Equine Fostering Q&A with Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society
Fostering horses and other equines increases your capacity and exposes your animals to potential adopters.
Learn how Jennifer Williams, executive director of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in College Station, TX, relies exclusively on foster homes to help horses in need.
We talked with Williams about Bluebonnet’s successful program and got tips for managing foster farms.
Q: You have extensive information on your website about your fostering program, including an FAQ, application and testimonials—it’s so impressive! How long has your foster program been in existence and why did you start it?
A: Thank you! We’ve had our fostering program since the very beginning of our organization in 2005. Before that, I ran Lone Star Equine Rescue and set up the fostering program there in 1998. We were one of the first horse rescues to use a foster home network – I based it off what I saw dog/cat rescues doing.
Texas is a huge state, and it is hard for a rescue with one farm or facility to really serve a large area. The fostering network lets us have people sprinkled across the state who can help with horses near them. Plus, I think it often allows the horses to get far more one on one handling than they would at a large facility. The foster homes fall in love with their horses, know their likes and dislikes, find the little quirks, and can help network the horses to potential adopters. Plus, there are ‘foster failures’ where the foster home falls in love and adopts (I have failed three times myself!).
Q: What types of equines have been fostered through your program?
A: Just about everything imaginable. We’ve had pregnant mares, orphaned foals, stallions (they are gelded once healthy), donkeys, mules, miniature horses, etc. etc. We have horses who are emaciated and horses who are healthy in foster homes. Some are broke to ride, some aren’t. Some aren’t even halter broke when they arrive.
Since we don’t have a farm/ranch, any equine we take in either goes to me or our fostering coordinator first and then on to a foster home. Or the horse goes straight to a foster home.
Q: You provide guidelines for foster homes—are there any deal breakers or must-haves?
A: We really try to work with everyone. We have had first-time horse owners foster – we just work hard to find them a horse we know more about (like one who needs to move on from a trainer, is being returned by an adopter, etc.) and provide mentoring. Every horse lover has to start somewhere, and we get the chance to teach and help newcomers to the horse world this way.
We may not approve every foster home for every situation. We wouldn’t approve a novice for a pregnant mare, a stallion, or a horse who had never been handled. We won’t approve someone with very small acreage to take on a large number of horses. But we try to find what works in each person’s situation.
We can’t approve people whose places aren’t safe. They don’t have to be fancy, but if the fencing is 2 feet tall or the barn is almost ready to fall down on the horses, we can’t approve that. Or if someone applies to foster whose own horses aren’t cared for (badly overgrown hooves, underweight, etc.). Fortunately, we very rarely turn anyone down – I can’t remember the last time we had to.
Each foster home brings their network of horse lovers to your organization. They bring new ideas, new experience, and new passion. Their excitement can reinvigorate you.
Q: Is their proximity to your organization important?
A: We have foster homes throughout Texas – but we can’t go much beyond the borders. It gets costly to ship horses around—we can’t check up on them, and some of them aren’t in the condition to travel far.
Q: Is there any hope or expectation that the foster family will help place the horse?
A: We don’t require them to promote the horse – but some do create a Facebook page for their foster horse and some take their horses to events. We know not everyone goes to events, has a trailer, etc. so we don’t require it – but we appreciate it when it happens! We ask foster homes for updates and photos, so we can get to know the horses and help find their adopters. And the foster homes have to talk to approved adopters to give them information on the horses, set up a time to visit, etc.
Q: How many staff/volunteers does it take to run your foster program? What are their tasks and time commitments?
I serve as the one staff person/Executive Director/jack of all trades. However, I don’t have much to do with our fostering program other than stepping in to assist if needed. We have three main foster roles. The Applications Manager receives and reviews all applications (fostering and adoption). She makes sure the applicants have also submitted their membership fee and photos of their property. When everything is complete, she forwards on to the fostering coordinator. For us, foster applications trickle in, so she may only spend an hour or two on this a week (she also does our adoption applications and that can vary more).
The Fostering Coordinator oversees the program. She receives applications, reviews, asks questions of the foster home, and then approves (or denies) the application. She then works with foster homes to help find a horse who works for their situation, experience level, etc. She also coordinates with our trailering coordinator to get the horse there if the foster home can’t trailer. She helps check in the horses once they’re in homes, answers questions, etc. She can spend from 5-25 hours per week, probably averaging 10. She is fantastic at what she does, juggling a lot of people and their needs along with our horses and their needs in her head.
We also have an Inspection Coordinator who coordinates volunteers who do foster home and adopted home follow-up visits to make sure the horses are doing well. She spends 5-10 hours/week doing this.
Q: What do you do if a foster family has an emergency arise?
A: The Foster Coordinator and I both serve as emergency contacts. Foster homes are supposed to contact one of us before having a vet out so we can authorize treatment. We also have to authorize euthanasia if needed. She and I both are on call 24/7/365, with her as the primary point of contact and me as backup. She can spend from 5-25 hours per week – most weeks are pretty slow so she probably averages 10.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge in implementing and/or managing your foster program?
A: A foster home program is made up of all these great folks who are donating their time and money to help horses. They’re opening their homes and hearts. But each person has different experiences, facilities, needs, and desires, so coordinating the people side is probably the hardest part. BUT the people are the heart of the organization, and we can’t survive without them.
The second hardest part is that we don’t know each horse individually. We must go off what the foster home says when talking to potential adopters or trying to market a horse. That can sometimes be a challenge.
Q: What advice would you give to an organization looking to start a foster program?
A: Take a little time to think through the program. In addition to extra manpower, you need to consider what you can afford to reimburse for, your minimum standards of care that foster homes provide to their horses, how foster homes get approval for veterinary care, what veterinarians you use, and how will you get horses to foster homes.
Also, remember that foster homes are volunteers and aren’t obligated to keep the horses, so you might get calls from a foster home telling you that you need to move the horse immediately. Have a plan for how you’ll get the horse transported, where he/she can go, etc.
I think the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks, though. Each foster home brings their network of horse lovers to your organization. They bring new ideas, new experiences, and new passion. Their excitement can reinvigorate you when you are burnt out. They also know and love the horses, and they’re huge advocates for their foster horse.