Rescue Highlights Danger of 'Free Horse' Offers

Dennis Rutherford of Elma, Wash., had the best of intentions when he offered his pair of retired Thoroughbred racehorses free to good homes on a popular giveaway Web site. Now he's warning other horse owners it's dangerous to offer something for nothing.

"People should never offer a horse free of charge," said Rutherford, a soldier whose horses needed new homes before his deployment to Iraq. "Ask at least a $150 fee--just enough so they know they're not going to make a profit at an auction."

Rescued horse Petersburg Knight

Petersburg Knight and rescuer Cathy Atkinson.

Rutherford learned that lesson after he gave his horses to area horse owner Mesue Babcock, who claimed she wanted them for a local 4-H equestrian program. Just hours after she and the horses left the property, Rutherford's friends found one of them, Petersburg Knight, at an auction where he was sold to a slaughter buyer for $150.

Before "Peter" could be hauled off the sale lot, some organizers of area horse rescues recognized him from his Internet photo and went to work to find an alternate buyer.

"We negotiated with the buyer and purchased Peter for $400," said Cathy Atkinson, a member of Cowgirl Spirit Rescue, a group in Fall City, Wash., that trains formerly slaughter-bound horses for drill team competition.

Atkinson posted an Internet plea for donations to support Peter's purchase. She collected more than $1,000 from contributors as far away as Australia. The horse was immediately adopted by a local man familiar to Atkinson, and excess donations were disbursed to other local horse rescue operations.

According to Rutherford, Babcock claims she still owns William, Peter's pasturemate.

Babcock declined the opportunity to comment on Peter's sale, or to confirm William's whereabouts.

"This story illustrates the dangers low-end horses face when their owners can no longer keep them," Atkinson said.

She recommends that horse owners check veterinary references, make home visits, and arrange to take back ownership of the horse if needed, before surrendering a horse to an adoptive owner.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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