Horse Rescue Organizations: Questions to Ask

Horse rescue organizations perform an important role, offering a bright future to animals in need of a new home when their owners can't keep them or when they are no longer suited for their current use. However, as in any business, some groups do a better job than others. That's why it's important for anyone who is adopting from a rescue organization or donating a horse to one to know the right questions to ask before making any commitments.

My group, ReRun Inc., is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping ex-racehorses find new careers. The advice I offer here is based on our experiences in taking in and placing hundreds of horses over the years.

A Starting Point

Getting a sense of the group's financial health will tell you a lot about any non-profit. Start out by asking:

1. Can I see your financial information? Any 501(c)(3) corporation--a group recognized as a non-profit by the Internal Revenue Service--must be willing to share its financial statements or tax returns with the public. If the group won't reveal this information, that's a potential red flag, because you want to know that the organization is on a sound financial footing. Also, check to see that most of the group's money is actually used for horse care and not being largely channeled into administrative expenses or salaries.

2. How do you fund your program? When you review a group's financial information, pay particular attention to how they get their money. If you are donating a horse, you need some reassurance that the group has a steady, reliable funding source so they can properly care for their horses now and in the future. Funding is also a worthwhile concern for those adopting horses. Most rescue organizations charge an adoption fee, but beware of groups that receive most of their funding from these fees. That's because the group might be very anxious to place horses in order to keep the cash flowing. As a result, they might not be as reliable in recommending the right horse for your situation.

Questions to Ask If You're Adopting a Horse

1. Can my vet examine the horse? ReRun strongly encourages potential adopters to have their own vet examine any horse they're considering. We do have close relationships with vets, but they work for our group, and it's in your best interest to get an objective opinion. If any group discourages you from bringing in your own vet, that might be a sign that they are not sharing all they know about the horse.

2. Do you know of any problems with this horse? Many rescue horses go on to have second or third careers in a variety of different areas. Some are fit for any future use. Horses that can no longer jump, however, may make great dressage prospects or wonderful trail horses. Those that can't be ridden often become terrific pasture buddies. But we all know that horses do experience some wear and tear over the years, and a responsible group ought to be open about any problems, whether physical or temperamental, that have brought the horse to a rescue organization. At ReRun, we try to be brutally honest about all limitations of which we're aware. If any group presents a horse as "perfect," keep in mind that they might not be telling you the full story.

3. Where did this horse come from? Some horses' life histories are a little murky, but a rescue group should tell you where they got the horse--whether it's off the track, from a camp or riding school, a private owner, or elsewhere--and why it came into the program. They should be willing to share their files with you, including contact information for the last owner so you can ask them about the horse's past work and health history.

4. What do you want to know about me? A responsible organization will have a lot of questions for potential adopters because they want to ensure they're making the right match. You should be asked about how you plan to use the horse, where it will live, who will care for it, and how much experience you have with horses in general and with horses like the one you're considering. If the group doesn't ask you any questions, you might not be able to rely on their judgment in recommending the best horse for you.


Questions to Ask If You're Donating a Horse

1. Can I visit your facility? You'll want to see where your horse will live and the condition of the other horses under the group's care.

2. Can you give me references for other donors and adopters? If you talk to previous adopters, you can judge whether the organization does a good job of selecting new owners and homes for horses. Ask for contact information for at least five people who have taken horses from the group to get a sense of their track record. In addition, those who have donated horses in the past can tell you whether they were satisfied with the organization and the care their horse received.

3. Do adopters sign a contract? If so, what kind of follow up do you do? Adopters often are asked to sign a contract agreeing to return the horse to the rescue group if the adopter no longer wants the animal. This requirement might last for the horse's lifetime or for a few years. No matter what the time period, though, find out how often the group actually follows up with new owners. The organization might never know that a new owner has sold a horse if they don't contact them from time to time to check on the horse's welfare. Ask to see the group's files detailing the most recent six months' worth of follow-ups to satisfy yourself that they're being done properly.

Do Your Homework

Many of excellent rescue organizations offer a lot of information on the Internet and elsewhere, but it's best to do your own independent research into any group. Armed with the questions here, you should be able to find a wonderful new companion or the right next home for your horse.

Author Laurie Condurso-Lane is president of ReRun Inc.  

Read more about ReRun and other organizations that retrain Thoroughbreds for new careers.

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