Just about every kid—and many grown-ups, too—put a pony at the top of their holiday wish lists. And many view the holiday season as a perfect time to combine gifting with philanthropy. But while adopting a horse from an equine rescue might seem like a good way to do that, taking on the responsibility of any animal deserves careful consideration. Here, two rescuers shared their tips on what to consider when preparing to adopt and bringing home your rescue horse.
Jennifer Williams, PhD, founder of the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in College Station, Texas, believes adopters should not assume that a rescue horse has been maltreated in the past. Some might have been surrendered by owners who couldn’t afford their care, while others could have been poorly matched with previous owners or simply never received the training they required. And even those that were maltreated are no longer victims of neglect once they have been rescued, she said.
“So many people treat rescue horses differently … afraid to upset them or make them feel unloved,” Williams said. “The neglect, abuse, and mistreatment is in the past—leave it there.”
Essentially, treat your rescue horse like, well, a horse.
That’s not to say rescued horses don’t have gaps in their training—many do. Often, it’s up to the adopter to find those training holes and fill them.
“I treat a rescue horse as though he knows nothing and I basically restart him,” Williams said. “If he’s easy to catch and halter, we don’t work on that. If he knows how to tie, we move past that lesson. But we may spend more time on longeing or standing quietly when bridled.”
At the same time, Williams recommends that inexperienced owners get professional help.
“”If the horse has some training, you may be able to take lessons (on your adopted horse),” she said. “But if the horse has little training or very poor training, you may need to place the horse with a trainer for a while.”
Whether an owner personally provides it or solicits a trainer’s help, they key to effective training a rescue—or any horse, for that matter—is patience.
“You need to be patient and consistent,” Williams said. “You need to have realistic expectations, but be willing to change those expectations in response to your horse’s needs.”
Finally, Morgan Silver, executive director of the Horse Protection Association of Florida, in Micanopy, believes that sound, well-matched adoptions are key to breaking the rescue-rehoming-rescue cycle. As a result, Silver thinks every adoption starts with the understanding that owning a horse carries significant long-term responsibilities.
“Horses are not machines. They are living, feeling emotional beings that require a lifetime, 365-day-a-year commitment,” Silver said. “If you are willing to make the commitment, both you and your horse will get enjoyment from your relationship. But if you want to get on and go for a ride and then put it way and do something else, get an ATV or a bicycle. Horses are not toys.”