Finding homes for special needs equine may seem like a daunting task. Will people willingly take on the responsibility of a horse they can’t ride? Happily, in many cases the answer is yes!
Read on to learn how these organizations find good homes for unrideable horses.
Tug at Their Heartstrings
There’s a reason Black Beauty is a classic—the book makes readers feel empathy for one horse who had experienced a difficult life. Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine, MD, used the same tactic in their winning Help a Horse video, Letters from H. The video is from the perspective of H, an older horse who had a hard life and is now homeless and in need of rescue.
Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation in Pittsville, WI, was moved by the video and decided to add it to the bios and blogs of two of their senior horses, thinking it might tug at the heartstrings of potential adopters—and it worked! Barb Schmook, who adopted one of the horses, says the video made her cry “and was when I decided to stop flirting with the idea of adopting and just do it.”
Embrace Non-traditional Homes
Unrideable horses can thrive in a variety of homes, including some unexpected ones.
Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in College Station, TX, has found placements for horses at a local bed and breakfast. The B&B’s proprietors wanted to play up their bucolic setting and provide guests with the opportunity to interact with friendly horses. Their adopted horses love receiving attention—and carrots—from visitors and, in turn, the visitors enjoy their time socializing with the horses.
Dr. Jennifer Williams, executive director of Bluebonnet, says horses placed as “pasture ornaments” may indeed beautify the landscape, but she is also careful to home them with people who will also love and care for them.
Williams reports that Bluebonnet has also successfully placed horses with therapeutic, charter and state schools. The horses can teach responsibility in the form of daily care, and even serve as therapists. Some kids “tell their troubles to the horses, opening up the way to healing,” she says.
And, in some cases, horses who are not particularly affectionate are perfect for therapeutic programs, because students who are prone to withdrawing from human interaction work hard to receive the reward of the horse’s affection.
Gerda’s Equine Rescue in Townshend, VT, placed Peach, a sweet, blind pony from a neglect case, with a therapeutic riding center. According to staff, before the riding center adopted her, no one had expressed an interest in Peach, but now she is loved by everyone in the program and will be for the rest of her life.
Consider Reduced and Fee-Waived Adoptions
The SPCA of Texas in Dallas uses a tried-and-true marketing technique for adopting out unrideable horses: two for the price of one!
Approved adopters who pay an adoption fee for a rideable horse may bring home an unrideable companion horse for free. This is an especially effective technique because the agency requires that all adopted horses have at least one companion in their new home.
It’s a win-win-win: The horses get a home with someone they already know, the adopters get two horses for the price of one, and the shelter can now help another horse in need.
Share Their Stories
All the rescues agree that sharing a horse’s story is key to finding him or her a home. People want to know as much about the horse’s background as possible—both the good and the bad.
Was the horse a successful former racer who is now lame? Or maybe he was part of a seizure and suffered neglect that led to a chronic medical condition. Whatever the horse’s history, share it so that people can begin to empathize with the animal and create a connection to him or her.
If the horse comes from a challenging background or has medical issues, be honest with potential adopters so they fully understand what their commitment entails. Transparency fosters trust, establishes your organization as reputable and prevents returns down the road.
Being transparent and sharing potential issues can be done in a fun and creative way. Hickory Hill Farm in Wilson County, TN, creates rescue resumes (pictured below) for each of its horses. Rescue director Shea Hutsenpiller says they use free or inexpensive design programs like Canva to make the attractive resumes, which showcase the good and not so good about each horse. The organization carefully chooses honest language to describe potential issues but does so in a hopeful and engaging way. For example, under the history section of Diva’s resume, it clearly states that she’s been mistreated and is learning to trust. That potential shortcoming presented on a colorful resume with a stunning photo helps potential adopters keep their minds and hearts open to adopting her despite any issues.
Get Them in the Public Eye
If possible, take unrideable horses to events and media appearances so they will get exposure to potential adopters. People may not have considered keeping a horse for companionship, therapy or as a “pasture ornament.”
When taking horses out in public, Maura Davies, VP of marketing and communications, suggests writing “Adopt Me” on their hind quarters with non-toxic paint.
The agency also does paid advertisements for their limited-riding horses in local trail-riding magazines to get the horses in front of audiences that may be looking for casual riding companions.
Give Adopters (and Horses) a Chance
Consider targeting adopters who do not identify as “horse people.” This Old Horse in Hastings, MN, inspires community members to become “horse people” by showing them the joys and benefits of owning an unrideable horse. The group’s #LooksLikeMe social media promotion features adopters who have become horse owners by falling in love with an unrideable horse. Their darling adoption video highlights the special bond between a novice horse owner and her blind horse.
This Old Horse even collaborated with the Minnesota Racing Commission to develop a 12-week curriculum to teach and support new horse enthusiasts. Anyone who successfully completes the course gets their adoption fee waived.
Williams from Bluebonnet warns that as horse lovers, “it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re the only one who can love and care for your horses.” This mindset prevents horses from going to good homes, discourages adoption in general and prevents you from helping more horses.
And believing in the horses is also important. “Don’t think a history of abuse is insurmountable,” says Williams. With time, love and proper care, most horses are quite resilient