Responsible Horse Ownership

One of the challenges of working for an equine rescue/rehabilitation facility is finding suitable homes for the horses in our care. There are so many unwanted horses in the world, and so many quality horses available, that there just doesn’t seem to be enough homes for each of them. And the more time a horse stays in one of these facilities, the less space the rescue has to help other horses in need. As a professional trainer for the past twenty years, I’ve spent a lot of time matching my clients with the right horse, and I’ll admit that “rescues” weren’t usually the first place I turned to when looking. But now that I’m on the other side of the equation I’ve realized that they are the first place I will turn to when looking for a student or myself. Yet here at Race2Ring we still struggle with getting people to look at our horses, and I know many other programs have similar problems. I put the question out to a few Facebook groups: “Have you ever, or would you ever consider, adopting a horse from a rescue?” The responses were quite varied and informative, and while many people do have legitimate reasons for foregoing the “rescue route”, there is also a severe lack of understanding when it comes to “rescue” horses. So for this month’s blog I’m going to take a look at some reasons why people won’t look at a rescue horse, and hopefully dispel some myths and inaccuracies.

1. “I’ve had friends get burned by rescues before”. Not all “rescues” are created equal, and some bad eggs have given the good ones a bad name.  Unfortunately, just like there are many unscrupulous trainers and sellers out there, the same can be said for a lot of rescues. So before you go and adopt a horse from one, be sure to check it out first. Some questions to ask: does the rescue provide proof of its 501c-3 non-profit status? Is it GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) verified?  Does it have positive feedback on social media? Is its website professional, and does it have testimonials from happy adopters? Do you know other people who’ve adopted from them? Is their adoption process professional and in depth? When you go to visit are the animals happy and in good health (the ones being adopted, that is) and do their employees/volunteers behave in a professional manner? This is one area where you can usually trust your gut – if something about the process doesn’t feel right, or there are any red-flags to the above questions, its best to move on to a different organization.

2. “I don’t want someone else’s problem”. One of the main concerns people have about adopting a rescue is they don’t want a “damaged” or “broken” horse.  And while this is a valid concern, as a horse owner for the past 25 years I can honestly say the only horses I’ve had who didn’t come with some sort of physical or emotional baggage were the ones I’ve bred and trained myself! Even when purchasing a horse chances are there is some “problem” in the horse’s history, be it physical or mental.  Nearly every competitive horse I’ve purchased or found for clients at some point needs some sort of retraining and/or physical maintenance – body work, joint care, special shoeing. Another thing to keep in mind is that not all “rescues” are focused on helping starving abused animals. There are a number of facilities that actually take in healthy sound horses, many who need a change in career, or who’s owners have had an extreme life event and just can’t care for them anymore. Many of these horses are “marketable”, its just their owners want to ensure they go to a very good home and/or they can’t put the time and money into selling them. For this reason for the rest of this article I’ll be using the term “rehoming facility” as opposed to “rescue”, as the latter often has a negative connotation associated with it.

darcy w500 h500

"Darcy" - Regal Captive, or "Darcy", is a registered AQHA with pleasure miles who was rehomed through Race2Ring with Amanda C. Darcy had no health or soundness issues
but had previously been in a bad home, so his owners sought help from a rehoming organization with finding him the perfect match for him, rather than go the sales route.


3. “I don’t want to ‘lease’ a horse, I want to own it”. Another concern people have is the “lifetime lease” clause in many facilities’ contracts. I’ll let you in on a little rehoming secret – we don’t’ want these horses back! For every horse that gets returned to a facility, that’s at least one more horse in need that gets turned away. Many facilities do officially sign over full ownership on a horse (often after a certain period of time), and you can do with your horse what you’d like. Some do have “no sale” clauses on their contracts, and many do a “lifetime lease”. But again these organizations aren’t looking to take your horse away from you – the point of these types of contracts is to ensure that the adopted horse is well cared for and doesn’t end up back “in the system” or worse, at auction and possible slaughter. Also the majority of organizations are truly looking for one-owner lifetime homes for their horses, and don’t want to see a horse sold after just a few years. Yes, if you fail to care for your horse properly, the organization will (and should!) repossess the horse. But generally speaking this horse is yours for life, and the main reason for choice in terminology is to ensure that the horse has a safe place to land if and when you can no longer care for him. Yes, this does mean that if you adopt a horse for $500, put five years and thousands of dollars of training and care into a horse, you cannot sell the horse for a profit. But if that is your intention with your horse, then you are better off purchasing an inexpensive training project, and not adopting.

4. “I want a horse I can compete with”.  Many people forgo looking at adoption because they have certain competitive goals for themselves and their horses, and they don’t feel they will find what they need at a “rescue”.  This was my main issue as a public trainer – my clients and I were looking for sound, broke horses (often with registration papers) to compete. It wasn’t until I started working for Race2Ring that I realized there are a number of rehoming organizations that do have sound, broke, registered horses available for adoption. Some of these horses have no training or soundness issues whatsoever; some are older horses that may need some maintenance and/or to drop down a level or two of competition, and some may just need a change in career. I’ve personally helped rehome some very nice and well-trained dressage horses, a handful of registered Arabs and Half-Arabs (with show records and no limitations), and some very nice talented warmbloods (and yes, I’ve had to refrain from adopting a few myself!).  These programs are out there, you just need to do a little bit of exploring, and you’ll be amazed at the number of quality horses there are available for adoption, at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a horse! And the plus side: these reputable rehoming organizations do their homework, and will provide you with as complete a history of the horse as possible, which is a lot more than I can say for most sellers out there.

pickles kathryn w500 h500


Pickles-Kathryn: Pickle Me Pink is an unregistered paint pony with eventing experience who's original owner had rescued her as a yearling from an auction. When she outgrew Pickles she sought out Race2Ring rather than sell the mare, as she felt the rescue would be better able to find her a perfect home, which we did with junior rider Kathryn J.


5. “I’d rather rescue one myself”. That is a very noble thought, and for experienced horse owners it can be a great way to acquire a “diamond in the rough”. However rescuing on your own is not advisable for the average horse owner. If you followed this blog through the spring you saw how in depth and expensive rescuing a horse actually is. Rehabilitating a starved and/or abused horse is not something that can be done overnight, and frankly the average horse owner just doesn’t have the experience to do it correctly.  In general you will spend more money on veterinary care and feed than you will if you purchased a well-trained healthy horse, not to mention additional training costs if you can’t do the work on your own. Chances are it will be months, possibly years, before the horse is rideable, if at all. And I’m sorry, but nothing angers me more than to see an individual go out and “rescue” a horse, and then immediately set up a “Go Fund Me” account asking for help paying for it! This takes money and support away from the legitimate rescues who are experienced in equine rehabilitation, and to me its akin to me purchasing a horse who may need retraining or have been fed incorrectly and asking the public to help me pay for my personal horse. In addition, all one needs to do is peruse Facebook to see numerous ads for horses that have been “rescued” and are now up for “adoption” just a month or two later, and all the individual wants is a few hundred dollars to “recoup the money I put into him”. So please, if you are an experienced horse owner – or at least have an experienced team of professionals (vet, farrier, trainer) to advise you – please leave the rescuing to the programs that are experienced and capable of doing so. Instead why not adopt an already rehabilitated (or mostly rehabilitated horse) from a program who has done all the homework on the horse – this then opens up a spot for the facility to take in another rescue, so in affect you are rescuing two horses by adopting!

6. “I want the option of breeding my mare someday”.  As a stallion owner myself, I can relate to this issue (and have actually turned down a few really nice mares for this reason). This of course is an individual decision, but something you should really give some thought to before turning down adoption for this primary reason. First, keep in mind that a “maiden mare” (never had a foal) becomes less likely to conceive the older it gets. While there are incidences of teenage maidens getting in and producing a healthy foal, the majority of experienced vets and breeders will tell you its safest to breed a mare for the first time before the age of ten. And chances are any mare you purchase/adopt you are going to want to ride for a few years before breeding, so unless you are looking at a younger mare, the “no-breeding clause” that rehoming programs have is a moot point. The other option to weigh is how badly would you really want to breed: if you board your horse, this means finding a suitable facility for foaling out as well as pre and post-foaling care (caring for a pregnant and nursing mare is not something the average boarding facility is capable of doing). Most facilities will charge more for a pregnant/nursing mare, as more specialized care is required as well as an increase in feed and hay. Not to mention come weaning time you’ll be paying for two horses. If you keep your horses at home, are you really knowledgeable enough to care for a mare and foal at home? Is your facility “baby proof”? Do you have a knowledgeable support team to advise you on mare/foal care if you don’t have the experience? And what will you do with the foal – keeping in mind that it will be a good 3-4 years before you can ride it yourself. After thinking strongly about these questions you may find that the breeding option isn’t as important as you may have thought, making adoption a viable alternative to purchasing.   

7. “There is too much red tape involved with adoption”. One final issue that keeps people from considering adoption is the actual application process. Depending on the organization this process can be quite intense, and it’s understandable why it can be a turnoff. What you have to remember is that rehoming organizations have been entrusted with ensuring the continued care and well being of their charges, so it is up to them to be responsible in regards to where they place each horse. In addition, as I stated above once a horse leaves the program they really don’t want the horse back – both for the sake of the program as well as trying to limit horses from being bounced from home to home. And of course the last thing anyone wants is to place a horse in a home where it will be neglected or abused. So it behooves the group to be sure they are extensive in their research of the prospective home. Just like there are unscrupulous sellers and rescues, there are unscrupulous buyers who are looking for cheap horses to flip, and yes some of these people do prey on rescues, hoping they are too busy with new horses to follow what happens to those they adopt out. Additionally, there are many “tire kickers” out there on the internet, and as rehoming programs tend to be short staffed as it is, they really don’t need to be wasting time on people who really aren’t interested in adopting. So yes, the process may be a little more intense than purchasing a horse, but it is well worth it.

If you’ve ever turned down the option of adoption due to any of the above reasons, I hope that you now have a better understanding of the Rescue/Rehoming/Adoption world, and will consider giving a home to one of the many horses in need in one of these facilities!