There's a simple but sad truth. There are more horses available than homes. Unlike shelter dogs or cats, who are at least humanely euthanized, unwanted horses often end up on a one-way trip to Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses.
Some lucky unwanted horses end up at rescue organizations, where they are evaluated and become available for adoption. Rescue horses aren't free. If you can't afford the adoption fee, you probably should rethink adopting a horse, because keeping a horse is an expensive endeavor.
The organization likely has put in a fair amount of money for the animal, not including basic feed and care. A reputable rescue vaccinates and deworms animals at their farm, and a veterinarian examines each equine. Horse rescue organizations require an adoption fee, which varies by the group and the particular animal. Generally, the most desirable horses -- well-trained, relatively young -- will command the highest adoption fees. Occasionally, a rescue will offer a horse free to the right home, but that is usually because the horse is only suitable as a companion animal, and cannot be ridden or driven.
You can view pictures and videos of available horses online, then submit an application. Whether your can make an appointment to meet the horse you're interested in before submitting an application depends on the individual rescue's rules.
Depending on the organization, the horse may belong permanently to them or the animal becomes yours after a certain time period, generally one or two years. If it's the latter, you eventually can sell the horse as long as you notify the group, which usually has the right of first refusal or requires contact information for the new owner. Ownership is more common in specific breed organizations, especially thoroughbreds. That's because these athletic animals have the ability to go to the top in many equine sports. With training, they become extremely valuable equines, perhaps worth $25,000 to $100,000 or more. However, top horse show and eventing trainers are not interested in steering their students to horses who cannot be owned outright and so never increase in value.
Organizations that deal primarily in pleasure horses generally hold lifetime ownership. On the plus side, if life changes occur and you can no longer keep the horse, you should be able to return him knowing the group will find him another good home.
Horse rescues require applicants to complete an adoption application prior to consideration. While the application varies by the organization, it generally includes:
- An application fee.
- Information on the applicant's horse experience.
- Type of horse wanted.
- Potential use of the horse.
- Your vet, farrier and trainer contact information.
- Name of your boarding stable, if applicable.
You may be asked to submit photographs of your farm or your boarding stable, along with additional references. Depending on your experience level and the type of horse you're looking for -- and whether the rescue is an all-volunteer organization or has office staff -- it can take a while for your application to be processed.
Rescues that retain ownership usually do not permit breeding of adopted animals. If you think that lovely mare on the website would make a good broodmare, you're probably out of luck.
Rescues that retain permanent ownership usually require a twice-annual veterinary visit, which can coincide with receiving spring and fall shots. Your vet must fill out the agency's form stating the condition of the horse, and that the animal is up-to-date on vaccinations, deworming, teeth floating, farrier care and any of the organization's particular requirements. Failing to have your horse examined semiannually could mean that the organization takes back the animal, according to the terms of the contract. For organizations that eventually relinquish ownership, those six-month visits are usually required for a specific time period and they may also take back the animal within the time limit if you fail to have the horse examined.
Many horse rescue organizations, especially smaller ones, only adopt out equines within a specific radius. That's generally four to five hours drive from the organization's facility, so that volunteers can bring back a horse if there appears to be a problem with the animal's care.