Tis the Season for Giving

There are many charitable organizations and foundations that help horses or are involved in horse-related programs. These range from rescue groups (relocating neglected or abused animals or saving them from slaughter) to foundations that fund research to conquer equine diseases. Some groups give scholarships to horse-involved young people; some rehabilitate horses and assist handicapped people with hippotherapy (treatment using the multidimensional movement of the horse). There are groups that have a specific focus for their aid--such as racehorses, old horses, or wild horses. Whatever your interest, there is a worthy group that you can support. Here is a sampling of some of the non-profit programs that would love your help. (Their contact information can be found at Article Quick Find #3873 at www.TheHorse.com.)

Editor's note: Inclusion in this article does not indicate that any charity is better than another; we have featured many different charitable groups over the years. For a larger listing of equine welfare organizations and rescue groups, visit www.TheHorse.com/source for The Horse Source online and look up Welfare/Rescue Organizations, which you can sort by geographic location.


These groups find homes for horses, either through adoption programs, matching buyers and sellers, or providing a place where retired horses can live out their lives. There are many of these groups; some are national and some only operate in a certain region. Adoption processes vary with each group--many of them release the horse into your care, but you never own the horse. Others, like CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses), match buyers and sellers so you can purchase the horse. Following are a few of these groups.

Blue Horse Charities (BHC)--This organization was formed in early 2001 to provide humane solutions for Thoroughbreds no longer able to race or breed. BHC raises money for rescue and adoption, and is funded by voluntary contributions of consignors and/or buyers of horses sold by the Fasig-Tipton auction company.

"A buyer or seller can commit to one-quarter of 1% of the sale price, which is then matched by Fasig-Tipton," says Leslie McCamish of BHC. "We have also started taking donations. This money goes to various rescue and adoption groups that we support. Our immediate emphasis is to keep all Thoroughbreds out of the hands of killer buyers.

"We will help any rescue group that is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; we give them funding for every Thoroughbred they rescue at the track or slaughterhouse," she says. "We have a section on our web site on who we help. Many of the groups have their own web sites and show the horses available for adoption."

Some of the rescue/adoption/relocation groups that are helped by BHC include CANTER, ReRun, Days End Farm Horse Rescue, Horse Protection League, United Pegasus Foundation, New York Horse Rescue Corporation, New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Georgia Equine Rescue, Bright Futures Farm, Last Chance Corral, LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society, Kings Bridge Equine Rescue, Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation, and Lost and Found Horse Rescue.

CANTER--This group was started in 1997 in Michigan by Jo Anne Normile, and it relies entirely on volunteer help to find buyers for horses off the track. Now with chapters in several states, the group has placed nearly 1,000 horses. These horses become jumpers, dressage horses, event horses, pleasure horses, and 4-H horses. The web site lists horses for sale and also has a "wanting to purchase" section where prospective buyers can list attributes they are looking for in a horse such as age, height, sex, and price they are willing to pay.

CANTER has a small fund from donations that allows for purchase of horses which must be removed immediately from the track. They will buy any horse--sound or unsound--and restore him to health (at their expense or with donated veterinary services) so he can recover and be sold (at the original salvage price) to a good home.

Lost and Found Horse Rescue--Kelly Young began a horse rescue program in Pennsylvania 10 years ago and has rescued more than 400 horses in the past five years. She attends a local auction every week and brings home horses which would otherwise go to slaughter buyers. She treats them for ailments at her own barn, then finds adoptive homes. Helped by a dozen volunteers, Young places rescued horses and horses whose owners can no longer care for them.

"We take in SPCA seizures, do racetrack rescue and rehab, and do adoptions in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and New Jersey," says Young. "People adopting the horses sign a contract; the horses cannot be used for breeding, track racing, or be resold."

American Standardbred Adoption Program (ASAP)--Located in Wisconsin, ASAP was created in 1994 to rescue or relocate Standardbreds retiring from the track due to injury or lack of racing ability. The adopter pays a low fee to help cover expenses in the volunteer-staffed office.

"The owners donate horses to us and can take a tax write-off, and we find homes for them," says ASAP's spokesperson Bonnie Cronin. "Our director, Susan Wellman, has a farm where some horses can be kept until adoption. In the summer she gives riding and driving lessons for physically, emotionally, and mentally challenged children."

Research Groups

Many advances in the fight against equine diseases have been helped by the efforts of charities that fund research. Here are a few examples:

Morris Animal Foundation--Rob Hilsenroth, DVM, director of the Morris Animal Foundation, says his group has a very narrow focus--health studies for dogs, cats, horses, and wildlife.

"We don't do rescues or cruelty investigations," he says. "Our foundation started in 1948 for cats and dogs, and in 1960 we included horses. In the last five years we've funded 62 health studies for horses, spending $2.5 million. Main areas of interest are:

  • Colic;
  • Endotoxemia;
  • Colitis;
  • Laminitis;
  • Lameness;
  • Pain management;
  • Parasites;
  • Equine infectious anemia;
  • Osteochondrosis;
  • Vaccines;
  • EPM;
  • Foal pneumonia;
  • Nutrition;
  • Hypothyroidism in foals;
  • Anesthesia;
  • Tying-up syndrome; and
  • DNA gene mapping in horses.

"We get 20 to 100 proposals every year for horse studies and fund between five and 15 new studies each year," he adds. "Cost of a study may range from $7,500 to $100,000 per year. There are many diseases in horses that don't mimic human diseases, so they are not used as models (not studied for their potential to aid our ability to treat a human disease). Many horse diseases do not affect other species, so these are the study areas we are most interested in.

"We are not concerned with the economic impact of a disease," Hilsenroth continues. "Folks at other foundations might be focused on a certain condition because it is costing the racing industry X number of dollars, but we are just concerned about the horse itself. When veterinarian Mark Morris, DVM, started this foundation, he said, 'It's about time somebody did something for the animals themselves.' Our goal is to improve the health and well-being of
companion animals by funding humane health studies and disseminating information about those studies."

Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation--Edward Bowen, president of the foundation, says that since its beginning in 1940, the group has helped fund research resulting in many benefits to horses. These accomplishments include:

  • Creating the first vaccine for equine influenza;
  • Identifying the cause of virus abortion and creation of a vaccine;
  • Developing the field of equine biomechanics;
  • Defining the cause of colitis X;
  • Controlling shaker foal syndrome;
  • Developing a vaccine for equine viral arteritis (EVA);
  • Greater understanding of passive immunity in foals, equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), equine infectious anemia (EIA), placentitis abortions, wobbler syndrome, and other diseases.

Since 1983, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation has provided more than $9.5 million to fund more than 175 projects at 27 universities. In 2002, the Foundation authorized funding of 22 equine research projects at 16 universities in the United States and Canada. Current and recent projects are addressing such issues as mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS), use of serum markers to detect impending injury to bones and joints, improved immunity through DNA vaccination, use of adult stem cells for cartilage repair, gene therapy for equine arthritis, and clearer understanding of gastric ulcers and laminitis.

American Quarter Horse Foundation (AQHF)--This foundation has three goals--research, scholarships, and preservation of American Quarter Horse history through its Heritage Center and Museum. Each year the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and the Foundation review research funding requests from colleges and universities, and award grant money from the Foundation's endowment fund.

Since 1981, more than $4 million in grants has been awarded for equine research. In addition, the Foundation administers two scholarship programs, giving money to selected members of the American Quarter Horse Youth Association, and to students pursuing education related to the Quarter Horse racing industry. To date, 800 scholarships have been awarded.

Riding for the Handicapped

There are a number of groups around the United States that use horses to provide therapy for handicapped or disabled people. Many of these are members of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). NARHA was formed in 1969 to promote and support therapeutic riding in the U.S. and Canada, and to act as a clearinghouse for information in therapeutic riding. Today, more than 30,000 people with disabilities take part in riding programs at more than 600 NARHA riding centers. These centers range from small, one-person programs to large operations with several instructors and therapists and many volunteers. NARHA assists riding centers by providing program accreditation to ensure high safety standards, instructor certification (to bring knowledge of disabilities and of horses together to best serve the riders' needs), and low-cost liability insurance for NARHA riding centers. NARHA can direct you to therapeutic riding centers in your area (www.narha.org).

A program like this always needs help while operating on a very tight budget. The Central Kentucky program has only three paid staff members, and relies on 270 volunteers. Every handicapped person who rides needs several helpers to ensure safety.

"This past year we had 82 students, so that takes a lot of volunteers," says Mark Palmer, executive director of the Central Kentucky Riding for the Handicapped program.

Debating About Donating?

"If you love your horse, you realize that humans must see to his needs," Hilsenroth says. "No government will take care of these things. That's why we have charities. This money has to come from somewhere.

"The other word of wisdom I would pass along is that every little bit helps--for all of the horse charities. They all need money to accomplish their purposes."

There is a wide variety of need. And, whatever your interest, there is a direction in which you can help.

"That's the wonderful thing; people can find a niche for giving that they are happy with," Hilsenroth says. "A lot of our donors have had horses that died from colic or suffered from laminitis, and they want to make a difference for other horses in that particular area. Other folks might have a friend or family member who is disabled and benefits from a handicapped riding program."

"Regardless of where the money goes, we need to be philanthropic. We should give a little bit back to the horse," says Hilsenroth.

Horses have enriched our own lives in many ways. In gratitude, most horse owners want to give something back.


Wenholz, S. Adoption Organizations: Charity Begins with Homework. The Horse, July 2000, 77-82. Article Quick Find #205 at www.TheHorse.com.


Some breed associations have their own charities, or listings of related charities. An Internet search will turn up a large number of charitable groups. The Internet has been a boon to all of the rescue groups and charities, greatly expanding their exposure to interested people who want to help horses or adopt one. The Horse Source (www.TheHorse.com/horse_source.aspx) lists many equine welfare groups, health and research organizations, and charities. You can also ask your veterinarian; he or she will usually be familiar with some charities.

It always pays to investigate a group before donating. Make sure it's a registered non-profit organization, classified as 501(c)(3) with the federal government. Rob Hilsenroth, director of the Morris Animal Foundation, advises would-be donors to do some homework and find out more about a charity's purpose and how it uses the donated money.

"The person writing a $25 check might not take time to look into this, but people giving a larger donation, like $10,000, are usually making a planned gift or putting the charity in their will," he says. "They should ask the charity to send them a copy of the latest annual report and audited financial statement. Every charity has to do that. Some of these reports and statements can be found on their web sites, but some groups will only do this with hard copy. Anyone who asks is entitled to this information and it doesn't cost anything. Just call the charity and ask them to send this to you.

"This information gives you an idea how much money they spend on programs versus overhead," he adds. "Is the money buying the executive director a new car, or going to help the horses? You need to know this. One of the reasons Morris Animal Foundation is able to fund so much research is because as of six years ago, every penny donated to our foundation goes directly to funding health studies. Not a penny goes to overhead. We have 22 staff members, a large phone bill and light bill, and travel expenses, but all of the overhead is covered by a draw from our investments. If you write a check for $10 or $10,000, it all goes to fund health studies.

"The general rule of thumb is that a charity should take less than 35% of total budget for overhead; 65% or more should be for programs," Hilsenroth adds.

"When checking on a charity, also ask who decides (and how it is decided) where the money goes," he says. "Is it a group of people who have been sitting on the board for a long time, or are there scientists looking at science, human-animal bond specialists looking at those aspects, people qualified in cruelty investigations looking at that, and so on. Are there experts, and do those groups of people change? How do they select where the money goes? Who is supervising the spending of your gift? For instance, in our foundation we use a scientific advisory board, which is ever-changing. People who serve on it are investigators themselves, or perhaps the dean of research at a veterinary school. They each serve just four years on the board, so this helps us stay out of any politics. We also make sure all fields of expertise are covered. When a surgeon retires from the board, that person is replaced with another surgeon."

Do your homework, then you will be happy with knowing that you are giving back something to the world of horses.--Heather Smith Thomas


A listing of Welfare/Rescue Organizations from The Horse Source directory can be found at www.TheHorse.com/source.

American Quarter Horse Foundation
PO Box 200
Amarillo, TX 79168

American Standardbred Adoption Program
745 S. Main St.
Viroqua, WI 54665

Blue Horse Charities
PO Box 13610
Lexington, KY 40583-3610

10801 Last Drive
Plymouth, MI 48170

Central Kentucky Riding for the Handicapped
PO Box 13155
Lexington, KY 40511

Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation
821 Corporate Drive
Lexington, KY 40503

Hooved Animal Humane Society
P.O. Box 400
Woodstock, IL 60098

Lost and Found Horse Rescue
852 Valley Road
York, PA 17403

Morris Animal Foundation
45 Inverness Dr. E.
Englewood, CO 80112-5480

North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA)
P.O. Box 33150
Denver, CO 80233 

USA Equestrian
Torchbearer Funds
Kevin Burns
Assistant Executive Director, Development
USA Equestrian, Inc.

Equine Research Centre
50 McGilvray St.,
Guelph, Ontario
N1G 2W1
Fax: 519/767-1081

About the Author

Heather Smith Thomas

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey's Guide to Raising Horses and Storey's Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at http://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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