Many people dismiss the idea of adopting a horse out of hand, but horse rescues across the United States are filled with healthy, rideable horses who just need to find their new, forever homes. 

When you think about a rescue horse, what kind of horse do you think of? For many people, the term “rescue horse” conjures up images of starved or abused animals with behavioral problems who have little hope or life left in them. While that image is certainly true in a few situations, it’s not true of all rescue horses. In fact, many horses who end up at horse rescues are healthy animals whose owners, for whatever reason, fell on hard times – and the horses ended up paying the price. According to Sharon Gilbert, Adoption Manager and Facilities Manager for Colorado Horse Rescue in Longmont, Colo., it’s time for people to start thinking of rescue horses simply as horses.

“I think we need to rewrite people’s opinions of what a rescue horse is,” Gilbert said. “It’s not always an abused, starved animal. It’s not just one type of horse. It’s a horse that fell into circumstances that it had no control over. That doesn’t automatically mean that it’s a troubled, difficult or unhealthy animal. The best way to find that out for yourself is to visit your local horse rescue and see the reality. Check your biases at the door and give that rescue an opportunity to help an animal have a great life. A rescue can be a great place to find horses, and they’re typically managed by very honest and wonderful people who are interested in finding these horses new homes.”

Rhett and Blackjack, courtesy of Sharon Gilbert and Colorado Horse Rescue

BECOMING PART OF THE SOLUTION

Gilbert began volunteering for the Colorado Horse Rescue in 2014; two years later, she accepted a position with the rescue and has been working there ever since. As adoption manager, Gilbert facilitates the rehoming process by working with interested applicants to ensure each horse is matched to the best home possible.

“It’s an amazing, wonderful place to work,” Gilbert said. “It’s not always easy, but I really enjoy having what I’d consider to be the best job of my career.”

In addition to placing horses in both foster and adoption homes, Colorado Horse Rescue offers educational clinics for the public, including clinics geared toward first-time horse owners and horse owners whose horses have developed problem behaviors. According to Gilbert, these clinics are part of the Colorado Horse Rescue’s efforts to help people avoid needing to rehome their horses in the first place.

“A lot of this is about helping horses, but it’s also about helping people, whether it’s educating them about how to keep the horse they have or how to address issues with the horse they have,” Gilbert said. “It’s a lot to take on a horse, much more than taking on a dog or a cat. Your neighbor might be able to help you train your dog, but it’s very unlikely that your neighbor can help you troubleshoot something with your horse. That’s why we want to educate the public, so they can become more informed.”

As part of their initiative to help horses and people, Colorado Horse Rescue also offers the Leg-Up Program, which offers financial assistance to horse owners who find themselves in temporary financial straits.

“A lot of people fall into temporary circumstances, such as losing their job or getting injured and being unable to work for six or eight weeks. We’ll pay the vet or boarding facility or farrier directly in those cases,” Gilbert said. “We want to offer a temporary solution to help keep that horse in that home, because the best place for that horse is typically with that current owner and it would be a loss for both of them to have to change that. And that’s another reason we offer clinics through our trainers and educators. We want to solve problems for people so they can enjoy their time with their horses all the more.”

FROM RESCUED TO ADOPTED

The majority of the Colorado Horse Rescue’s intake horses are horses that have either been surrendered by their owners for rehoming or horses that the Rescue acquires through local auctions. Typically, these horses are healthy, adoptable horses that need to find new homes or new careers. Every horse goes through a thorough screening process, including health checks by a veterinarian as well as behavioral and training evaluations. Then it’s Gilbert’s job to find each horse a new home. Depending on the horse, that new home may be through adoption or it may be in a permanent foster situation. For example, a healthy, trained horse that’s still sound under saddle might be placed for adoption with the best match, whereas an elderly horse with only a few years left would probably be fostered out to serve as a pasture mate until the end of its life.

“We keep what’s best for the horse as our highest priority,” Gilbert explained. “For example, you might fall in love with that really pretty black horse who isn’t appropriate for you. I may have to tell you that it isn’t a match and suggest you look at this plain brown horse whose skills match your skills. It’s a struggle at times to explain that to people, but we don’t want the horse to be at risk. That’s also why it’s so important for applicants to be willing to be clear and honest about their experience and skill levels with horses.”

Once Gilbert matches a horse with its new owner, her work is far from over.

“Our adopters have to be willing to partner with us. You don’t just come in with a check and take the horse home. That’s not the way it works,” Gilbert said. “It has to be a match. You have to ride the horse a few times and handle it on the ground under the supervision of one of our trainers. We’ll help you tack the horse up the first time. Then, when you come back, it’s your turn to show us what you’d do at home. We want to make sure the match is safe for the person and that it’s best for the horse.”

READY TO ADOPT?

If you’re interested in adopting your next horse, it’s important to do your homework. Gilbert recommends visiting your local horse rescue in person and asking as many questions as you can about the facility, the adoption process and the adoption contract.

“Do your research on the Internet, pick a couple of rescues to go visit and make sure you talk with the staff,” Gilbert said. “Inform yourself just like you would if you’re comparison shopping for a vehicle. It’s important to take time and take responsibility for checking the rescue out.”