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Our Story

As Valerie was working on building a lesson program at Lake Fork Stables, it quickly became apparent that as much as parents wanted their kids to take riding lessons, it was just out of their reach financially. After seeing another successful program in Oklahoma, she loved the idea and wanted to create something similar at Lake Fork.  

She chose to use Thoroughbreds as they are often given a bad rep in the equestrian world, when in reality they are hard workers, love a job, have great personalities and love kids! Thoroughbred aftercare is also an important cause in her heart and hopes to show that Thoroughbreds can be kid-friendly mounts.

What We Do

Free Riding Lessons

Riders Up! provides free riding lessons for low income and autistic kids.

Reduced Rate Lessons

We offer riding lessons to Horses4Heroes members for half price and half price lessons for foster kids.

Horse Boy Inspired Retreats

Through our Horse Sense Equine Therapy Retreats, kids on the spectrum receive much needed support and one on one attention.

Thoroughbred Aftercare

We provide second careers for Thoroughbred racehorses and use them as lesson horses in our programs.

With Your Help, We Are Making a Difference

You don’t know the difference until it’s gone. That is one thing we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our students suffered increased effects of depression and behavioral issues when the world was suddenly shut down. It was apparent to us all, horses have a way of making our lives better.

All Current Campaigns

Our Mission & Approach

Our mission is to provide local children with the opportunity to learn how to ride horses as well as learn about horsemanship, horse care, and stable management while providing off the track Thoroughbreds with careers after racing.

Riders Up! refers to the classic phrase that is called in the paddock at the racetrack, telling the jockeys and the crowd that it’s time for a leg up! We have chosen this name as we hope to give kids a leg up in life and it because it honors the Thoroughbreds that are used in our program. 


We have received 3 grants to help fund and expand our services.


Help teach lessons and facilitate horseback riding excursions and parties.

Retired Racehorses

We employ 5 retired racehorses as lesson horses.

Thoroughbreds Saved

We have helped save 3 Thoroughbreds from kill pens and uncertain futures.

Your Donations Make a HUGE Impact

A Letter from the Board

Rupert Issaccson, the founder of the Horse Boy Foundation, states in one of his training videos that “When you work in the service of others, your dreams will come true.” I’m here to testify that his statement is certainly the case. That is what founding Riders Up! has been for me. 

I have a lifelong passion for riding and for the Thoroughbred horse in particular. I have always been a fan of horse racing and when I purchased my first retired racehorses six years ago, I found myself lost in the passion of promoting these horses and helping them find second careers. 

As I was working on building my lesson program, I discovered there are two groups of people in East Texas and particularly at Lake Fork. You have the lower income and middle class working famlies and then you have the retired, more wealthy families. In between it all, you have the kids who need after school and extracurricular activities but their parents can’t afford to pay the going rate of riding lessons. This is what Riders Up! was born from. It was an opportunity to put our retired racehorses to work for a greater cause. 

With these kids and these horses, we’ve formed a somehwat symbiotic relationship where the kids are helping horses and the horses are helping the kids. 

What we need more than ever is for our community to support and witness the magic that is happening at Lake Fork Stables. You can do just that by donating, sponsoring and supporting our programs. You can help us spread the joy!

Valerie Mellema

Valerie Mellema

Our Board & Team

Valerie Mellema

Valerie Mellema

Founder/Executive Director

Valerie Mellema has a BS in Equine Business & Industry from West Texas A&M University. She is a published author and has written for several equine publications and websites. She has over 25 years of experience in the horse industry having worked at the American Quarter Horse Association as well as a Hunter/Jumper facility in Oklahoma. 

Troy Mellema

Troy Mellema


Troy Mellema is an entrepreneur. He is an avid investor of stocks and real estate as well. He remembers growing up as a kid in Amarillo, Texas and the numerous programs that gave back to their community and is excited to be a part of a program that gives back in ours.  

Marea Breedlove

Marea Breedlove


Marea Breedlove lives in Locust Grove, Oklahoma and grew up riding and showing Missouri Fox Trotters. She has been avid in Girl Scouts and is a board member for the Arts Alliance in Locust Grove. She has always been active in her community and currently serves as the Locust Grove librarian and works as a photographer.

Jennifer Schneider

Jennifer Schneider

Board Member

Jennifer Schneider grew up in the Austin area where she learned to ride and began eventing. She was able to work at several farms throughout the years as a working student. She operated a lesson and summer camp program in Sulphur Springs, Texas before relocating to Canton.

Lisa Lage

Lisa Lage

Volunteer Riding Instructor

Lisa has over 30 years of experience teaching both English and western riding lessons. She personally has shown her Paint horses in western pleasure and trail events. 

Audrey Tripp

Audrey Tripp

Barn Manager/Riding Instructor

Audrey is an eventing trainer with experience in teaching riding lessons and managing large equestrian facilities. 

Haleigh Robbins

Working Student/Fundraising Intern

Haleigh is a volunteer fundraising intern and helps facilitate spreading community awareness about programs. She also helps with working horses and assiting during lessons and events.

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