Horse Adoption: Strings Attached

Adopting a horse sounds romantic — even noble. But it’s far from simple. The agency you work with spells out what you can and can’t do with the horse you adopt. They’ll also likely have spot checks and required paperwork, possibly annually. It’s even possible that they will retain permanent ownership of the horse you adopt.

Agencies insist those who want to adopt are knowledgeable, caring people. FRIENDS horses are EIA-positive and must remain on the premises.

On top of that, adopted horses aren’t necessarily “free.” Most charge a fee, possibly as high as $4,000.

Does that mean you should forget adoption’ No. It means adopting a horse is complicated, and you need to go into it with your eyes wide open. Don’t harbor unattainable expectations about adopting a horse.

Why Adopt’
Reasons for adoption vary, but the interest of the horse must be top priority. If you are in search of low-priced horses to resell, don’t even consider an adoption agency.

If you want to adopt because you can’t afford to purchase a horse, ask yourself if you can afford the upkeep of one. Compared to the lifetime investment of bedding, grain, hay, vet bills and farrier costs, the initial “price” of a horse is small.

If you need a certain color, breed, height or training, adopting probably isn’t for you. For one thing, you may find you have a long wait.

Donna Ewing, president and founder of the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, Ill., said, “We have a long waiting list for well-broke children’s horses. But we have a lot of unbroke horses who require training and stay with us for a year before they find a home.”

If you’re searching for a “diamond in the rough” remember only a few animals headed for the killers have gone on to illustrious show careers.

If you’re looking to give a needy horse a good home because you have the extra time, facilities, money and love to share, you’re on the right road. An adopted horse is just as likely as any other to become your friend, a companion or a great trail horse — and he’s even more in need of your care.

Finding An Agency
If you’re sure adopting is for you, begin by matching program requirements with your needs. Where do you live’ What is your facility like’ Do you need a companion animal’ Can you accept a horse that needs training’ That long list of adoption agencies will narrow itself down quickly as you set parameters.

You can find agencies through the American Horse Council (202/296-4031), your state horse council or on the Internet. Be wary of disreputable agencies. “If you ask for their policies you can tell the same way as you can with any other business,” said Morgan Silver of the Horse Protection Association of Florida. “For us it’s like adopting out a child — we’re going to screen you a whole lot more than you’re going to screen me,” Silver said.

Find out about the agency itself, as you’re likely to be dealing with them for a long time:

• How long have they been in business’
• Ask for references of people who have dealt with them.
• Ask them what their purpose is. A non-profit agency should have a 501(C)(3). In order to get a license, the agency will have had to be in business for a few years. In addition, contact your local state horse council to see if they have information on the agency and/or your local cooperative extension or veterinarians.

Agency Requirements
Most agencies require lots of paperwork, meetings and farm inspections. They’ll likely require references — and follow-up references — from your veterinarian and farrier. Visits after the adoption are common.

You’ll probably need to have a horse or pony on the farm already. Another method in which agencies insure proper treatment is to hold the ownership of the horse for a period of time, even for the lifetime of the horse, asking you to return the animal if you no longer want it.


Silver explains, “I chose to retain ownership because of experience — bad experiences — sometimes financial circumstances change and the horses end up getting neglected. . . . If the person’s intent is to truly rescue a horse with no intent of personal profit or someday getting rid of the animal it usually doesn’t bother those people.”

The Bureau of Land Management holds the title to their mustangs for one year to discourage turn-around resale on horses, especially with adoption fees as low as $125.

If you resell a BLM horse within that year, expect a visit from a law-enforcement officer. After the year, you can sell the horse as long as you sell the title along with it. Karen Malloy of the BLM warns, “You should never buy a BLM mustang without a title because you could be buying government property and no matter what you paid for the horse it’s not yours.”

Bottom Line
Adoption is not a cheap way to get a horse. It’s a way to provide a good home for a horse that needs one.

When you contact an adoption agency, answer their questions honestly. If they’re reputable, they’ll check up on you — not only at the time of adoption but also down the road. You don’t want to lose a horse you’ve become attached to because of a misunderstanding any more than they want to take the horse back because of that. If you can accept the stringent adoption requirements — and you’ve verified the agency you’re working with is legitimate — by all means, adopt a horse. Too many horses still need loving homes.

Contacts And Adoption Requirements:

American Standardbred Adoption Program, 608/637-8045.
Requires veterinarian and farrier references and photos of farm, shelter and turn-out area and your animals. The horse remains the property of the American Standardbred Adoption Program and may never be raced, sold, given away, disposed of or transferred to anyone accept the ASAP. A health card to be signed by your vet and sent to the ASAP may be sent to the adopter to record the horse’s residence, condition, weight, teeth and hoof condition at the time of spring and fall inoculations. If the horse shouldn’t work out within 60 days after adoption, the horse can be exchanged without penalty. After 60 days it will result in a $100 “transfer fee.” Adoption fees vary with the horse. Animals in top condition are $350 plus a $5 application fee and hauling charge.

BRRR: Burro Rescue Rehab Relocation Onus, 509/235-2255.
Donkeys must be returned if the adopter no longer wants them. No breeding. Mandatory bi-monthly deworming and hoof trimming and annual immunizations. Each animal must have a minimum of approximately one acre. Plank, farm-wire, high-tensile, and barbless wire are acceptable forms of fencing. Electric fencing is acceptable for strip grazing, not as a primary perimeter fence. Must have a minimum of a three-sided shelter or loafing shed. Must have another donkey or equine on the property. Must be a resident of eastern Washington state. Cost is $203. Includes a copy of The Definitive Donkey and a year’s subscription to a bi-monthly publication, The Brayer. Every donkey thereafter: $175.

Bureau of Land Management, 703/440-1700. or
Must be 18 years old, a U.S. resident with no convictions of inhumane treatment of animals. Requires an enclosed corral with a minimum area of 400 square feet per animal with fences five feet high for burros and six feet high for ungentled horses. Horses under 18 months may be kept in corrals with fences five feet high. Stalls must be 12’ x12’ or larger. Stock trailers are preferred for shipping, drop-sramp and two-horse trailers are discouraged. Must have: 1) 5 acres; 2) Animals already on the property that you reside; 3) Barn/lean-to; 4) Safe, proper fencing; 5) Adequate water/feed supply access (including water heater for winter); 6) Reference of a veterinarian and farrier; 7) Must return animal if it doesn’t work out; 8) An investigator will visit you home within 90 days after application. Horse must stay in the U.S. Cost starts at $125 per horse or burro. “Adoptions” are often run like auctions, going to the highest bidder (usually $125-$450).

California Equine Retirement Foundation, 909/926-4190.
Agency must watch the adopter ride the horse. On-site inspection required. Homes in California only. Cost is around $1,000.

Days End Farm Horse Rescue, 301/854-5037 or
Adopted horses can’t be used for racing, breeding, be resold or given away. Horse can’t be relocated from the original approved facility without permission of DEFHR. If placement doesn’t work out, horse must be returned. Adopter must have at least one other horse and must schedule an appointment with a trainer at DEFHR. Must schedule no less than two more visits to work with the horse. Property inspection and references are mandatory. Adopter must have a minimum of three acres of land to house two horses. DEFHR reserves the right to conduct unscheduled follow-up checks. Adopter must submit an annual health statement from the adopter’s veterinarian and farrier. Possession is signed over through the adoption, but horse remains the property of DEFHR for three years, after which adopter may file for ownership. Cost depends upon the horse. Ranges from $500-$800 per horse.

FRIENDS 954/458-0908.
Member must donate at least four hours of time per month to ranch activities other than the daily care of the horses. Must also agree to be a probationary member for a period of six months. FRIENDS houses horses who test positive for EIA. It helps with research to discover a cure, treatment or vaccine for EIA and other diseases. Horses must stay on the property. Initial membership fee is $50 plus $20 per month per horse, plus a $50 gate-key deposit. Other costs include dues, hay and feed, amounting to $100-$150.

Georgia Equine Rescue League, 706/265-4375 or
On-site inspection, references and animals are monitored two to four times a year. GERL holds the ownership until if and when they determine to release it. Must be a resident of Georgia. Cost ranges from $250 to $1,000, depending upon the animal.

Hooved Animal Humane Society, 815/337-5563.
Adopters must have: 1) 5 acres; 2) Animals already on the property that you reside; 3) Barn/lean-to; 4) Safe, proper fencing; 5) adequate water/feed supply access (including water heater for winter); 6) Reference of a veterinarian and farrier; 7) Must return animal if it doesn’t work out; 8) Investigator will visit you home within 90 days of application. Residency requirements depend on horse. Cost is $0-$4,000, depending on animal.

Horse Protection Association of Florida, 352/466-4366 or
HPAF retains ownership of the fostered horse. Horses can’t be used for breeding, be resold or given away. The horse can’t be relocated from the original approved facility without permission. If placement doesn’t work out, the horse be returned to HPAF. Fostered horses must go to a home that has at least one other horse. Facility inspection and reference check required. Video or photographs of pasture, fences, water sources, barn, shelter, and current animals owned or cared for required. Adopter must provide a video of the potential rider, grooming, riding, tacking, leading as well as areas for riding, if horse is to be ridden. Must be a resident of the southeastern U.S. Cost ranges from $0 to $500, the average being $250 plus the cost of shipping.

Second Wind Adoption, 304/873-3532 or
Horses and ponies of any breed are accepted by Second Wind. Adopters sign a contract that they will never sell or transfer the horse. If the horse doesn’t work out or can no longer be cared for, it must be returned to Second Wind. Adopters pay an adoption fee of $900. ($300-$600 for companion animals.) Adopters must prove they have the facilities and knowledge to properly care for a horse. They must submit to annual checks and are required to provide annual photographs of the horse and proof of immunizations, worming, farrier care, etc.

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Case History: Second Wind Helps Kabuki.”
Click here to view ”Starvation Recovery.”

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!