Serving Horses in Your Community with Strategic Intake Policies
As an equine shelter or rescue, you’re doing important, lifesaving work. Understanding which horses you can best assist is a critical first step to fulfilling your organization’s mission. Having policies and procedures on which horses you will serve also helps your organization to:
Stay true to your mission
Keep within your budget
Know when you can say “yes” or “no” to horses in need
Plan appropriate staffing
Stay within your capacity for care
Reduce equine suffering by identifying and supporting at-risk horses earlier
This type of planning should be covered in periodic strategic planning with your board and leadership and may be defined in your organization’s mission and vision.
Questions to ask when planning:
1. Who and what makes up the equine community your organization intends to serve?
For many organizations, this is a geographical boundary-such as state, handful of counties, or region of the country. For others, it’s a focus on a certain breed/type, or career, such as retiring racehorse.
Your purpose should be defined in your organization’s mission. If it’s unclear, it may be time to reconvene your board/leadership to refocus and ensure your organization is on the path you intend.
2. What problem are we working to solve?
Once you’ve defined what community the organization serves, ask: what need exists in our horse community? You may determine this by gauging the types of calls for help you receive. For example, do you get lots of calls from individual owners seeking a place to relinquish a horse, or from local law enforcement? Are there feral/free-roaming horses in your region in need of help? The answers to these questions can help you define the need.
These two questions work hand-in-hand. The answer will help you define or refocus on your mission and therefore strategically source horses.
What resources do you have at your disposal?
Expertise or connections within your network
Social media following/reach
Consider all tangible or intangible resources. For example, if you have board members with connections in a certain discipline or industry, you might be well-positioned to transition horses retiring out of those careers. If you have a large foster network, you might be able to take in horses from a wide geographical area. If your facility is in a densely populated area, you may have easy access to a powerful volunteer network.
Ways to source horses responsibly:
1. Obtain horses directly from owners.
“Catching horses upstream” is the most efficient way to prevent horses from falling at risk in the first place. Most commonly, this can be via managed or open admission programs. Ultimately, if every horse owner in the country had access to help when they could no longer keep their horse, we could prevent much equine suffering and help them get to their new home in better condition and faster. Learn more about effective strategies for open-admission equine adoption agencies and intake pathways.
2. Work with law enforcement to accept horses as cruelty or neglect cases when needed.
Reach out to local law enforcement and animal control units to let them your organization is available and the specifics of what help you can offer.
3. Set up transfers with partner shelters/rescues.
Determine your criteria for horses who are likely to be successful transfers to your organization, then reach out to partners with the offer. For example, if you have experienced trainers, aim to transfer in unstarted/untrained horses who would be great adoption candidates with a good training foundation. Consider joining the ASPCA’s Right Horse Warm-Up Ring to access a network of collaborative, like-minded partners who are working to adopt more horses each year together.
4. Get wild horses from direct sources.
If training and placing wild burros or mustangs is part of your mission, seek them directly from sources like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or US Forest Service.
5. Purchase from legitimate livestock auctions.
To create systemic change, resources should be focused on helping horses before they end up at low-end auctions. A great example is the Drifter’s Hearts of Hope Annie Project that sources horses directly from dude ranches, preventing horses from potentially ending up in harm’s way Purchasing horses at livestock auctions should be considered a last resort because of the added cost of purchase, quarantine, and medical treatment makes this a less efficient method than sourcing horses earlier in the “risk pipeline,” and allows horses to become exposed to disease and potential decline before accessing the help they need. If you find that auctions are the biggest area of need in your community, consider how you could move towards helping horses before they end up there. And be aware of the difference between legitimate auctions and harmful kill-pen bailout schemes. Your strategy may end up focusing on one or more of these sourcing methods. If you source horses via multiple methods, consider creating targets or guidelines for what proportion will come from what sources, or how you’ll handle fluctuations in need. For example, you may reserve 5 spots for cruelty cases and open the rest of your capacity to owner-surrenders.
What about all the horses we can’t help?
When you encounter at-risk horses outside your mission, build a plan to respond as best you can. This can be as simple as referring to partner organizations, growing your foster network, or helping horse owners foster-in-place while you help facilitate adoptions. You can also refer to industry organizations like the United Horse Coalition, which maintains a database of hay/feed banks, gelding and euthanasia clinics, and resources like estate planning for horse owners.
When you’ve answered the above questions, create a written policy to communicate your intake protocols to staff, volunteers, and the public. By focusing your work, you’re in a great position to help more horses, stay on mission and in-budget, collaborate with partners, and ensure your organization thrives in the long term.