Rescue: Not for the Faint of Heart.

RRHR Rubio

Do you ever wonder if a rescue horse would be good enough to be your next horse? They have a different question—are you good enough for a rescue horse?

Lots of people say they have a rescue horse these days. It’s a term we use when we think we’re a better home than where the horse was before. We feel special doing a good deed and there’s no crime in bragging. People who take good care of horses should be proud of it.

It’s also an easier way to get a rescue horse. One of the counter-inutitive things about getting a horse from an actual rescue is that there are some hoops to jump through to adopt. It might seem that since no one else wants them, rescue horses should be free and easy to obtain, but the opposite is true. Once a horse is saved from a bad situation, the rescue tries to guarantee that the same thing doesn’t happen again. The new home has to be a little better than good.

There is an application to fill out that’s careful to ask all the right questions about your experience and references. Ongoing vet care is crucial. There’s a home check and if all that goes well, an adoption contract (sample here), with the condition that the rescue will be able to check on the horse. Adoptions don’t become final for a few months. Rescues ask for a serious commitment–these special horses have seen the bad side of our species. It isn’t that they need more, they just deserve better.

Most adoptions have happy endings, like the adopter who gets her elderly and unride-able gelding massage. The last time I saw him, he was frolicking around like a 2 year old. It’s a forever home.

And there are sad endings in rescue, too. Some horses come in starved and begin the re-feeding process, but their organs are too damaged and they don’t make it back. The best that can be done is give them some kindness and a better passing. Each life is valued, each loss mourned.

Some are adopted out as sound and well-trained riding horses, and like a gelding a couple of years back, then returned used-up and lame after over-jumping him against recommendation. His rescue home crippled him and then had the nerve to complain. So the rescue set about helping the horse again.

It’s hard work. No one is happy to relinquish horses, it’s always sad and emotional. Trying to discern good matches between the horses and potential homes isn’t easy, it’s a decision made with due deliberation. And usually it’s a great match, with photos shared every year, along with positive updates, and gratitude all around.

Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes a rescued horse needs a second rescue–like the two minis adopted to a home over a year ago. On a later visit, the horses appeared thin. Their long coats were deceptive, but bones were easy to palpate. No one had bad intent, but the adults didn’t pay attention. The minis were worse than they appeared. The smaller of the two had lost just over 100 pounds–one third of her body weight. Her eyes were dead.

*Pause* Readers who have ponies or minis will need a moment to pick up their chins. Hard to imagine what would have to happen for a pony to lose a pound, much less a hundred.

Required vet care had not been done, the little mare’s teeth were bad enough to limit her digestion. The second horse was equally thin, but being young enough to withstand the neglect never makes it okay.

The rescue came with a trailer the next day and a very sad young girl loaded her ponies. They would need special feeding with supervision several times a day. With a huge storm due that week, the rescue took no chances with their precious lives.

Then the human side came apart. The adopters felt insulted; they denied the obvious and made excuses. There were angry emails and name calling toward the rescue, threats of attorneys and bad mouthing of all of the professionals involved. A young girl was devastated, she had done her best. Emotions ran hot and outsiders were dragged into the debate. The adopter was hurt because her ego was challenged. She wanted to be thought of as the sort who took in rescues, but actions spoke louder than words–even shouted words.

I noticed that through the bickerfest, the adopter never asked how the horses were doing.

And finally, I get to my real point. The rescue did their job, they held to their purpose. The thing to absolutely love about horse rescue is that, even when it’s hard: Horses come first. It isn’t always true in competition, not always true in youth programs, or even in your neighbor’s pasture.

This is where I start to sound like an ad for the Marines. If you are strong enough to do the right thing, committed enough to follow through, and just generally a cut above the average horse owner, please consider adopting. Put horses first. If you have ever been rescued by a horse, and most of us have, return the favor. Make some room in the barn, please adopt or foster.

And please, if you see neglect or abuse, report it today. The longer it goes on, the harder the rehab is for the horse and the rescue.

And in this season of giving, instead of one more foreign-made trinket, consider sending a donation to your local rescue, in the name of your friends and family. My choice is always Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue. They are heroes, you can be proud to stand with them.

“My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.”
-Anna Sewell, (1820-1878) Author of Black Beauty

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

This blog is free, and it always will be. Free to read, but also free of ads because I turn away sponsorships and pay to keep ads off my site. I like to read a clean page and think you do too. If you appreciate the work I do, or if your horse does, consider making a donation.

Anna Blake

0 thoughts on “Rescue: Not for the Faint of Heart.”

  1. Another great blog which sees this sad process fairly and from all angles. I am a rescued pony, I am not low-maintenance and I cannot be ridden. Every day I thank my lucky stars that I fell on my three good feet six years ago. Love, Tiny Tim x

  2. Another beautiful writing. I can pretty much guarantee to start my Friday mornings with tears in my eyes from reading your blog. Thank you. And everything you say about rescues is so true. We are blessed to have two rescues in our family. One, a registered QH stallion (now gelded!) kept in his stall 24/7, only taken out for breeding, underfed, stall filled with manure so he couldn’t lift his head; the other, a QH (maybe) mare, bought at auction to save from the kill buyers, scars and stitches all over her hindquarter, spirit broken. They are beautiful, sweet, loving horses, but both have taken a lot of work and commitment to get them where they are, and will continue to take both to help them move forward. I would have it no other way. To see them joyfully gallop across the pasture at feeding time with the other horses, eyes alight, has paid us back tenfold. With my gelding, there is a bond like no other I’ve had. I commend the Rescue Group I got them from for making me jump through hoops, asking questions, making sure I was committed – these horses deserved someone who cared and would take care of them (mentally, physically, emotionally). I’m sure people are upset who are denied an adoption, but – the horse must come first. Thank you to all the Rescue Groups who do this wonderful work. I know there are many times of heartbreak, but there are also those times of joy when a person and horse come together in that perfect match.

  3. Wonderful writing, especially like -are you good enough for a rescue horse, The first horse we rescued found us completely unprepared she had mental scars as well as the physical ones but as a family we pulled together and learned so much about horses, we will never forget what we did for her and what she did for us as a family 🙂

  4. Super, Anna.

    I have my share of rescues here from all over the state. That said, the problem I see, like with my neighbor whose horses are skin and bones in the winter, because she barely ever feeds them, unless they’re close to death, Animal Control can’t do anything due to Colorado laws. So the laws need changing a little to help some horses before they are on the verge of death. I’m sure you know this. I find it incredibly frustrating, and have gotten to know the Animal Control folks quite well (I also photograph the small animals for the Shelter). They are equally frustrated. The other problem here in SW CO is the lack of qualified rescues, so when Animal Control seizes horses, where do they go? They don’t have the funds and I don’t have the funds to rehab rescues and the one local rescue is always full (and a bit hard to deal with as well).

    Sorry! I know you know all this, and I guess I took your blog post as an opportunity to vent! The whole situation is a frustrating problem that starts with State Government and the bottom line that most folks care more about the people in trouble and how to make money than the “dumb” animals.

    I love your blog posts, as you know, and share them often on my Facebook pages (RainbowFarmHorses, CleoTheDonkey, BarbYoungPhotography, if you’d care to go and Like those, I’d appreciate it.) I will get over there to meet you, get a lesson, or just go for a trail ride one day! I find myself physically nodding my head in agreement while reading your posts!

    Have a Happy and Joy filled Holiday Season, and thanks for the good works that you do,

    Barb Young

    Quality horse boarding and retirement

    on the Western Slope

    Equine and pet photography

    Significant stock collection

    • Barb, this is the law, most folks think it is a good one. I think enforcement is a challenge though…(and thanks. Give Cleo an ear scratch from Edgar Rice Burro.)

      Colorado State Law: A person commits cruelty to animals if he knowingly or with criminal negligence overdrives, overloads, tortures, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beats, needlessly mutilates, needlessly kills, carries in or upon any vehicles in a cruel or reckless manner, or otherwise mistreats or neglects any animal, or causes or procures it to be done, or having the charge and custody of any animal, fails to provide it with proper food, drink, protection from the weather, or abandons it. (CRS 1973, 18-9-202)

  5. Thank you so much for what you have said. I am a proud volunteer at Days End Farm Horse Rescue. It is not easy to adopt one of our horses and we take them back in a heartbeat. We have many success stories – a senior OTTB has gone on to a second career in dressage and trail riding and forever home. The success stories do make it worth all the effort. Never tire of doing good.

  6. I would love to adopt rescued horses for school ponies, but sadly the horse rescues don’t allow you to commercially teach on rescued horses. I understand why, but it does mean that four or five ponies are missing out on a home with me. Only reason why I’ve never adopted a rescue horse and don’t see myself doing so in the near future – my personal riding horses still have many years left in them.

    • I am afraid it’s a rule I agree with. When horses and money are combined, horses rarely end up a priority. I’m sure you would be the exception, but in rescue, it’s all about the best for the horse. Thanks for the comment. May your next personal horse be a rescue!

      • I’ve seen school ponies and I completely understand why that rule exists. My ideal dream world of happy schoolies can’t be used as proof that such creatures exist…

  7. I call people out when they use the word “rescue” to describe a horse they are selling, especially when the horse has very little training, hence they have done very little to help the horse.

    I am known throughout our area as the “Old horse” lady as I take in old horses when the owners can’t keep them any more. Mostly they are used with 4H girls for riding lessons and fun shows. I’m usually very careful to only take in horses that have a few years of riding left as I already have many retirees.

    However in May, I took a couple of needy horses from a mentally ill woman. I worked for two months to get her to feed them. I contacted rescues with photos of the horses conditions and could find no takers. All were full. After much heart wretching and finding good homes for two of my other ponies, I made room for them. The black mare had only a few weeks left to live per the vet as she was skin and bone. She has a bad knee and will never be ridable. Her buddy, a badly constructed paint gelding turned out to be a good riding horse with a gentle attitude. Within 2 months, they had both gained enough weight to look presentable and were active and enthusastic about life again. It was easy. Mostly I fed them a ton of grass hay, all day, every day and a little grain. They were both handled and in their teens so they stood well for the farrier and vet. Although neither was trained to ride, the gelding was amazingly easy to train. By October we were trail riding and speed eventing him. He ate up the attention in ways I’ve never seen before in my 30 years of horses. NOW.. my point.. This was an unusual case and I’m not foolish enough to do it again or think that rescuing horses is always this easy.. mostly it is costly and frustrating.

    Let me tell you what else I learned in this experience. Compassion for the owner. This woman had owned that mare for 16 years.. she truely loved her. She just couldn’t function and I don’t believe she “saw” what was happening to her beloved horse. She couldn’t remember if/when she fed them and didn’t have any help from family or friends. I had her come visit in October to see the now healthy horses at my farm. The mare picked up her head when she heard her voice and walked right up to her! After almost starved to death, she still remembered her. It took my breath away. Some times we need to look into ourselves and think ” Maybe this could be me some day”. I sure hope that someone like me comes around to help my horses.

    • Thank you for the best comment ever. It is too easy to villain-ize anyone who with a thin horse. Thank you for sharing this story and the range of challenges it presented. It could happen to any of us. Thank you, from the horses, and their human.


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