when kids and parents are welcome to meet the rescued horses, play with Hamlet, the pot-belly rescue pig, take part in a naming contest for one of the new horses and enjoy tractor rides, games, raffles and food, including vegan options. Funds raised from the day will go towards acquiring an equestrian centre for standardbred work.

Although the day will be a celebration of her favourite breed, Allen says the day is mostly a chance for people to leave behind their screens and wifi and enjoy some fresh air and friendly animals.

The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 13 at the Epona Stable, 3323 Devon Road, Port Coquitlam.

Admission $1 for children, $3 for adults. Proceeds will be used for care and feeding of rescued horses.

For more information, visit www.standardbredfanclub. com.

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