All The Pretty Ponies - To be a Horse Rescuer or Not?
By Nancy Fitzgibbons - Guest Writer for GoHorse.com
"In previous blogs I’ve shared the journey of purchasing and maintaining a country paradise. That has also come with some unexpected offerings. After living at my farm for about a year, I was approached by the owner of some property adjacent and behind me. It contained a rental cabin, a small barn, lots of woods and fenced acreage. Well, I figured I could sell some property elsewhere, purchase this and have a small additional income from the rental. Seemed like a simple idea at the time!"
Accidental Horse Rescue Opportunity
After a few months and some negotiations, the 39 acres were mine. Plus the addition of a 20-year-old Palomino the previous owner left behind. I approached her and indicated I was not interested in adopting another animal. My hands and budget were already full to the brim. I already had three horses (one was 30 years old), and two rescued donkeys that were soon to be coming to my farm from South Georgia.
The past owner indicated the horse was not really hers and she just let him hang out with her other horses. He was friendly but required some under saddle training if I was interested in riding him. If I didn’t want him she would have him euthanized. In my mind, death for convenience sake was not a solution! So began my reluctant journey as a one-time, one-horse rescuer!
My solution seemed simple enough: I would place him on the local tack and sale Facebook site and find him a great forever home...or not. Immediately after his picture appeared on the Facebook County Tack and Sale page I received numerous messages of interest and willingness to take him off my hands. I even spoke to one young lady who said she was a horse rescue and had multiple animals she had saved. Since this was my first time trying to home an ‘unwanted’ horse I was a little confused about all the eagerness to ‘take this horse off my hands?' The answer to my concern came when the owner of a well-respected horse rescue organization contacted me. I am so glad she took the time to call and give me some of her valuable insights. It seems that in addition to the beneficial rescue organizations there are also well-meaning horse rescuers who are not responsible caretakers and even more concerning are those looking to make a quick buck off of a free horse and then re-sale.
Rescuer to My Rescue
This wonderful lady (whom I already knew from visiting her rescue farm before) also peruses these pages for horses ending up in the wrong hands. She knew the individual I spoke with and strongly warned me not to turn this sweet boy over to her or anyone else unless I did a full investigation. “This lady” she indicated, "has the right intentions, but ends up with more horses than she can adequately care for," and then the rescued horses need rescuing! The reputable rescue's spots were all taken at the moment and she recommended I keep him until she could assist, or otherwise reach out to individuals I knew and not strangers. Wow, was I ever naive to the horse rescue world.
I allowed the gelding to stay in the back pasture with the renter’s horses as I searched for a ‘qualified home.’ My ethics are, unless I could provide him full vet, hoof, dental, feed care and interaction then it wasn't benefiting either of us. I began emailing barn and horsey friends with pictures of this sweet boy. After a short time a friend came forward with someone who wanted a ‘pet’ horse. The individual came out and met the gelding. We had a long discussion about horses, care and responsible ownership. After additional conversations, we decided it was a good fit. I have followed him on this person's Facebook page and it is a loving home.
Establishing Some Perspective on Horse Rescues
"What was this horse rescue world really about and how do horses end up needing to be rescued?"
About a hundred years ago, auctions were where men of the time would go to buy and sell what they considered “prime horseflesh.” The auctions featured horses, saddles, carts and anything else a gentleman of the time might need to stock his stable or supply his farm. If a person had a horse he needed to sell, then he took his horse to the auction, for the most part because there were few other options available; there were no classified ads at that time, no internet, and the towns were spread far apart so that it was difficult to travel from one area to another in a timely manner. At that time, auctions were a common and convenient way for people to meet in order to sell horses or other farm equipment.
Unfortunately, auctions today still bid off prime horseflesh by the thousands each year, but the reasons are varied to feed and often ugly. I don’t need to go into detail as this reader audience is already probably aware of many of those reasons and you don’t have to look far to find the facts. The heartbreak is where so many of these horses often end up: on a truck to a slaughterhouse. Enter horse rescuers. They are a special group indeed. A true rescuer is different than someone with good intentions. Their level of commitment and ability to ‘count the true cost’ is admirable.
Managing the Realities of Horse Rescue
I have a friend who does rescue, so I decided to reach out and ask a few questions to learn more. I will call her ‘Mary.' Mary has been doing animal rescue for many years. In addition to small animals, she currently has thirteen rescued horses. She has a full time job and lives in a very rural area. Her interest was taking in adoptable and unadoptable horses. For example, she rescued and still has numerous broodmares, 20 years old and have never been ridden. If she cannot find a qualified home, then the care and management of these equines are hers for life. Currently her expenses for this herd are $2,500 a month.
Living in a rural area is her personal preference, yet it makes it hard to adopt out rehabbed horses and generate volunteers. “Most people in rural areas have enough room and already own a horse and are not interested in volunteering extra time to a rescue,” Mary commented, “It can be easier to adopt out and gain helpers if you live closer to the city where there are many who want to be involved with horses and cannot afford it...access to people who are looking for a good companion horse and will afford the adoption fee."
Mary comes across many who want to help by taking an unwanted horse to their property, but cannot afford an adoption fee. While she appreciates the intention, that animal will probably not be afforded the care Mary would expect them to have. She said that fundraisers and donations can be hard to come by. It’s a competition with other rescuers and until you can get together and create a united effort it can be frustrating. She and other rescuers in 2013 created that consolidated effort that became Horse Rescue United of Georgia.
Mary is nearing retirement age. When she retires, her income will be impacted. Also, family health concerns has her thinking ahead. She hopes to move closer to her children in the city. This means at some point she will have to sell her farm and attempt to rehome these rescued horses that she hasn’t been able to adopt out. For now though, she forges ahead with her promise to hers and other horses that have become the unfortunate victims of circumstances. I applaud her courage, grace and depth of commitment.
Interesting Horse Rescue FAQ’s
There is much information in media of all descriptions about starting a rescue. Equus Magazine has an interesting article about the myths of horse rescues. The author is Jennifer Williams, PhD, is the founder and president of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society located in College Station, Texas, and the author of the book How to Start and Run a Rescue. Refer to the link for the full article.
Myths On Horse Rescue
Myth #1: All rescues are the same
Reality: Each rescue is a unique organization with its own policies and procedures, fundraisers and management staff. There are private rescues, sanctuaries and rehoming organizations.
Myth #2: My tax dollars support rescues, so they don't need any more from me.
Reality: Rescues do not receive local, state or federal funding and rely on private contributions of labor and funds to operate.
Myth #3: Rescues get services and items for free, so their expenses are minimal
Reality: Although many rescues receive some discounted services and donated items, no veterinarian or farrier is always able to work for free or even discount his or her services. And many expenses can't be discounted or donated. For example, here are some of the 2011 expenses for the organization Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society: $5,178 for insurance, $1,968 for postage, $33,061 for veterinary care, $1,900 for burial expenses for deceased horses, $10,830 for gas or mileage reimbursements for trailering horses, $6,875 for training horses, $8,386 for advertising and $2,306 for mileage reimbursement for volunteers.
Myth #4: Everyone who works at a rescue is on salary
Reality: Some rescues have paid staff, but many do not.
Myth #5: Rescues never enforce their contracts, so I can do what I want with my adopted horse
Reality: The purpose of the adoption contract is to ensure that the horses are placed in good homes. Most rescues follow up on their contracts. Rescue personnel perform follow-up visits not only to see that the horses are cared for, but also to make sure that the adoptive owners are happy with the arrangement. If someone violates the terms of an adoption contract, he or she may lose the horse and be liable to the rescue for the cost of enforcing that contract.
Myth #6: Rescues are happy to take in my old/lame/unsuitable horse
Reality: Most rescues can't take in owner-donated retirees.
Myth #7: Every horse at a rescue is kept until he dies of natural causes
Reality: Rescues have limited funds and must often euthanize horses.
Myth #8: Rescue horses are used up or worthless
Reality: Rescues have all kinds of horses. Some aren't sound for riding, but many can do anything any other horse can do.
Myth #9: Donating money or fostering or adopting horses are the only ways I can help
Reality: Rescues need volunteers in many areas.
A More Educated Conclusion:
There are a number of legitimate 501(c) 3 non profit rescue operations out there that do a fantastic job of rehabilitating and then rehoming rescued horses. One should know there are substantial costs to taking on such an endeavor and that it is not an easy task to find financial assistance. Secondarily, depending upon your location, you may find it difficult to find enough volunteer labor to prevent also having to afford barn help. When healthy, horses can live a long life (25 years or longer on average), so a rescue operation can not be taken on as a whim. Like Mary, you may have to commit to these horses for their lifetime. It’s a commitment which requires, hard work, financial support and active participation from volunteers. Don’t be offended when a rescue organization asks for an adoption fee - it's their way of recouping some of the cost, but also helps snuff out one of the real qualifications for an adopting family - financial stability.
"Amazingly fast, incredibly strong, tirelessly proud, fantastically gentle, he is a huge dark beast that touches the hearts of all who meet him. He has known joy and violence. Felt the warmth of children and the cruelty of abuse. He has nearly died saving lives and merely been killed by a drunken act. He has known the finery of grand estates and the filth of stinking slums. He has survived fire and flood, starvation and torment.And nothing could break his spirit-or his great love. This is HIS life.
He is called the horse"
- Anna Sewell
(Author of Black Beauty)