adopting rescue horses

So, you’ve done your homework.  Your barn or pasture shelter is ready for its new tenant.  You have prepared, fussed, and researched the breeds you like, and know what you will use the horse.  You dream of the day you bring home your new horse.  Perhaps you already have a horse or two and want to add to your four-legged family.  Good for you!   Now… where to find that special horse, whether you are looking for a trail mount, companion animal, or all-around family riding horse?  Of course, you can read all the classifieds, talk to friends, and visit big breeding farms or lesson barns, but what about checking out a little-utilized resource to find your new friend? Have you considered adopting a rescue horse?

Horse auctions and rescues have been around for a long time, but are often overlooked by people looking for a new horse.  With today’s economy, both of these venues are flooded with horses in need of good homes.  Most people do not realize that auctions and rescues have great horses available that are desperate for a second chance and are well worth checking out.  How do I know?  As I write this I am looking through my window at my own auction/rescue horse grazing in my pasture.  Breeze is a big, elegant, grey Arabian Andalusian cross mare that came to me via a private rescue organization that searches for “viable” horses at local auctions.  “Viable” meaning a horse that can be rehabilitated and re-homed after a brief evaluation period that includes health care and training.  I know people who have purchased terrific family horses at auction or adopted them via rescues.  Many of these horses had breed registration papers included in the transaction.  Because of Breeze, and horses like her, I want to share information about auctions and adoptions and help bring these horses and prospective owners together.  Let’s take a look at the venues, the horses, the ups and downs of it all, and some profiles of successful and happy adoption/rescue families.

Success Stories and Happy Rescue Horses

Breezeadopting rescue horses: My Arabian-Andalusian-cross mare was found at an auction emaciated and in terrible shape.  Her body was covered with scars, and recent cuts, scrapes, and rope burns.  According to the sellers, she had just had her foal taken from her before going to the auction.  She fought valiantly to remain with her baby.  She was roped and forced into a rusted and broken trailer and fell during transport.  Breeze was frightened and untrusting, especially of men.  A group of friends spotted her and recognized her potential.  They pooled $400 together to outbid a meat buyer.  Breeze was brought to a rescue farm for rehabilitation.  She was adopted out once but was confiscated because of neglect in the new home.  Since I had contacted the rescuer previously, I was next in line and Breeze was delivered to me.  Despite her abusive past, she is a gentle, curious, and very intelligent mare.  She is coming along nicely in her dressage schooling and is an excellent trail horse.  Breeze has a “forever home” with me.

Dakota: A retired “Off the Track Thoroughbred” or OTTB with substantial race earnings.  Dakota was adopted in Massachusetts through a rescue that helps racehorses find new homes.   He is currently in hunter/jumper training at a stable in Connecticut and doing well.

Paris: A handsome fellow found at auction.  A registered Hackney pony with a lengthy show record.  He was shown in hand, under saddle, in harness, and is a sweet children’s mount and schoolmaster.

Locating Auctions and Horse Rescue Adoption Organizations

Every state has horse auctions and rescue or adoption organizations.  Most auctions are held at county livestock markets.  To locate auctions or rescue/adoption organizations, check area horse publications, or you can search online using keywords such as horse or equine rescue or adoption, auction, along with your local area, county, or state.  Local stables, horse clubs, and county extension services will be able to provide names of rescues and adoption organizations.  Occasionally, a state or city-mounted patrol division will hold adoptions for retiring police horses.  Contact your state police mounted division office for information.   There are also breed and industry-specific adoption/rescue organizations, such as those who help Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Quarter Horse, and Arabian racehorses find new homes.

Thoroughly research the adoption/rescue organizations you contact to find out their reputation.  Ask for contact information and references for prior adoptive owners, and the organization’s veterinarian.

Ready, Set, Go!

If you are not an experienced horse person you should ALWAYS bring an experienced friend, or hire a trainer to accompany you to the auction or rescue facility.  Be honest with this person and yourself about what you can handle financially and what your experience is with horses.  Your friend or trainer can help steer you away from a horse that may be too much for you to take on because of health, injury, or behavior issues, and can be the voice of reason when you feel so bad for a particular animal that you want to save them regardless of what issues they may have.  The friend or trainer can help you identify a horse that suits your needs, and can also help decide whether a horse is a good match and just needs some rehab and weight to bloom.  Remember: The horse may be inexpensive, but take into account the costs of specialized medical care and re-training if needed.

Know ahead of time exactly what you are looking for and take the list with you.  It is easy to stand in front of a group of horses needing homes and lose perspective.  It is natural to want to bring them all home!  Find the one for you, and give that special one a loving home.

What to Expect During the Rescue Horse Adoption Process

Adoption/rescue organizations usually require an extensive application process and an adoption fee.  The fee helps defray the operating costs of the organization, and of horse care.  The applications contain questions regarding your contact information including driver’s license, employment information, Social Security number, veterinarian and personal references, horse experience, and a description of where you will keep the horse.  Barbed wire is often a disqualifier, so be aware that if you wish to adopt you may have to replace the barbed wire with safer fencing.

You may be required to sign a contract with the organization regarding their requirements of ownership and care.  Some of the requirements include the right of the organization to inspect the horse and facility after you bring the horse home and restrictions regarding breeding the horse.  Some organizations retain legal ownership of the horse to prevent horses from being sold by unscrupulous adopters, while others relinquish ownership after some time.  Most organizations reserve the right to remove the horse from the adoptive home should the horse’s welfare be in jeopardy.  All of the provisions and questions are there to ensure the safety and welfare of the horses.

The Rescue Horses

Rescue and adoption organizations health screen, treat, rehabilitate, and often retrain the horses that come to them to ensure the best possible chance of placement for each horse.  There are horses available at nearly every age and level of training, from untrained youngsters to old-timers needing a retirement home and everything in between.  Organizations that work with the racing industry have horses that are healthy but had slow track times, horses that have had an injury and need time to heal retired broodmares, and those who can never be ridden but are beautiful pasture buddies.  A great number of off-track horses have become outstanding recreational or show horses.

What to Look for Whether Purchasing from an Auction or Adopting Rescue Horse

No matter where you search for a horse, look for the information that will help you help the horse, and avoid bringing home a problem.  The only information required in most auctions is current, negative Coggins test results, and vaccinations.  This is where having an experienced horse person in tow really makes the difference!  Here’s a good place to start:

  • Negative Coggins test
  • Current vaccinations and deworming
  • Teeth and hooves in good condition
  • Information on health issues (ask for health records)
  • Registration papers, if available
  • The horse is disease/parasite-free
  • Ask about vices/bad habits that can be costly or dangerous
  • Good temperament for you, your family, and the intended use of the horse
  • Information on the horse’s previous training and use

Homeward Bound with your Adopted Rescue Horse

Let’s say you found your special horse and have brought him home.  Be aware that along with the stress of moving to a new home, he may have experienced the stress of abuse or neglect in his previous home.  Allow your horse time to settle in and familiarize themselves with their new environment.  Have your veterinarian examine your horse to be sure that he is in good health and to prevent a small issue from becoming a larger one.  If the horse is thin, go slow in building his weight.  It is best to keep things low-key, just observing him without riding, for at least a week.  Daily grooming and gentle, non-pushy attention with trust-building exercises go a long way in building a positive bond with your horse, and the rewards will show in the future.

There are beautiful and deserving horses out there just needing TLC to make them shine.   Go find your diamond.  I did!

adopting rescue horses

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