Lukas used to be considered a “throw-away horse.”
He bucked, spun, reared and spooked, even in his own stall.
Today, the chestnut Thoroughbred who limped away from a lackluster racing career on two bowed tendons, is an Internet sensation attracting over a million fans, and coverage on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Inside Edition—just some of the news outlets converging on Karen Murdock’s horse.
“Lukas has attracted such worldwide attention,” Murdock says. “We had a million hits (on his site http://www.playingwithlukas.com) after five months and one week, and his Face Book page quickly drew 5,000 fans.
“I think the reason he has touched so many is that his story conveys a sense of hope and happiness, despite tremendous obstacles.”
When the retired psychiatric nurse and longtime equestrian purchased the off-track Thoroughbred eight years ago, he was a far cry from the gleaming, prancing, trick-performer he is today.
He was worn out, injured, malnourished, and very uncooperative to ride.
Just Ask Mike
New name: Lukas
Sire: Crystal Water
Dam: Pauline Revere
Foal date: Jan. 17, 1993“There was a point when I grew his mane long so I could hang on to it when he started bucking and spinning,” she says.
Something had to change.
Approaching her horse as she might a patient or child, she gradually introduced training techniques employing positive reinforcement and treat rewards. Additionally, she allowed Lukas to train without being encumbered by equipment of any kind—halters, ropes, whips, etc.—defined as “the Liberty method.”
“With the Liberty method, the horse is able to make voluntary choices and movements while figuring out what you want,” Murdock says. “It’s so much like play … and I also think of it as an intricate, non-obvious dance.”
With this method, Lukas has learned to perform a three-legged pivot, a bow, leg-crossing maneuvers, and to lie down and allow his owner to sit on him.
He also poses, fetches, catches, works on a pedestal, and performs a host of other tricks, even, according to Murdock, picking out letters in a name-spelling exercise.
What’s more, he’s an excellent riding horse. “I ride him five or six times a week,” Murdock says.
Murdock has trained horses since her early 20s. She gravitated toward Thoroughbreds because they were inexpensive to obtain, and came with an array of problems, but also potential. “In general, they have a lot of energy and need to be kept occupied, and redirected in positive ways,” she notes.
When she first took on Lukas as a “project,” she was warned that he was a “throw-away horse.” Another trainer, observing Lukas spooking in his stall, told Murdock to move on. But it was important to Murdock not to give up.
“We have such a throw-away mentality today. If it’s no working, we get another one,” Murdock says. “This is where Thoroughbreds tend to get a rough end of the deal.” Not her Thoroughbred.
To read or learn more about Lukas and Karen, please see the following websites:
- Lukas’ homepage: http://www.playingwithlukas.com
- A Lukas video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bR9jNAEkLCI
- Lukas’ Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/playwithlukas