From the Paddock
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs
Falling in Love
Falling in Love
It’s All About the Horses
“I fall in love with them all; it’s always been about the horses for me,” says Laurine Fuller-Vargas.
Thoroughbreds hold a special place in Laurine’s heart—in particular, off-the-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) that have retired from racing. “I like horses, but I love Thoroughbreds! They’ve given me all my joy in life,” she proclaims. For this reason, Laurine created Run for the Ribbons, the non-profit organization she launched in 2014 dedicated to helping OTTBs transition into their next careers and homes.
Laurine’s commitment rings true, given her family’s horse-centered focus. When she was growing up in Swansea, Massachusetts, her entire family was rooted in the Thoroughbred industry. “My dad was a jockey, and my mom, Lori Lockhart, won 500 races as a female trainer, which is impressive in itself,” says Laurine. “The woman inspires me every day to be as great as her.”
Indeed, Lori Lockhart was a multiple stakes-winning trainer, with 505 wins to her credit and horses that earned a total of $5,697,901 at the track.
“My grandfather, Lloyd Lockhart, was a breeder, trainer, and owner. He bought the farm in Ocala, when I was seven years old,” adds Laurine, now 34. “I feel thankful to have been mentored all my life by people in the racing industry, like my mom and Gramps, because of their value to always put the horses first and listen to what they say without words.” Cedar Lock Farm, her grandfather’s winter base in Ocala, has been Laurine’s home farm for 15 years.
Laurine knew early on that she wanted to be hands-on in the racing game. “I got my owner’s license at Suffolk Downs (East Boston, Massachusetts) in 2004. At 16, I was the youngest licensed owner in the state. I got my trainer’s license at Suffolk Downs in 2008,” she notes. “My mom and I were always business partners and had strings of horses at the track, up until I moved down here.”
As much as she loved her family’s farm in Massachusetts, once Laurine discovered Ocala’s horse country, she was smitten. She became convinced this was the only place to spend winters. “As soon as I graduated high school in 2006, I left Massachusetts and came here. I loved the breeding and babies, seeing them go from being born to running their first race,” she says.
“I love numbers. My plan was always to be a high school math teacher, if I wasn’t going to do the horses. I went to school for a couple years and was one class short of getting my associate’s degree. I thought I’d do both, but the horses became full-time,” expounds Laurine.
Run For The Ribbons
In addition to rehabilitating and reschooling former racehorses through her non-profit, Laurine also rescues and rehomes OTTBs. While many Thoroughbreds are racehorses early in life, their racing careers don’t usually last more than a few years, if that. Most can go on to second and even third careers, living useful lives and bringing joy to new owners.
Laurine founded Run for the Ribbons to create post-racing outlets and to help owners and breeders safely retire racehorses before injuries occur. She knows all too well that OTTBs can succeed in a wide range of disciplines, if they have the right training foundation. Run for the Ribbons has become a beloved Thoroughbred aftercare organization and hosts a popular schooling show series.
The non-profit also hosts the annual Florida Thoroughbred Transformation Expo, which is exclusive to Jockey Club-registered Thoroughbreds. Designed to showcase the breed’s many talents, the event is held each December at the Florida Horse Park, with horses competing in eight different disciplines. “This was our fifth year for the Expo; we had $25,000 in prize money and over 120 horses entered,” Laurine says proudly.
She knows that when it comes to Thoroughbreds, most people think “racehorse.” “But they’re so much more than that; they’re so athletic,” she says. “Shows like ours and our aftercare program have made people realize these horses really can do anything.”
Laurine’s next goal is to launch the Full Strides Program for underprivileged youth in the community. “This mentoring program will allow kids who love horses but don’t have the money to get involved with them learn to care for the horses, ride, and show,” she explains, adding that participating youth will gain skills that can help lead to employment in the equine industry.
Laurine remains involved in the Thoroughbred industry on multiple levels. “I am a strong advocate for the sport of racing to do right by the horses first,” she says.
Her Cedar Lock Farm is an active breeding, breaking, and training operation. Currently home to about three dozen horses, it’s also a retirement farm and the site of Run for the Ribbons aftercare program.
The farm is home to Laurine’s own family, as well, which includes her children—Devin (4), Emelyn (8), and Noah (12)—and their three dogs. “Emelyn and Noah ride, show, and help at the farm. They’re part of the team,” says Laurine, who loves teaching her children about horses.
In addition to the responsibilities with her farm and non-profit, Laurine works part time at Tack Shack of Ocala.
“My whole life has been around horses,” says Laurine. “I’ve always been living on the faith of horses and following my passion.”