Photo courtesy of Tina Phillips.

When you adopt a horse from a rescue, you save two lives – the one you adopt and the horse that takes his place.

Being informed about the adoptive process, the rescue facility you work with, and the horse you ultimately choose to take home are all essential to finding a good match, both for you and the horse.

Choosing a reputable rescue facility  

Good equine rescues provide an essential service for horses in need, and are deserving of support. It’s important to recognize that horse rescue facilities are not regulated, so you’ll want to do some homework before choosing to work with an organization. Rescues should be open to visitors, either by appointment or on a schedule. Here some are things to look for:

1. Sound horse care

Although rescues take in horses in poor condition, the majority of the residents should appear in good health, and medical records should be available. Horses should have clean, filled water buckets, pasture or hay for grazing, and regularly trimmed feet. There should be adequate housing and pasture space for the number of equines on the property. Sick horses will be quarantined, skinny horses on a feeding plan, and wounds treated.

2. A clean and organized property 

At a well-managed rescue, clutter is under control, manure is managed, fencing is safe and in good repair, hay is stored safely, and a fire prevention plan is in place.

3. Collaboration

Look for a rescue that works with local law enforcement or the public to rehome or provide sanctuary for horses in need, and that maintains membership in local and/or national coalitions, horse councils, and pertinent organizations. They should have knowledgeable volunteers, and may be active in providing local community programs.

4. Transparency

A rescue facility should be able to provide contact information for organizational leadership upon request, and maintain up-to-date charitable or non-profit status in accordance with its structure (e.g. 501(c)(3) IRS status in the USA). Website and social media accounts should be current and provide information about adoptable and adopted horses, fundraising events, or other activities. The rescue should have an appropriate operating budget, financial cushion, and an understanding of resource capacity.

5. Credentials

Equine rescues may be licensed by the state (where applicable), verified or accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, or the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance if eligible. Look for a good BBB rating, and good Charity Navigator and Great Nonprofits ratings (USA).

6. Professionalism

A rescue organization should have a good reputation in its community, including with veterinarians, farriers, and other industry professionals. They should not exploit grisly situations or be publicly malicious.

When you adopt from a reputable equine rescue, you have full disclosure on a horse’s health status, level of training and handling, and personality. Unlike sellers motivated by profit, a rescue’s motivation is long-term placement of a horse in a well-matched home. A good rescue organization honestly evaluates its horses and freely provides that information to those considering adoption.

Finding the right horse

People shouldn’t automatically assume that horses in rescue facilities are physically or emotionally challenged. Many wonderful horses end up in rescues through no fault of their own. Often, the cause lies with the previous owners. Financial hardship, life changes, lack of understanding and commitment, or a poor match between horse and owner can put wonderful horses at risk.

Many wonderful horses end up in rescues through no fault of their own.

The most important factor to consider when choosing to adopt is the level of training of both the horse and human. Inexperienced horses and owners need professional assistance to make sure they start out, and stay, on the right track. Only well-matched adoptions will break the rescue-rehoming-rescue cycle. Before looking at any horses, adopters should determine what their goals are for horse ownership and honestly evaluate their own ability, and the type of horse they will need, to reach those goals. This will help in determining the appropriate age, breed and skill level of a prospective horse.

Only well-matched adoptions will break the rescue-rehoming-rescue cycle.

There are definite advantages to adopting, rather than purchasing a horse. The average time an equine spends in rescue is about one year. This gives the rescue facility plenty of time to evaluate the horse and get to know his personality traits, training level, and physical capabilities.  Reputable rescues will allow you to spend as much time with the horse as you need to determine if the match will provide you with a viable partnership. If you already have a trainer, bring him or her along to help you evaluate.

Bringing your adopted horse home

Before bringing your adopted horse home, make sure you have all the relevant information on any specific nutritional and healthcare needs he may have so you can continue the work the rescue facility began. Remember that any dietary changes should be made gradually. Medical, dental, farrier, and training records should be shared, as well as contact information for the professionals who have seen the horse while he was under the rescue facility’s care.

Keep in mind that any horse entering a new environment or learning a new job will go through a transitional period. You will need to be patient and give your adoptee time to adjust to his new life. Establish a routine and stick to it. Get to know your horse in a positive, low-stress environment, emphasizing proper handling and ground manners. While you might be eager to ride, spending time grooming, hand-walking and getting to know each other first will make later training and riding easier.

Down the road, if you feel things are not going well, determine if the challenges are stemming from something physical such as poor saddle fit or bullying by established horses. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. You could ask someone from the adopting organization to come out and watch you and your horse interact, or take a few lessons from a professional trainer. Use confidence-builders to give you and your horse the chance to succeed and bond. If you’ve given it your best shot and it’s simply not working, most adoption facilities will take a horse back; another advantage of adoption! However, don’t be too quick to give up. Often, the best and most worthwhile relationships are those that have overcome challenges.

Photo of Dutch. Courtesy of Jenna Elliot.

The adoption agreement

A good adoption agreement is one that protects all interested parties. Most well-written agreements are created with the assistance of an attorney and will include the following elements:

  • Adoption fee
  • Whether or not title to the horse passes to the adopter at time of adoption
  • Responsibility and timeline for transportation to the new home
  • Requirements for care and veterinary treatment
  • Reversion of title in the case of inadequate care or breach of contract, and reclaim procedure
  • Euthanasia restrictions
  • Limitations of use
  • Inspection rights of the adoption facility
  • A no breeding clause
  • Release of liability and indemnity agreement
  • Return policy

Make sure you read and understand the contract, especially in regards to responsibility for care and transfer of ownership. Some adoption facilities to not transfer title of the horse to the adoptee, resulting in a long-term free lease type situation.

Adopting a rescue horse can be a rewarding and life-changing experience. It might not change the world, but it can make a world of difference to the horse you bring home and into your life. It can also mean everything to the horse that steps in to fill his place at the rescue.

Editor’s noteThe Homes for Horses Coalition is dedicated to promoting growth, collaboration and professionalism in the equine rescue and protection community through resources such as webinars and a national conference.


Cindy Gendron is manager of The Homes for Horses Coalition, a national coalition of equine rescues and sanctuaries supported by the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), the Animal Welfare Institute and The Humane Society of the United States’ Jeannie and Jim Dodson Equine Protection Fund. It is dedicated to promoting growth, collaboration and professionalism in the equine rescue and protection community through resources such as webinars and a national conference. Find them online at and on Facebook at!/HomesforHorses. Find out more about the only national conference for horse rescues and sanctuaries at