Are you thinking of adopting a rescue horse for your next trail partner? This could be a wise choice. Many sound, sane, healthy horses often find themselves at horse rescues through no fault of their own.
If you’re thinking of adopting a rescue horse, the following six-step guide will help you find success. First, we’ll give you three things to do to prepare to adopt a rescue horse. Then we’ll tell you how to choose a horse rescue. Next, we’ll explain how to shop for a horse at a rescue, a bit about the adoption process, and how to provide optimal post-adoption care.
Along the way, we’ll define common rescue-horse terms, and provide details on a project that matches homeless horses to loving forever homes.
We’ll also give you a sample long-term feeding plan for malnourished horses from Kelly R. Vineyard, MS, PhD, an equine nutritionist at Purina Animal Nutrition.
1. Do Your Homework
First, be honest with yourself, and set out specific guidelines and goals. As you begin the rescue process, and as you proceed, keep track of everything in a dedicated notebook.
• Calculate costs. Adoption fees are usually low, as rescues are more interested in finding the horses a good home than making a profit. And, of course, the cost of owning and caring for a horse is ongoing. Create a budget that includes all horse-related expenses. Include boarding, feed, tack, training, veterinary care, and supplements. Also prepare for unexpected expenses. Costs can add up if your rescue horse becomes injured, or needs corrective shoeing or expensive supplements. An owner’s lack of preparation for the unexpected expenses may’ve led to the need to surrender the horse to a rescue in the first place.
• Evaluate your riding-skill level. Be honest. It’s better to have a horse you’re comfortable with than one you’re frightened of. For example, if you’re a beginner, start with a horse that is well-trained and confident, versus an untrained or newly started horse.
• Know what you’re looking for. Be clear on exactly what you want to do with your new horse. Do you need a mount for occasional short rides, a second horse to put friends on, a pasture companion for your existing horse, or a solid trail companion? Write down the answers in your notebook, and take this information with you when you go horse shopping.
2. Choose a Rescue
Now you’re ready to find a respectable, accredited rescue. One place to start is A Home for Every Horse. After you’ve found one or two rescue facilities, ask the questions listed below. The answers will help determine whether it’s a responsible, legitimate rescue.
• Is the rescue a registered nonprofit organization? If so, is there a board of directors? Are they willing to share their financials with you?
• Where do the horses come from? Does the horse rescue only take in horses that are removed from neglectful situations, or does it take horses from auctions or individuals? Local animal control organizations will usually only work with reputable rescues.
• What does the facility look like? It should be clean, well-organized, and have safe, effective stalls and pastures.
• Will the rescue share the horse’s health records with you? Can you talk to their veterinarian? A rescue with nothing to hide will happily show you the horse’s veterinary records.
• Does the rescue have a good reputation in the community? Ask local horse owners, veterinarians, and farriers.
Will the rescue give you a tour of the facility? How do the horses look? Are they well-fed? Are their feet in good condition? Are they fed good-quality hay? A rescue does take in horses in poor condition, but the majority of the residents should be in good health.
If possible, set up a tour. A well-run rescue will be open and friendly, the animals will be well cared for, and the stalls and pastures will be safe and clean. Staff members will be happy to share information about the horses and their organization.
Write down the answers and your impressions in your notebook, and make a list of any concerns, so you can address them with follow-up questions before you start choosing a horse.
3. Start Horse Shopping
Most organized rescues’ websites feature the horses ready to be adopted. But they’ll likely also have horses not yet on the website, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see your dream horse right away. Also, almost all rescues have waiting lists comprised of horses waiting to be admitted.
If you’re a beginning or intermediate rider, arrange to bring a professional or experienced horseperson with you to your adoption appointments. This person will notice any exceptional behavioral or health issues that might be too much for you to handle.
Also, this person may need to ride the horse first to make sure the horse is a good match for your skill-set.
Now it’s time to schedule a visit. Before you go, review your written goals so you don’t get overwhelmed.
When you arrive at the facility, you may be asked to fill out an application. This helps staff members determine the type of horse to show you. Ask to see only horses that meet your criteria.
When you find a horse you’re interested in, find out everything you can about him. Here are some questions to ask:
• Do you have the horse’s medical records?
• How did the horse come to the rescue?
• How long has the horse been there?
• Has he been in training? What kind?
The answers will help you determine whether the horse is right for you and will give you valuable information about how to handle the horse once you take him home.
4. Initiate the Adoption Process
Here’s a rundown of a typical adoption process. Each facility is different, but this will give you some idea of what to expect.
• Test ride. A reputable horse rescue will expect you to demonstrate your riding ability at two adoption appointments. This enables the staff to make sure you and the horse are suitable for each other. Be sure to wear appropriate riding apparel, including an ASTM-approved, SEI-certified riding helmet. As you ride, the rescue’s staff members will be evaluating your ability to handle the horse. This can be a little daunting, but keep in mind they want this partnership to work just as much as you do. Stay calm and focused.
• Site visit. If the ride goes well, and you think you’ve found the horse for you, the next step in the adoption process is typically the site visit. Well-run rescues will send an agent to visit the location you plan to keep your horse to verify that you have a safe, suitable facility. Rescue representatives will be looking primarily for safety issues. These include: safe fencing; proper shelter; good-quality hay; clean, fresh water; and healthy existing horses, if any.
• Adoption contract. This contract is a binding agreement between you and the horse rescue outlining your rights and responsibilities, and the rescue’s rights. This document often states that you’re re sponsible for care of the horse according to certain humane standards.
The contract may also state that the rescue will retain ownership of the horse for a certain period of time. Some rescues retain ownership for the life of the horse. More commonly, the rescue will grant you full ownership of the horse after six months or a year.
5. Finalize the Adoption
Here are the final steps to take before you adopt your rescue horse.
• Schedule a prepurchase exam. Once you have approval to adopt the horse, schedule a prepurchase veterinary examination. Use a trusted veterinarian. (For a prepurchase exam checklist, see page 6.)
• Check supplies. Make sure you have everything your new horse will need, including feed, clean water, salt, shelter, tack, grooming supplies, and an equine first-aid kit.
• Check paperwork requirements. If you’ll be boarding your horse, check the facility’s paperwork requirements. Most facilities will need to see a negative Coggins test (for equine infectious anemia), and a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection.
• Get feeding instructions. Your rescue horse may’ve been neglected and starved before rehabilitation at a rescue facility. When your once starved rescue horse was first saved, he was likely put into a veterinarian supervised refeeding program. When you adopt such a horse, carefully follow feeding recommendations to avoid any further physical damage.
6. Provide Optimal Care
Reputable rescues will schedule one or two follow-up appointments to confirm you’re caring for the horse in the manner outlined in the contract. If you fail to properly care for the horse, the rescue will remove him from your premises.
These follow-up visits are for your benefit, as well; if you’re having any problems with your horse, rescue staff members can suggest ways to help you and offer resources.
Keep in mind that your rescue horse may’ve experienced some kind of neglect and/or abuse. It takes patience, perseverance, and confidence to rehabilitate a horse that has lost trust in humans. When you bring your rescue horse home, give him plenty of time to learn new things. Here are tips to get you through the first few days.
• Bond. Spend time bonding with your new equine partner through grooming, ground work, treats, and lots of love.
• Be patient. Give your horse several weeks to adjust to his new home and routine. His past experiences may cause him to be on edge in a new environment. He needs your confidence to help him through.
• Be aware. Pay attention to the signals your horse is giving you. Be willing to help him through challenging situations with patience and consistency.
Cate Lamm, The Trail Rider editorial assistant, was a part of Colorado Horse Rescue (www.chr.org) for 10 years. There, she served as head of the adoption committee, acted as general manager, and worked as a rehabilitation trainer. Lamm trail rides on her own two rescue horses, Banjo and Sensei. (To follow her blog, go to TrailRiderMag.com.) She’s based in Piney Flats, Tennessee.