Friday, February 22, 2008

Equine rescues: Which ones are reputable?

Many thanks to Dressagemom for this article suggestion. This is a long one!! The first section is an executive summary (what I gleaned from researching the topic), but you can skip to the lists of Web resources for Choosing an equine rescue and for Evaluating a charity.

The pictures on the right depict the remarkable recovery of a young horse at the Equine Rescue League in Leesburg, VA. Equine rescues are doing important work and they deserve our support. Unfortunately, not all operations that call themselves equine rescues are reputable. Frauds and scams are reported regularly in equine news sources. The Fugly Horse of the Day (FOTD) blog reports some of the unscrupulous practices in disreputable rescues (adult language warning!), such as breeding rescued horses or horse trading.

The IRS lists 109 tax-exempt equine rescues. Many more are privately owned. If you want to donate to an equine rescue, what should you look for? There are numerous articles on the Web that give specific advice for evaluating a rescue operation. Here is a not-so-concise summary of advice from Web resources I found...

  • What type of organization is it? Check on the tax exempt status and/or non profit 501(c)(3) status, review the IRS Form 990 for the rescue, and read any bylaws and articles of incorporation.
  • The rescue should share financial information, which should show them to be in solid standing. For examples of helpful financial reporting, see this Exceller Fund page and Blue Bonnet Equine Humane Society.
  • Have they applied for (and been awarded) grants? Most grant awarding agencies thoroughly vet out their recipients as part of the application/review process.
  • The rescue should have solid standards for horse care. The AAEP has published guidelines (see resource list) for equine rescue operation care and facilities. Visit the rescue--several times if possible.
  • Horses should have regular vet, dental, and farrier care. Records should be available. Ask about any sick, injured, or lame horses on the property.
  • Check out their reputation. Do they partner with county and local law enforcement? How are they viewed in their local community? Ask a local veterinarian about the organization.
  • How long have they been in operation? Three to five years is a good benchmark. Do they lease or own their property? You want to see evidence of stability/longevity.
  • Are the volunteers well-trained? Is the morale good?
  • The operation should have sound adoption policies in the interest of the animal. Some agencies retain ownership of the horse. In many cases adoptive owners will need to agree to site visits or monitoring. If the horse is to be sold, the agency may have first right of refusal.
  • Check references.
  • Is it run by a family or is it a single person? What are their qualifications? A board of directors is often desireable.
  • Adoption fees are usually below the value of the animal on the open market.
  • A reputable organization will interview you about your intended use of the horse and will direct you to a suitable animal.
  • How many horses are taken in/adopted out each year? Where do they get their horses?
In addition to what researching web sites and articles, I also polled a few bulletin boards, including the Chronicle of the Horse and The Manure Pile. There are some knowledgable folks out there with good advice from the trenches. Here are some of their observations...
  • Rescue operations should not breed their animals. Some posters went so far as to say rescues should not also operate a breeding farm. If they do, the stallions and mares had better be darn nice. Responsible rescues should know better than anyone that there are already too many horses brought into the world that aren't wanted.
  • You might also be wary of rescues that board horses or buy/sell/breed horses on the same property. Why? Because at minimum, it could create the appearance of impropriety. If someone donates hay, for example, how can the donor be sure the hay is used only for the rescue animals? The manager should be able to demonstrate that the two operations are managed separately (depending on their tax status, they may have to do it for the IRS anyway).
  • Be wary of a rescue that is always "on the brink," or that makes emotional, urgent appeals for donations (e.g., "We'll lose our farm unless..."). You want to donate to operations that are fiscally sound and well-managed. You want the directors/managers to be successful in other aspects of their life--in a current or previous career, for example.
  • Beware of adoption agencies that have high adoption fees, that do not screen their adopting owners, and that do no follow up or check up on the animal after adoption. Rescues usually retain some rights to the animal after adoption. Some "rescuers" are horse traders or worse.
  • Beware of organizations that take in more animals than they can support. Look for evidence of overcrowding or a tendency in the managers to "collect" horses. Like the ladies with 99 cats, these folks may be well-meaning, but if their judgement is "off," the animials suffer.
  • Be wary of operations that are beset by controversy or problems.
  • A good rescue will use good judgement in deciding when to euthanize, considering an animal's quality of life.
  • The FHOTD blogger outlines her definition of a rescue--worth reading.
  • If you want to keep it simple, the single most important rule is that the horses come first. If you see or learn of practices not in their best interest, give it a pass.
Finally, here's a Web site that appears to meet all the specs from above. Take a look at the Blue Bonnet Equine Humane Society of Rosharon, Texas. Their super Web site that includes information about the rescue animals, the mission, finances, and policies. They have ties to the commumnity, longevity, and a professional tone. As a potential donor I see nearly everything I should see before I give.


Choose an equine rescue from Equine Rescue Community

This is a summary of the Equus Magazine article titled "Reliable Rescue or Shamless Scam?" published Oct. 2004. Author is by Jennifer Williams, PhD.

Choosing and equine rescue from the Horse Channel
This article offers some unique and stringent criteria to find a reputable rescue, such as having a board of directors. Some interesting suggestions include asking at local feed stores, talking to employees, previous adopters, and other donors.

AAEP Published Guidelines for Rescues and Retirement Facilities

Outlines standards and best practices for rescue/retirement facilities. Chapters include: health management, nutrition, hoof care, geriatric care, shelter/stalls/facilities, pastures and paddocks, and euthanasia.

Basic guidelines for operating an equine rescue or retirement facility from the Animal Welfare Institute
Similar to the AAEP guidelines, but it does include to useful appendices: determining a horse's body condition and nutrition for the starved horse.

Current Status of Rescue AAEP Article written by BlueBonnet Rescue
This excellent article offers definitions of important rescue terms such as the difference between tax exempt and non-profit. Includes questions to ask when screening rescues and documentation you should review.

Equine rescues from Horse Protection Society
Article poses and answers the question, "How can I tell if I am dealing with a reputable organization?"

More horses, fewer donors challenge equine rescue groups
Recently featured in the Wall Street Journal

Unwanted Horse Coalition
Under the auspices of the American Horse Coucil, this coalition has been featured in major newspapers. Their resources and publications are a good introduction to the problem of the unwanted horse.

Fugly horse of the day blog
For anecdotal evidence that not every horse rescue is what it seems.


Charity Navigator
This site rates charitable organizations and you can search the ratings by keyword. It also has a great list of tips for evaluating a charity. For an critique of their evaluation methods, check out's article.

Charities: Information for Consumers
Nasconet is the National Association of State Charity Officials. Contact them to learn about charities operating in your home state, plus they maintain a list of all U.S. charity offices. Pennsylvania's Web site includes a searchable database of PA charities. You could also contact to see if complaints have been registered against a charity you are considering.

American Institute of Philanthropy
This organization rates charities and assigns them grades A-F based on a financial and performance measurements. They cover a rather selective list of charities but the web site is packed with information on being an informed donor. Measures of performance such as cost to raise $100 and percent spent on charitable purpose are described. This may be a lot to ask from a small rescue operation, but it gives a sense of the importance of an efficient, organized operation.

Charitable Gift Fund
Provides a list of resources for evaluating charities

Guidestar Charity Ratings
Searchable database of charities -- it offers free registration to view the reports for each charity, but once I registered the really helpful info was available only to "premium subscription members." Still, it lists of basic information like year founded, tax forms filed, and number of volunteers.

Annual Report Library
This site offers some insights to interpreting financial statements of charities.

Better Business Bureau Charity page
Find out if complaints have been registered against your charity, see if it is listed in the National Charity Reports Index, or register a complaint.


  1. I hope a lot of the horse bloggers pick up on your post .

    It is interesting that you have posted this today , yesterday when I was adding some new blogs to The Horse Power Guide , 3 of those that I found were "Horse Rescue" . I removed one straight away because on the same page was all about them selling the horses.

    And after Callies advice removed a second one

    I think it is going to be even harder now to identify than it was a few years ago


  2. I knew you would do this subject justice with one of your well researched articles.

    And I agree with Steve - with the "unwanted" horse crisis I'm sure all kinds of people are going to go into the rescue business and it will be hard to tell who's on the up and up.

    Thank you!

  3. Thanks so much for suggesting this topic! Please send along any suggestions for articles!

  4. Thanks for all the info on this. As member of the AHA Region 5 Board of Directors we deal with this subject a lot and I get pleas through my blog for help. Sorting out who deserves funding and who does not is a nightmare at best.

  5. What a great summary of resources! I recently was involved in a "giveaway" situation where it seemed to me that the owner of the horse was being duped by a so-called rescue into giving up her horse for a dollar. I wish that I had been able to point her toward this blog.


  6. Just FYI for you and your readers... The little Arab filly you have pictured at the beginning of this post is "Chloe." She came to the Equine Rescue League as an emaciated 6-month old. She made a very good recovery, and was adopted out a few years ago. She's very happy and well-loved in her adoptive home!

  7. Hi Stacey,

    Your posting contains some useful info... Thanks for posting!!!


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.