How to Get the Right Horse From a Rescue

Readers ask me for tips on rescuing a horse—here’s what I’ve learned from working at a rescue, and adopting two rescue horses.

A horse leaving the rescue for his forever home.

In my next blog installment, I’ll explain how to shop for a horse at a rescue and a bit about the adoption process.

Do Your Homework

First, be honest with yourself, and set out specific guidelines and goals. As you begin and rescue process, and as you proceed, keep track of everything in a dedicated notebook.

Step 1. Calculate costs. Adoption fees are usually low, as rescues are more interested in finding the horses a good home than making a profit. But, of course, the cost of owning and caring for a horse is ongoing.

Create a budget that includes all horse-related expenses. Include boarding, feed, tack, training, veterinary care, and supplements.

Also prepare for unexpected expenses. Costs can add up if your rescue horse becomes injured, or needs corrective shoeing or expensive supplements. An owner’s lack of preparation for the unexpected expenses likely led to the need to surrender your rescue horse to a rescue in the first place.

Step 2. Evaluate your riding-skill level. Be honest. It’s better to have a horse you’re comfortable with than one you’re frightened of. For example, if you’re a beginner, start with a horse that is well-trained and confident, versus an untrained, or newly started horse.

Step 3. Know what you’re looking for. Be clear on exactly what you want to do with your new horse. Do you need a horse to ride on occasional short rides? A second horse to put friends on? A pasture companion for your existing trail horse? Or a solid trail horse?

Choose a Rescue

Now you’re ready to find a respectable rescue. One place to start is A Home for Every Horse (

If there isn’t an accredited rescue near you, head to the nearest rescue, and ask the questions listed below. Set up a tour, if possible. The answers will help determine whether it’s a responsible, legitimate rescue.

A well-run rescue will be open and friendly, the animals will be well cared for, and the enclosures will be safe and clean. Staff members will be happy to share information about the horses and their organization.

Write down the answers and your impressions in your notebook, and make a list of any concerns you might have, so you can address them with follow-up questions and firsthand observations before you start choosing a horse.

> Is the rescue a registered nonprofit organization? If so, is there a board of directors? Are they willing to share their financials with you?

> Where do the horses come from? Does the horse rescue only take in horses that are removed from neglectful situations, or does it take horses from auctions or individuals? Local animal control organizations will usually only work with reputable rescues.

> What does the facility look like? It should be clean, well-organized, and have safe, effective enclosures for the animals.

> Will the rescue share the horse’s health records with you? Can you talk to their veterinarian? A rescue with nothing to hide will happily show you the horse’s veterinary records.

> Does the rescue have a good reputation in the community? Ask local horse owners, veterinarians, and farriers.

> Will the rescue give you a tour of the facility? How do the horses look? Are they well-fed? Are their feet in good condition? Are they fed good-quality hay? A rescue does take in horses in poor condition, but the majority of the residents should be in good health.

Start Shopping

When you’ve chosen a rescue, you’ll start the adoption process by filling out an application. This will help staff members determine the type of horse to show you.

Most organized rescues’ websites feature the horses ready to be adopted. But they’ll likely also have horses not yet on the website, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see your dream horse right away.

Also, almost all rescues have waiting lists comprised of horses waiting to be admitted. Often, their owners are struggling financially or have a horse that doesn’t meet their needs. Your dream horse could be on one of these lists.

If you’re a beginning or intermediate rider, arrange to bring a professional or a very experienced horseperson with you to your adoption appointments. This person will notice any exceptional behavioral or health issues that might be too much for you to handle.

Also, this person may need to ride the horse first to make sure the horse is a good match for your skill set.

When you see a horse online you think might be a good fit, schedule a visit. Before you go, review your written goals. Seeing all the horses in need of a home can be overwhelming.

Ask to be shown only horses that meet your criteria. By sticking to your goals, you’ll find a horse that best suits your needs.

When you find a horse you’re interested in, find out everything you can about him. Here are some questions to ask:

> Do you have the horse’s medical records?

> How did the horse come to the rescue?

> How long has he been there?

> Has he been in training?

These questions will help you determine whether the horse is right for you. They’ll also give you valuable information about how to handle the horse once you take him home.

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