Rescue Me

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If you care about horses, it’s hard to stand by and do nothing when you see a horse in trouble. For that reason, many equine professionals find themselves getting involved in equine rescue.

Although many large-scale equine rescue operations exist, involvement in horse rescue can be as simple as providing safe haven to an occasional horse in need. It’s not unusual for trainers, barn managers and other equine professionals to come across neglected or abused horses that need a good home. If you want to regularly help horses in trouble, you’ll need to know a few things to help you do the job right.

Many Rewards

Talk to people who are actively doing horse rescue, and you’ll find that saving a horse’s life can be an extremely rewarding experience. Veterinary technician Christina Panerio is a co-founder of Angels Among Us, an equine rescue group in Kalispell, Mont. The organization started with the rescue of a young colt that had been badly cut by wire.

“The colt had severe injuries,” says Panerio. “The owner did not wish to put any money into the colt, and wanted to have him put down. Michelle Sudan, who is now our president, worked at the veterinary clinic where the colt was taken. She felt she could save the colt, so she asked if she could keep him. After a lot of TLC and even more love, Tuffy has become a beautiful horse.”

After this success, Michelle and her sister, Lynnette, along with Panerio and another friend, Crystal Williams, joined forces to help more horses. In just over three years, the organization has cared for 80 horses in need.

Chris and Mike Dodge of H.O.R.S.E Rescue & Sanctuary in York, N.Y., got involved with equine rescue when they came across a mare in desperate need of help. “Mike and I had each had horses when we were considerably younger,” says Chris. “When we had to move out of the urban Ventura, Calif., home we had been renting because it was sold, we ended up leasing a horse property.

“In 1993, we took in two horses that had been saved from being euthanized after being taken from a charro rodeo. Shortly thereafter, we went to pick up a stallion that belonged to a friend of ours and who was going to be boarded at our place. At the rear of that barn stood an old, broken-down, swayed-back mare who, at some time in her life, had been shot through the neck and whose knees were badly blown out with arthritis. She was being bullied by the landowner’s cows, was badly underweight and her feet hadn’t been trimmed in months. We told the owner we would give him $100 for the mare, or call the SPCA and turn him in for abuse. Needless to say, we took Gabby home with us. Word started spreading that if you had a horse you don’t want, call Chris and Mike—they’ll take in anything.”

Time & Money

Rescuing horses, even on a small scale, can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. If you have an extra stall on your property and want to use it to provide assistance to a needy horse, you can either volunteer to be a foster home for an existing organization or else occasionally take in a needy horse on your own.

If you want to do rescue on a very small scale, be forewarned that the large rescues almost always start as small ones. Once word gets out that you care about horses in need, you’ll find yourself wanting to take in more and more animals. “We tried rescuing horses out-of-pocket for three years until it became financially unfeasible because of the number of horses who were coming to us for help,” says Chris Dodge. “We realized that if we were going to do this—and it had now become our mission in life—we needed to form a non-profit organization and do it right. We incorporated H.O.R.S.E. Rescue & Sanctuary in 1996 and received our 501(c)(3) status in 1997.”

While taking in a horse now and then doesn’t warrant forming a non-profit organization, equine professionals planning to do rescue on a regular basis should protect themselves financially by registering with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501 (c) (3) charitable non-profit. This status will make your rescue operation tax-exempt, and possibly even tax deductible for those wanting to make donations to your cause.

“Depending on your state, incorporation may take only a few weeks and is fairly easy and inexpensive,” says Chris Dodge. “Obtaining your 501(c)(3) is an extensive process and filing costs will be somewhere between $500 and $750. It is a good idea to hire an attorney who has knowledge of both non-profit law and animal cruelty law (for future reference), but you can also do this process on your own. There are publications available from the government to guide you through it.”

Before you embark on the journey of starting an official rescue, be aware of what you are getting into, as rescue can be both rewarding and frustrating at the same time. “If you plan to do horse rescue, be prepared and willing to have your life totally turned around,” says Chris Dodge. “Be ready and able to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for the animals you take into your care. Be prepared for the joy—and heartache—you will experience.”

In addition to being emotionally prepared, you must have sufficient resources to pull off a rescue. If you plan to establish a non-profit organization, Dodge recommends developing a board of directors who are not rescuers but have strong connections to your community and are willing to draw on their resources.

“Also be sure that you have a solid and unlimited volunteer base to draw from,” she says. “Many people will sign on, but few will stay. Solicit the support of a qualified equine veterinarian, farrier and equine dentist. Join a well-respected Internet horse rescue support group, and become connected with your local and state law officials. If possible, enlist someone who is a certified animal cruelty investigator with a strong knowledge of horses and the right of seizure.”

Probably the most difficult aspect of equine rescue is gathering the finances to keep the operation going. “Unfortunately, horse rescue is not just about caring for horses,” says Kathryn Caldwell of Indiana Horse Rescue in Frankfort, Ind. “Certain aspects need to be treated as a business entity, and other parts treated as humane efforts. This creates a gap in operational protocols.”

Caldwell notes that, not surprisingly, financing is the single largest obstacle in equine rescue, and is the downfall of many organizations. “Many equine veterinarians believe that most rescues start out well-intentioned and then fall prey to devastating financial needs, which cloud their judgment,” she says. “You need to find a veterinarian who is open to the concept of rescue and is willing to alleviate some of the financial burden of the day-to-day medical needs you will undoubtedly be faced with.”