How to Conduct Virtual Equine Adoptions
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, many equine organizations have developed ways to continue adopting out horses while social distancing. Horses’ Haven in Howell, MI, whose adoption numbers have remained steady during the pandemic, and After the Races in Elkton, MD, whose adoptions have doubled during March and April 2020 compared to previous years, have lots of helpful tips for conducting virtual adoptions.
Since in-person meetings are tricky during periods of social distancing, Horses’ Haven is using “virtual adoption appointments to share the real behavior and personalities of each horse with potential adopters,” says Kristine Dvonch, the agency’s equine health and adoption coordinator. The comprehensive videos include:
- Catching, gate behavior, and leading to the barn
- In-hand work in arena
- Complete grooming, including picking hooves, tying/cross tying
- Tacking (pad, saddle, bridle, etc.)
- Lunging both directions
- Walk/trot/canter both directions in arena
- Short trail ride around property
- Loading on trailer
Bonnie McRae, director of After the Races, has found that her adopters are not currently interested in video meet-and-greets. Since After the Races transitions young Thoroughbreds recently retired from racing, their typical adoption clientele has equine experience. She says, “I have offered to do video chats with a couple individuals, but most have not required or requested it.” Instead, After the Races posts compelling photos and videos of each horse accompanied with substantive write-ups.
Remote Adoption Counseling and Application Processing
Dvonch says they speak with the adopter on the phone and complete a photo site inspection, which includes reviewing fencing, shelter, food storage, heated water availability, and other horses owned by the adopter. They also request video of the potential adopter riding their horse or a school horse, enabling them to make good matches from both horse and adopter perspectives.
During the counseling process, McRae says, “One of the biggest things that I cannot stress enough is that all behavioral or physical issues or limitations are very clearly available to be seen on the website and reinforced when you speak with the potential adopter.” She says this develops trust and bolsters your reputation, significantly decreasing the amount of time and energy you would otherwise devote to inquiries from people who are not a good fit for the horse. Be creative with communicating any quirks or limitations in a way that still depicts the horse positively as a safe, healthy and happy candidate for adoption.
In addition to reviewing the application and checking references, McRae also vets potential adopters by researching them on social media and looking at their farm on satellite images.
After the Races also allows and encourages prospective adopters to arrange for pre-purchase exams with a local veterinarian.
Contracts and Payment
Online adoption applications, credit cards and electronic payment platforms like PayPal are an easy way to process adoptions while social distancing. And for Horses’ Haven they are also able to do contracts and exchange fees onsite if both parties are wearing masks per Michigan law.
After the Races is currently only doing no-contact pickups and drop offs, following this protocol:
- Adopters or shippers pull in, turn their trailer around, open it, and stand back six feet.
- A staff member, wearing a mask and gloves, loads the horse and exits.
- The adopter closes the trailer as staff step out—that way staff isn’t touching the adopter’s property.
- The adopter keeps the halter provided by After the Races and can do with it what they want.
- All paperwork has been completed prior to arrival, and a staff member puts hard copies in a folder and leaves the folder on the wheel well of the trailer.
McRae says she usually does chat with the adopter during this time but makes sure they are at least six feet apart. They also are not allowing anyone besides staff into their barn nor are they allowing adopters to wrap or put boots on the horses for shipping.
At Horses’ Haven, when they deliver a horse to the new owner, they ask adopters to stand back, maintaining social distance, as staff walks the horse to the pasture or stall. Staff then steps back and observes the adopter meeting and interacting with horse.
For pick up at Horses’ Haven, they allow adopters to catch and load the horse, maintaining social distance. Or they have the adopter stay in their vehicle and a staff member loads the horse for them.
Virtual adoptions have challenged all adoption agencies to try new things, and for Horses’ Haven it has been a growth opportunity. Dvonch says, “We traditionally require an on-site meet-and-greet with the potential adopter riding their prospective horse if applicable—and we had to make changes to our rehab program to include time for videos, and alter the prioritization of the horses based on adopter demand since we are unable to have our full team of volunteers on site.”
For the last 10 years, about 30% of After the Races’ adoptions have been long-distance or essentially sight unseen. McRae says, “While it is certainly not for everyone, and we are very clear about that, Thoroughbreds do tend to attract a good number of professionals and serious adult amateurs who are very experienced with the breed and comfortable taking on the risk of not riding a horse prior to adoption. Really, we have just made the shift to 100% sight unseen until we feel safe to have visitors again, and the transition has been very smooth.”
Both organizations are happy with the quality and quantity of adoptions. Horses’ Haven says that allowing adoptions during the pandemic meant horses found homes and community members were pleased. They had one gelding who was adopted to a family that wanted to spend the stay-at-home period camping and trail riding, but they didn’t have enough horses for their whole family. They were so appreciative that Horses’ Haven allowed them to adopt during the quarantine that they sent staff weekly photos of the entire family enjoying their time together with the horses.
McRae says she has noticed a lot of repeat adoptions during the pandemic, with previous adopters coming back for a second and even third time as they found extra time to work with their new horses.
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