People often ask me for advice on rescuing a horse. So here goes:
My best advice is to adopt a horse from a registered horse rescue charity. They will have already done all the work (listed below) for you, and be able to help match the right horse for you. It might cost you $500 to adopt a horse this way, but the organisation will have already invested the thousands that were necessary to get it to the healthy state it is in that you would otherwise have to pay if you did it yourself. And when you adopt a horse you free up another space for the organisation to rescue another, so you are in fact rescuing two horses!
If you are determined to start from scratch, here is my advice. Rescuing a horse from a ‘dogger’ sale or knackery holding yard can be the most rewarding journey you’ll ever take. But here’s some things to consider before making this life-changing decision for both you and the horse.
- If you are looking for a horse to meet specific needs (e.g. a pony for your child, or a horse for showjumping), then this is a high risk thing to do. You will know nothing about the horse you are rescuing and therefore have NO idea whether or not the horse might be suitable for what you want. I do not recommend getting a pony from the dogger for your child, unless you have exceptional horsemansip skills and/or have the money to fund professional trainers to train the pony. If, however, you are looking to save a life, and you are open to fitting into the horse’s life (rather than expecting the horse to fit into yours), then a rescue horse might be the right one for you.
- Keep in mind that you won’t have any idea why the horse is at the saleyard. It could be sick (with something it could pass on to your other horses). It could be grievously injured, blind, deaf, missing all its teeth or with horrific dental problems that need to be fixed. It could be old. It could be young. It could well be pregnant. It might not have been started under saddle. It may have foundered. It may be a windsucker. It might have a history of abuse, neglect and trauma, which means you may well need to hire expert trainers to help you and your new horse overcome these issues. None of these things are the horse’s fault, but they don’t end up in these places without having fallen on hard times and needing a LOT of help to get them back up.
- Almost without fail, you will have to invest a lot of money into your horse, almost immediately. Dental work, farrier work, worming, physical rehabilitation, feed (feed bills for emaciated horses can be astronomical), vet bills and so on. So your $100 or $200 horse or pony can quickly become a $2,000 horse, or more.
If you already have horses, be aware that your new horse has probably spent weeks being trucked around and thrown into yards and stalls with other horses and ponies from anywhere. So there’s a chance your new horse will be carrying a transmittable illness, such as strangles. It’s a good idea to make sure that you have space where you can quarantine your new horse if necessary and it may pay to vaccinate your own horses against strangles as well.
- Rescuing a horse is a total gamble. Unless you are committed to seeing the journey through to the end, wherever that might lead you, then rescuing a horse might not be the right decision for you. (The last thing anyone wants is for the horse to end up back in the same cycle of being passed on.) But, if you’re open to the idea that YOU will get just as much (if not more) out of this experience as the horse, than it just might be the best thing you’ve ever done.