So you’ve decided you want to adopt a horse! Other than the normal decisions of housing, feed, tack, farrier, and vet, there are other things you should consider before bringing an unknown horse into your life.
Horse Rescue Associations
First, look for a reputable horse rescue association. Some rescues are breed specific and you should pick a breed that best fits your lifestyle. A well-known, creditable horse rescue will be able to provide you with pictures of your chosen animal, plus vet records and a possible history. Even if they don’t know the details of where the horse has been before rescue, they can give you an account of his behavior and disposition and warn you of any physical, mental or emotional issues you may come upon after you get him home. They will also provide you with records of any training undertaken while in their care. Letters of recommendation from happy horse owners should also be required. Most horse rescues will also agree to take back a horse that doesn’t work out in its adoptive home and find another placement.
Age and Physical Condition
A horse’s age and physical condition should also be considered. Rescued horses are often the very young, the very old, and the very neglected and abused. While most rescue associations will not adopt out a horse until it is somewhat rehabilitated, the ongoing veterinary costs will have to be undertaken by the adoptive owner. Rescued horses may have hoof and digestive problems caused by neglect that take months if not years to correct. Young horses will require extra training and older horses may need geriatric care.
Socialization and Training
Rescued horses often lack the socialization and training of your typical riding horse. They may have been abused and/or neglected by their previous owners and may be fearful or aloof in their new situation. Rescue associations will often work through these issues prior to adoption, but a different setting with different people may cause the horse to retreat to old flight or fight behaviors. A fear-based animal can be potentially dangerous to the uninitiated horse owner. Training of your rescued horse should be slow and gentle, with care taken to build trust and a sustainable bond between horse and owner. Whether you choose to make your horse a pasture pet or ride him, patience is necessary to build that commitment.
Patience, Patience, Patience
Your own expectations as a horse owner should also be aligned with the needs of your rescued horse. Because of past neglect and/or abuse, your horse may have some fears or habits that will take a lot of time and training to work through. Becoming frustrated with your rescue will only exacerbate any issues and can set you back in your training. The good news is that the horse can be a very forgiving creature and rescued animals often recognize that their lives are better. When the horse and human bond finally happens, it can be one of the most rewarding relationships in your life.