All Horses Need Care

All of us believe we're responsible horse owners. We provide adequate care and nutrition, call the veterinarian when our horses don't seem quite right or need an annual examination, and in many cases treat them like members of our own families. Putting our horses first is a priority for everyone, right?

Unfortunately, not all horses' owners feel this way, and some horses don't even receive the basic necessities. Each year, a small percentage of horses fall victim to inadequate care or unfortunate circumstances. An owner may no longer have the financial resources to provide for the horse's daily needs, the horse may exhibit a behavioral problem that prevents it from being enjoyed by its owner, or for those whose interest in horses is primarily economic, the horse--due to age or injury--may no longer be able to perform the job for which it was intended.

While an entire article could be devoted solely to responsible horse ownership, this commentary will focus on the rescue and retirement options available for horses that find themselves "unwanted." Rescue and retirement facilities in the United States are playing an increasingly important role in the long-term care and placement of horses whose owners can no longer care for them-- or don't want to.

Since there is no national organizational body for these facilities, it is hard to truly know how many of them exist in the United States. Many are well-established groups, such as the Standardbred and Thoroughbred Retirement Foundations or the Hooved Animal Humane Society, which can rescue and place hundreds of horses each year. Others are smaller, local facilities that might care for a handful of horses. Most rescue and retirement facilities utilize the services of volunteers to care for the horses and maintain the property. Many volunteers have little horse husbandry experience, but are dedicated to relieving suffering and improving the welfare of the animals.

To assist the many volunteers and non-veterinarians who operate rescue and retirement facilities, and because the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is dedicated to the health and welfare of all horses, the AAEP's Equine Welfare Committee recently developed the resource guide Care Guidelines for Equine Rescue and Retirement Facilities. While many principles of basic horse care and management apply to all horses regardless of their situations, many horses entering rescue or retirement facilities arrive with unique health challenges. Therefore, the guidelines are directed specifically at issues surrounding the rescued horse. The AAEP believes it is in the best interest of rescued and adopted horses if employees and volunteers understand the basic health and husbandry practices that will provide these horses with the best hope for a happy and healthy life.

The AAEP resource guide addresses topics such as basic health management, including the steps that should be taken when introducing a new horse to the facility, the special needs of the geriatric horse, feeding the starved horse, and factors that should be considered when evaluating the necessity of euthanatizing a suffering horse. Also in the guidelines are a body condition scorecard and a sample veterinary checklist for evaluating facilities.

Equine veterinarians play an important role in the health and welfare of horses and can offer valuable advice on many aspects of care. A veterinarian also can help an organization periodically re-evaluate its guiding principles, practices, capabilities, and goals to ensure they are acting in the horse's best interest. Many AAEP-member veterinarians volunteer their time and expertise at facilities throughout the country, and there is no doubt they are invaluable partners in the success of rescue and retirement facilities. The AAEP believes their guidelines will enhance this partnership and help ensure that even the "unwanted horse" can enjoy a happy and fruitful life.

Care Guidelines for Rescue and Retirement Facilities is free and can be obtained by contacting the AAEP office at 859/233-0147 or The guidelines can also be viewed online at

About the Author

Tom Lenz, DVM, Dipl. ACT

Tom Lenz, DVM, Dipl. ACT, is chairman of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, an organization dedicated to reducing the number of unwanted horses and to improving their welfare through education and the efforts of organizations committed to the health, safety, and responsible care and disposition of these horses. Lenz was the 49th president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and he has served on the American Horse Council's Animal Welfare Committee and the Research Committee of the American Quarter Horse Association.

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