*These are just some things to think about that I’ve learned from my experiences with rescue, along with some background research I’ve done on the world of horse rescue (Interviews, data, actually reading articles, etc.). You don’t have to take me at my word. In fact, please don’t. Do your own research and don’t be one of those “I READ IT ON THE INTERNET” people. I am by no means an expert, these are just MY experiences, thoughts and research.*
I wanted to take some time to write about my opinions on rescue and the best way to adopt or help a rescue out. So I figured a long rambling continuation of posts is the way to go.
First and foremost, I am a huge advocate for going to adoption agencies and rescues for horses. Going to a rescue or adoption agency is great because 1) you’re helping a horse in need find a home and helping that rescue raise the funds needed to help another horse with your adoption fee 2) philanthropy makes you feel good 3) there’s a bunch of really nice horses at lots of these rescues. Not all of them are broken down old nags like people think. There’s plenty of Eddy’s out there, and even your next champion show horse.
(Side note-from here on out I will refer to all agencies that adopt out horses as rescues. It’s shorter than typing adoption agencies and rescues every other sentence. There are plenty of organizations that don’t traditionally “Rescue” a horse, such as those who have horses donated from racehorse breeders, owners and trainers. But for simplicity’s sake I will call them all rescues. Deal with it.)
More importantly I’m an advocate for you getting the RIGHT horse. No one should feel pressured into adopting because society tells you it’s the thing that’s hip and cool and everyone is doing it. Horses are an immense responsibility that requires money, time and a considerable amount of patience, care and thought. You will do more harm than good by going to a rescue simply because you believe adoption is the way to go and picking out a horse that doesn’t suit you. Of course check out a rescue, but don’t rule out a private sale if finding the right horse at a rescue isn’t working out. Make sure the horse matches your level of riding, is healthy enough for the type of riding you do, and has the right temperament. For example, I am a mediocre intermediate amateur adult rider. I am not confident. I am short. I wanted a horse that was mellow, whose spook was containable/reasonable (Preferably not spooky), that was easy enough for me to hop up on and that could handle lower level dressage and driving. Ideally I would have found a fully trained horse, but in all honesty Eddy was a good fit everywhere else and tried his best to do everything I asked. And our personalities match up well. If Eddy had been super flighty or reared I wouldn’t have looked at him. There was a woman with a similar horse to Eddy nearby I was also interested in and would have probably purchased him had Eddy not fit.
So it’s good to look for a rescue, but you should ALWAYS get a good idea ahead of time about what kind of horse you want. And I don’t mean color or breed per se. Preamble over.
There’s also a lot to be considered when you’re looking at adoption. Rescues can be just as much of a scam as someone on craigslist selling a horse or a sale barn that pumps out 60 horses a week (See AC4H). So, as with anything in life, do your research before you make a decision on which rescues you should look at.
To start, check out this very helpful page from Hanaeleh Horse Rescue in California. I found this to be a pretty good place to get the ball rolling from if adopting a horse is the route you want to go. I liked a lot of things about this post; it lists some great things to look for in a rescue before deciding to adopt from them. For those of you uninterested in following the link, I have listed them here:
- Does the organization have nonprofit standing (AKA 501(c)3) and are all tax documents viewable via Guidestar?
- Is the organization accredited by GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries)?
- Is the organization open to the public in some way?
- Does the organization have volunteers?
- Is the organization a part of a rescue network (Like Petfinder)
- Does the organization have a social media presence?
Like I said, this is a great place to start from. I do have some nit picky things to clear up (Which they do too in the post).
Firstly, an organization doesn’t necessarily need to have a nonprofit standing to be reputable. Being a nonprofit is beneficial. It allows a rescue to raise more funds via donations and certain kinds of grants. It also means that 100% of the money given goes to the rescue. Now this does mean they can have paid staff, and that is perfectly fine if that suits the needs of the rescue. They should also have all/as much of their tax information up as possible using Guidestar. It allows the average Joe such as you or me the chance to see what amount of money comes in and what goes out. Obviously the most recent documents should be listed there. I’m a lot more lenient about older ones especially if the organization has been around for a while. It’s a little sketchy when you can’t find any tax documentation for a nonprofit.
Next, certification by GFAS. Not required. Not always important. It does show that the organization has been seen and audited by a recognized and reputable third party and deemed acceptable by it. They also have pretty high standards. For example, to be accredited by GFAS a horse rescue must meet the standards found here. I have no intention of bulleting a sixty-seven page document. It’s pretty much no-brainer stuff, like make sure your electric fencing is up properly and labeled as such, stalls are appropriate sizes, etc. While this is nice to see on a website it’s not necessary and doesn’t stop a rescue from being a good one. It just looks nice.
Being open to the public is the same as being open in your taxes. I want to see your 501(c)3 status and taxes just as much as I want to see your property, the horses themselves, what they eat, where/how they’re trained and so on. Now I’m a fan of open houses; they’re great for fundraising and help showcase a rescue’s mission. But that’s what it looks like when it’s all cleaned up. Personally, if the only time the public can see the horses is during an open house I’d be skeptical. I have no problem scheduling a visit if that’s how the rescue is run, but I would like to see a rescue where it’s okay to go see them midweek and see how everything is run without it being for a special event. I don’t expect them to be fine with random people driving in on a whim but at least take a visitor around on a scheduled visit.
Volunteers are the backbone of a nonprofit rescue. Hanaeleh makes an excellent point:
There is nothing wrong with a non-profit having paid employees; indeed, one day I hope Hanaeleh will be in a position to hire full-time employees. All board members, however, should be volunteers; a board member should never be a paid employee by the rescue. If a board member wishes to take on a paying position, then s/he should resign his or her position in order to prevent a conflict of interest.
A reputable horse rescue will also have a way to bring in new volunteers, but also to retain its older volunteers. There will always be the need to recruit new volunteers; it is part and parcel of operating rescues to have some volunteers drop off – it’s a difficult job, and we’re not paying them, after all. If you see a rescue who has no consistent volunteers, however, it is probably a good indication that there is either an issue with the treatment of the horses, or with the leadership and management of the organization.
Board member conflict of interest is something I will get in to later. Back to volunteers. They’re so important. I can’t stress that. Having people willing to do the work for free helps cut costs for any rescue. Not to mention there are tons of businesses that give back to nonprofits if they log volunteer hours. Cabot farms does something like this. Hanaeleh’s point about keeping old while recruiting new is so resonant as well. People will come and go because of life, but there’s some issue underlying the loss of many volunteers or a high volunteer turnover rate. You wouldn’t think about it, but my suggestion is when looking at a rescue (Either to adopt from or volunteer with) it never hurts to talk to the people doing the grunt work. It’s kind of like when I was applying to labs for graduate school-I sought out my advising professor’s students to see how they felt about the professor. If they looked haggard and told me about how difficult that person was I would reconsider. If they looked haggard (Grad students just always look that way okay?) but happy I could figure the lab was a good bet. So if the person showing you the barn won’t let you speak with volunteers or the volunteers seem unhappy, it may be a sign that things at the rescue aren’t looking so good.
As for a rescue network, it’s not a mandatory thing either, except that it really, really, really, really, REALLY helps to have your animals listed on a site like Petfinder or any other networking page. Like seriously. People use those sites ALL THE TIME to find pets. I just go on to look at the puppies and ponies (I know I’m not the only one who does that). So it’s to the rescue’s advantage to utilize these tools and to keep their profiles there up to date.
And lastly, the social media presence. This one is slightly necessary, but I would go so far as to say that a rescue doesn’t need to utilize every platform. In today’s day and age it’s impossible to avoid having a digital presence Things like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow people to see updates on horses and get a visual for the type of care the horses receive. They can see the volunteers and the property where the horses are kept. It’s a way to tour the facility without having to leave your chair (But please leave your chair and see it for yourself). Having a static website with photos of horses who have been adopted already still listed could mean that the people running the website haven’t updated it (Or don’t know how to. That happens) or that they don’t want to show you what goes on. Same thing for any social media accounts. Any digital footprint should be updated routinely and kept current, just like anything involving paperwork for the rescue and its horses.
Phew that was a lot for a starter post on rescues.
Ultimately, the things I would look for in a good rescue line up with Hanaeleh’s list. I’d say the most important things are transparency in the paperwork and in person an honesty about the horses in their care and to/from volunteers. Many, if not most, rescues are reputable. They are striving to do some good in this world. So use these as a good starting point when looking to adopt.
Stay tuned for part 2! I think I’ll delve a little deeper into identifying a good rescue just because there’s so much out there and I don’t want to make a novel of a blog entry.
And for further information on selecting a rescue, here are a few other good sites I’ve used.