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Is a Horse in Transition the Right Horse for Your EAAT Program?

By Christie Schulte Kappert, Member, PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee

The call is one you’ve probably received many times: a local horse owner has heard of your organization and wants to donate a horse to the therapeutic riding program. A nice gelding is stepping down from a previous career, or maybe he’s been enjoying the semi-retired life in the pasture after his rider went off to college. Yes, he may be 23 and requires senior feed, individual turnout, joint injections and special shoeing; but he has several good years left. At The Right Horse we refer to these as horses in transition; horses moving from a variety of careers to new situations.

Perhaps it’s more of a true rescue case - from an auction, “kill pen” or homeless situation. A community member, volunteer, or staff member has come across a horse in need. Their compassion for others, which serves them so well in an EAAT setting, is calling them to help this horse, too.

A prevailing belief exists that older, retired or less-than-sound horses are in demand for therapy programs. Well-intentioned owners often assume it is a great option for a horse in transition, but most people don’t realize how physically and mentally demanding an EAAT job can be. Furthermore, it’s a compelling story to draw a parallel between a rescued equine that has overcome stigma and challenges, and clients in your EAAT programs.

Are these “free” horses the right fit for your EAAT program? Do you accept them? What resources and time will it take to turn them into successful program horses? And what happens if it doesn’t work out? These are critical questions to ask of any horse entering the program, but particularly one offered for donation or free. Rescuing a horse yourself may bring unexpected hurdles. The good news is you don’t have to play both rescue and therapy center to both save a horse’s life and reap the benefits for your program and clients. In fact, I’d argue you can help more horses and more people by not attempting to do both.

PATH Intl. Centers and Instructors have specific missions and clients who rely on them. Most are not set up to be a rescue, rehabilitation, evaluation and training program for horses in transition. However, that’s exactly what great rescues and adoption centers do every day! It’s their business and expertise to take at-risk horses and prepare them for a new home and career through adoption.

When you adopt from a 501c3 non-profit equine adoption center or rescue, you experience benefits that help take the risk and guesswork out of your new horse. Adoption organizations following best practices will:

  • Offer horses for adoption who are up to date on farrier and veterinary care including vaccinations, Coggins tests and dentistry work
  • Have evaluated the horses’ temperament and be honest about their personalities
  • Be transparent about each horse’s training level, preferably using the Basic Behaviors Profile for ground handling skills
  • Provide training according to each horse’s individual needs
  • Have adoption applications, contracts and procedures that are not overly intrusive or complicated
  • Not have a deadline for horses to be rehomed or pressure you into making a quick decision
  • Transfer legal ownership to adopters within a reasonable amount of time
  • Offer a friendly post-adoption support system
  • Have a policy to take adopted horses back at any time for any reason
  • Might even be willing to offer a free lease for an EAAT program

Most of all, a good adoption organization will have the primary goal of matching the right horse to the right person or job. Many groups offer additional benefits such as trial periods, free riding lessons with the prospective horse before adopting, and training support post-adoption. The average adoption fee for a riding horse is typically between $500-$1,000. This is a fantastic deal for a horse that’s vetted, evaluated and ready to go to work.

Be sure to look for all those elements when considering adoption. Many brokers, “feedlots” or “kill pens” may misuse the term “adoption” and do not offer the safeguards listed here. Ask plenty of questions – transparency, good customer service and responsiveness are the hallmarks of great adoption centers. Check that the rescue shows financial transparency and has basic legal boxes checked such as being a registered 501c3 charitable organization. A great place to start is by searching www.myrighthorse.org. Adoptable horses come in every breed, age, size, shape and personality to match exactly what your program needs.

At The Right Horse, it’s our goal to match the right horse with the right home. Adoption organizations have the unique ability to identify and develop prospects for EAAT careers. Strong partnerships with the right adoption groups can ultimately help very good people find very good horses.

PATH International is a partner in The Right Horse Initiative, a collective of equine industry and welfare professionals and advocates working together to improve the lives of horses in transition and massively increase horse adoption in the United States. Connect with The Right Horse at the 2019 PATH Intl. Conference and Pre-Conference in Denver or at www.therighthorse.org.

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