Horse Rescue & Adoption
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Horse Rescue & Adoption




A Horse Rescue Primer

There are more and more horse rescues being formed across the U.S. While differences exist between them, most horse rescues have much in common. Many work to rescue horses and then place them in new homes. Some provide rescued horses with permanent homes within the rescue — a horse sanctuary.

While some rescues focus on “poster child” horses (those which are infirm, malnourished or require extensive medical care), The Epona Project focuses on those that are healthy, sound, young and attractive. The reason for this approach is that we have an easier time finding homes for such horses. We do take on horses with behavioral or emotional problems occasionally and their stay with us is usually longer.

The Purpose of Horse Rescue

Many members of the public harbor a great misconception regarding the purpose and function of horse rescues. These individuals approach rescues with the goal of buying a cheap horse. I explain to them that these animals have value; they are not throw away blue light specials. We price our horses a little under what we estimate to be market value. It angers some people when we occasionally have a “valuable” horse at our rescue which commands a high price.

If a lovely, papered Andalusian who’s blind in one eye (true story) is donated and we can get $5,000 for her to go to a remarkable home, I make no apologies for that adoption fee buying food for the rest of the horses. We spend anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 on food per month. Just where do people think we can come up with those kinds of funds? Ultimately, we are in the business of making life easier for horses, not offering bargains for people.

Things to Know About Horse Rescue

A proper horse rescue agency will screen potential adoptive families and the facilities available for the horse. New families may be checked for their knowledge of horses, including riding, basic training, training philosophy that is compatible with the rescue, and basic health care knowledge. It is vital to make a great match that will stand the test of time. Questions will most likely be asked about the kind of riding the family plans to do. We test riding ability at our rescue before we let any horse leave our facilities.

When there is a gap in a potential adoptive family’s knowledge, it shouldn’t result in automatically disqualification. There is nothing wrong with providing education to a new family. We spend plenty of time talking with the adopters as well as watching them interact with our horses. Philosophies differ, but we place emphasis on having the horse’s home provide lots of room to play and move. We prefer a facility with a simple shelter and lots of room to one with a fancy stall and limited turn out time.

There are things to watch out for when dealing with horse rescues. Any rescue that pressures you to buy a horse on the spot is bad news. You need to take time to get to know an animal first. Do the best you can at looking for lameness. Just watch the horse walk and trot. Does the gait look even and balanced? Look at the legs. Are any joints swollen? If in doubt, and especially if spending a lot of money, pay for a vet check. If the horse is rideable, have someone from the rescue ride the horse first. When you ride, be sure to wear a helmet! Get all paperwork required by your state to document your ownership of the animal.

Why Do We Do It?

The horse rescue business is very tough and suffers high burn out. We typically care for 35 to 45 horses at a time. Just feeding, watering and cleaning up after that many horses is quite a job. Of course, they need much more than that — there’s training, activity, interaction with humans, grooming. Daily grooming would be ideal, but we aim to have as many as possible groomed on the weekends when we have more volunteers.

Of course, the good news is that working at a horse rescue, whether full time or two hours a week, is tremendously rewarding. We see miracles every day with animals who come to us impossible to touch and later won’t leave us alone when walking through a pasture. We are joyful when we match the right horse to the right family. We feel like our work is significant when we educate volunteers, new owners and visitors, not to mention web readers, about the nature of horses, horse care and training methods that are gentle, as well as the tragedy of horse slaughter and ways to fight it.

The Horse Slaughter Industry

Most people assume that horses only need to be rescued when they are old or starving. Horse rescues have done much to educate the public about the slaughter of the American horse. USDA figures put the number of horses slaughtered at about 40,000 year in the U.S. Many of these horses are not old, lame or malnourished. Some have behavioral problems due to lack of training or abusive training. Many are beautiful and healthy, of all ages and breeds.

For those who don’t know about the horse slaughter industry, it is a nasty business where killer buyers go to local auctions and try to buy as many horses going through the auctions as possible. Those bought are shipped to one of three processing plants in the U.S. Two of these slaughterhouses are in Texas and one is in Illinois. More U.S. horses are now being shipped to Mexican plants.

Horses are remarkably sensitive animals who pick up on their surroundings. Those shipped to slaughter are crowded tight into trailers with no thought given to separating out stallions or young horses. Horses from the age of six months up can be slaughtered. Once butchered, the horse meat is shipped overseas to Europe and Japan. From the time the horses arrive at the auction to the time the captive bolt is shot into their brain, the whole process — even the walk from the trailer into the plant — is brutal.

With the number of horses lost in the tens of thousands, it is easy to get discouraged. But when you get to know the personality of a horse that you’ve saved, you realize that for that horse, your work is something you could never walk away from.


Authored by Susan Ramsey, The Epona Project, Castle Rock, Colorado [no longer in operation]. Original article published 12 May 2006, copyright Ten Spider Enterprises, LLC.


Follow links to the right to learn more about horse and equine rescue and adopting a horse. At the left margin, Related Links address topics of interest pertaining to pets and companion animals. View the Pet Adoption & Rescue SiteMap for a complete list of animal adoption agencies, humane societies and pet placement topics.


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