People are often hesitant to adopt an older horse because “they’re afraid of falling in love with a horse who they won’t be able to ride for long,” said Vera Valdivia-Abdallah, executive director of Love This Horse in Acton, CA.
Most people in Southern California board their horses, which can be quite expensive, she said, so adopters may not be able to afford both a companion-only horse and a riding horse. The Oldies & Goodies program gives riders the confidence to adopt an older horse without financial risk.
We talked with Valdivia-Abdallah about how the program works and why other groups may want to try something similar.
Q: What is the Oldies & Goodies program?
A: It’s an adoption program for horses older than 18 years of age, where adopters can return the horse to us if he or she becomes unrideable. It’s a win-win because the horse will be safe with us after having had fun pleasure riding for a few more years and the adopter can pick out a “new” senior horse for half-price.
Q: That’s a clever idea—what prompted you to come up with it?
A: We came up with the program because people seemed to only ever want to adopt horses under 18 years of age. We have had some really nice older horses who adopters would not even pay attention to because of their age. The main issue was that people were afraid they would adopt a horse, fall in love with him or her and then he or she would quickly become too old to ride and they'd get stuck with an older horse. In Southern California, most people board their horses, which can make it cost-prohibitive to own a retired, non-rideable horse who they are paying board on and a second horse who they can ride. This program takes away the fear of adopting an older horse.
Q: How do you promote the program?
A: At the time of inception, we frequently posted on social media about it. We also created a fun t-shirt campaign to spread the word and it really took off. We purposely left the logo ambiguous because during the campaign, we talked about how many of the middle-aged riders (myself included) viewed ourselves as "oldies and goodies," too. People found out about the program and were more comfortable adopting older horses. We also promote the program on our website.
What people are finding is that the older horses are truly oldies AND goodies! We have gotten a lot of feedback from people that the horses are just as rideable as their younger counterparts.
Q: Do you have a separate contract for these adoptions?
A: We use our standard adoption contract, but we add in a clause that allows the adopter to relinquish the horse back to us and to adopt another horse at half of his or her posted adoption fee.
Q: How many horses have been adopted through the program and how has it been received?
A: We only launched the program in 2018 and have already had 20 “oldies and goodies” adopted. To date, we have not had any returns. What people are finding is that the older horses are truly oldies AND goodies! We have gotten a lot of feedback from people that the horses are just as rideable as their younger counterparts. Also, I personally bought a 20-year-old horse for my teen daughter because older horses are perfect for families, teens, and older adults, too.
Q: What will happen if a horse is eventually returned?
A: The horse will have had a few more fun years of riding and then we will keep her as a sanctuary horse. We already have a few sanctuary horses, so they will be in good company.
Q: Can you share a success story from the program?
A: Recently a family adopted 21-year-old Diamonique for their five- and seven-year-old children as a competition horse. She had been part of a large law enforcement seizure of 89 Arabian horses in Bend, OR. We took in 22 horses from the seizure and Diamonique was one of the older ones. We assessed and rode her and quickly realized that she was a well broke horse. We marketed her as a great family horse and one of our regular volunteers tried her out. She and her two children absolutely fell in love with Diamonique and adopted her. After her adoption, we continued giving the children riding lessons to prepare them for their first competition. Both kids placed in the show—one got two first-place ribbons and the other got a second-place ribbon!
Q: What has been the most challenging thing you encountered so far with the program?
A: The most challenging part was to get the first horse adopted. Once the first horse was adopted and the adopter reported such a great experience, then it became easier. People talk to each other on Facebook and Instagram and exchange updates so that helps spread the word about our oldies and goodies.
Q: What advice would you give a group that wants to try this out?
A: Go for it! Initially we were concerned that people may take advantage of the program and use up a horse, maybe not properly care for him by running him into the ground and then returning him for a newer one. This fear was unfounded, and people are seeing them for what they are—great family horses.