best practices for equine rescues
As co-founder and president of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, in College Station, Texas, Jennifer Williams, MS, PhD, has helped rehabilitate and rehome more than 1,500 horses since getting involved in equine rescue in 1998. In her organization’s work assisting authorities with horse seizures and neglect cases, she’s seen the devastating pitfalls ill-prepared or overwhelmed equine rescues can fall into.

Williams described for a veterinary audience at the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida, best practices for equine rescues and how veterinarians can help facilities maintain them.

Over the past 10 years, said Williams, the number of equine rescues—ranging from well-run tax-exempt organizations to private family farms—has risen.

“Unfortunately, some rescuers do not utilize best practices for rescue and equine care, and they end up becoming part of the problem,” she said. “Veterinarians can help alleviate the suffering inadvertently caused by well-meaning rescuers by working with these organizations to ensure they follow good equine husbandry and nonprofit management guidelines.”

Why do some of these organizations fail? Williams listed several reasons:

  • A poor understanding of nonprofit structure and management;
  • Having passion without knowledge of equine care;
  • An inability to say no and turn away horses when overpopulated or overcommitted;
  • Insufficient funding; and
  • Burnout or compassion fatigue.

The best practices and traits good, successful equine rescues share include:

Transparency Good organizations are transparent with their documents. This includes 501(c)(3) status letters, financial reports, policies about how they operate, information about their horses, and veterinary records for potential adopters. Also, don’t overlook the importance of contact information, said Williams.

“Although many rescues do not publish their physical location because they do not want drop-in visitors or horses abandoned at their gates, they do have accessible email addresses and phone numbers,” she said. “They return calls and emails in a timely manner.”

Good Husbandry Reputable rescues follow AAEP guidelines for rescue and retirement facilities. Their animals receive routine vaccinations for their geographic area, an annual Coggins test, dental care, deworming, and hoof care. They offer quality hay, grain, and water, and maintain their facilities.

“Illnesses and lameness should be diagnosed and treated in a timely manner,” said Williams. “Good rescues are willing to have horses euthanized who cannot recover from illness or lameness on the advice of a veterinarian.”

Fiscal Responsibility Responsible rescues have sound finances and maintain a realistic annual budget. “They work hard to keep their expenses low (e.g., getting multiple bids on projects) while at the same time providing quality care to their equines,” said Williams.

She said other smart fiscal practices include having a savings fund to cover emergencies, striving to expand the donor base, having more than one person on all bank accounts, asking the board of directors to review the annual budget, and paying reasonable staff salaries.

Continuing Education The world is constantly changing, and so too must a rescue operator’s knowledge base. Good rescues are willing to learn.

“They attend animal welfare conferences when available and seek education from reputable equine magazines, webinars, their farriers, and their veterinarians,” said Williams. “They work with respected trainers and clinicians and seek training for their volunteers and foster homes.”

Reputation Rescues should have a good reputation in their community, and other industry professionals, such as veterinarians, farriers, and animal control officers, should know who they are. They should be out in the community meeting with horse owners, handing out information at horse shows and conferences, and constantly growing their reputation so they can do more good, said Williams.

And, “their adopters and volunteers are happy, and they have repeat adopters and long-term volunteers,” she added.

Veterinarians can help rescues uphold these standards in a number of ways. Most obviously, they can offer donated or discounted veterinary services. Williams said some practitioners accomplish this through a one-day vaccination or Coggins clinic for rescues. Others might participate in gelding or euthanasia programs.

Veterinarians might offer to serve on a reputable rescue’s board of directors or advisory board. They can educate the organization’s staff on refeeding, rehabilitation, and veterinary care and suggest publications to read both on equine care and nonprofit practices.

Or, veterinarians passionate about helping these organizations can make a financial contribution via cash, gift certificates, or donated items, said Williams.

She then explained how veterinarians can help create a safety net to prepare for (but hopefully prevent) a rescue gone bad.

“Get to know local law enforcement and who to call or work with in equine cases,” she said. “Network with other local vets and humane groups to form a rescue coalition in the community.”

She said veterinarians might also accumulate (or know where to quickly acquire) the necessary supplies (e.g., halters, lead ropes, portable panels, stock trailers, evidence forms, etc.) to help with a rescue situation.

“Create a resource list of where rescue horses can go (e.g., rodeo or fair grounds, expo centers, etc.),” she said. “You don’t want to be looking for places two days before. Who can trailer the horses? Take care of them while being held? Who can take them in and rehab them?”

And, veterinarians can seek out training from animal control associations to assist in seizures or testify in court.