I am never one to criticize rescues that implode and find themselves in the horrific position of too many mouths to feed and not enough funds to cover the hay bill. Given the overwhelming flow of unwanted horses, it is hard to stay focused and stay afloat during this period of unintended consequences for equines. I do not claim to be an expert but I do have the following suggestions for those heroic rescuers out there in the trenches saving lives:
1. Set limits and accept that euthanasia is an option. As rescuers we often need to make hard choices. ERN has purchased horses from killbuyers and at auction just to humanely euthanize. We can calculate and budget for our fixed costs; those everyday expenses like hay, grain, and blacksmith…but it’s the unexpected veterinary expenses that sink the ship. If you are living on limited budget, you need to take your emotions and compassion out of the equation and make the decision on how much will you spend to save a life? ERN uses the guideline of $600 per horse, although we sometimes vary slightly depending on prognosis, age and usefulness.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your veterinarian about the costs, outcomes and risks before they start caring for your horse.
2. Consider if the horse you are rescuing is worth the cost to euthanize. Seriously, it does sound harsh. When you see an unsound horse in the killpen or auction, it may be something as simple as an abscess, or more lethal like a broken coffin bone. You can’t tell in the 15 seconds it takes for the killbuyer to snatch him up because no one bids or buys an obviously lame horse. Occasionally, ERN will take that chance because we can quantify the expense: which is the cost to purchase the horse at auction (or killpen) PLUS the expense to have the horse evaluated by at veterinarian PLUS the expense to humanely euthanize and remove the expired animal. Sometimes it does turn out to be an abscess, like the 5 year old percheron gelding who hobbled into the auction ring, then its just the cost of the purchase, plus the vet care; other times, the vet has recommended euthanasia (then tack on the cost of the euthanasia and removal of the expired horse). If you frequent an auction regularly (or killpen), ask the local vet to quote a price to euthanize and remove. Knowing this will allow you to help some old or injured horse cross the “Rainbow Bridge” peacefully instead of crossing the border to Mexico.
3. Don’t be fooled, a “forever home” is rare and the need for a companion horse or pasture pets is even rarer. It is unrealistic to expect every new owner’s financial and physical circumstance will remain constant throughout the lifespan of a horse such that they can continue to properly care and support a horse. At ERN, we give a horse a second chance. We provide rehab, training, and find suitable homes. We require microchips and have new owners sign restrictive contracts (no auction/no slaughter). However, horses are livestock; and therefore when sold, they are someone else’s property. Legally, our control is limited and as time passes horses are rehomed and age. There is always a possibility they will become unwanted. All we can do as rescuers, is stress the importance of responsible horse ownership to new owners and hope they contact us in the event they rehome a horse…but then this may cause an unexpected expense (another mouth to feed!).
4. Learn to Say NO. If you are running an equine rescue, chances are you get requests daily from horse owners who wish to surrender their horses. ERN has no problem saying NO. In most cases, if an owner doesn’t want their own horse, chances are no one else will either. We use this opportunity to explain the dangers of rehoming an unwanted horse. If it is aged or unsound, we refer them to bullet #1 (euthanasia is an option, which seems to piss-off most callers). We also strongly suggest they use ERN’s Transfer of Ownership agreement, microchip and follow the recommended steps in rehoming.
5. Recognize you can’t save them all. There is an unlimited supply of unwanted horses. Each horse has a story as to how they become unwanted which includes a cast of human characters that failed to honor the horse’s best interest. Keep in mind it’s not your fault others have failed, but do try to save what you feel you can transform from unwanted to wanted. ERN tries to focus on horses that we know will have the best outcomes. We are less likely to save a handsome, 8 year old, 16 hand warmblood; than an unbroke 3 year old quarter horse filly. We can assume the 3 year old is unwanted because she is unbroken and since she hasn’t done anything we can assume the chances of her being sound are greater than the 8 year old. We don’t know why the 8 year old is unwanted. Who wouldn’t want a handsome horse like that, unless they are unruly undersaddle or unsound? My days of climbing onboard unruly beasts are behind me. Unbroke I can fix with time, training and patience. Unruly, well not-so-much.
6. Have a bail-out Donor. That is someone you can call when your rescue ship is sinking and the hay bill is due. In my case (ERN) the bail-out donor is ME, I reserve $2,500 in emergency funds for ERN. I have had to tap into that fund on many occasions to keep the ship afloat.
7. Rescuing horses is part of your life, not your WHOLE life. I feel the toll that rescuing horses has taken on my life in the past and now manage it more closely. Make sure your personal circle of humans – spouse/significant-other, children, parents, close friends, all know and willingly support your rescue work because undoubtedly it will interfere with their life too. Adding rescuing horses to a busy schedule creates an unknown demand on your time, emotions and finances. And if you are more passionate about saving horses than your significant-other, it will likely put you in a precarious position. As horse people, we know ‘horses are herd animals.’ Well so are humans, so don’t stray from your own herd!
8. Don’t criticize or argue with other rescuers. It’s impossible to know all the facts that go into the circumstances, especially in what is presented in a social media post. Don’t even waste your time trying, instead focus on the needs of the horse. Recognize that we are all passionate rescuers working against the tide. Do your best to work with others for the best interest of the horses, put your opinions aside and try for some middle ground. Find like minded-rescuers and form a ‘tribe’ that you can trust.
9. Know the difference between the good, bad and the ugly. There GOOD hearted rescuers who are doing all they can to save lives who are surrounded by BAD people who are focused on profits not horses. I have experienced unscrupulous shippers, quarantine, veterinarians, and even other rescuers. Finally there are the killbuyers, who are the UGLY. Find the people who share your passion and are willing to discount services and materials to help you rescue horses. For example, ERN got a quote to transport a donkey for $650 from a shipper recently. I made an inquiry to my network of trusted rescuers (my tribe), they found a rescuer who was willing to make the same journey for $350 because she was passionate about my cause.
10. Finally – focus on the ones you save, not the ones you don’t. Despite the unrelenting need and overwhelming flow of unwanted horses – DON’T GIVE UP. Let the images of the horrors you see at auctions & killpens fuel your fire not destroy your spirit.