The Unwanted Horse Coalition estimated that in 2007, there were 170,000 unwanted horses in the United States (the UHC’s definition of “unwanted” can be found in the preface of this document, but it will come as no surprise – “unwanted” means exactly what it sounds like).

This number – 170,000 – was determined before the economic fallout of 2008, which I am guessing is responsible for thousands more unwanted horses as horse owners lost their jobs and struggled to put food on the table.  As we all know, horses are expensive…and to many, a luxury item – it’s safe to say that if there were 170,000 unwanted horses in 2007, there were even more in 2008.  I wish I had some reliable data to quote here, but I think you get the point:

There are a lot of unwanted horses in America.

Some of those unwanted horses don’t *look* like unwanted horses.  They are nice, fancy, sound and useful horses that perhaps just never got the training they needed.  Or, maybe they did – maybe they won money for their owners at the racetrack or carted a small child around a show ring or carried a middle-aged lady over many miles of trails.  And still, they end up somewhere they don’t deserve to be – they end up unwanted, wasting away in a pasture somewhere, shipped off to a slaughterhouse in another country, or maybe euthanized.

Horses, due their nature…big, expensive, used for sport…often end up getting passed around (compared to, say, a dog or cat who will often have just one owner).  And no matter how nice a horse is, he’s likely to go lame or have an owner who ends up in a financially tight spot (remember what happened to Black Beauty?) and before you know it – no one wants him anymore.

I am not writing this blog post to pull at your heartstrings, to open your pocketbooks or to shame anyone who is horse shopping.  I am writing this post to draw attention to a problem (unwanted horses) and to hopefully convince someone who is looking for a horse to consider adopting from a rescue.

We all have our own ideas about what rescuing/adopting a horse really means, and so I’ll clarify what I’m talking about when I use the word “rescue.”  To me, and for the sake of this post, a horse “rescue” is a legitimate organization dedicated to finding homes for unwanted horses.  It is an organization that has the best interests of both the horses and the people involved at heart. A good rescue will take a horse back that doesn’t work out for its new owner, and it will do its best to match horses appropriately with the right person.

So…I’m going to give you a few good reasons to adopt from a rescue, and showcase a few success stories, too.

You *Can* Find a Nice Horse at a Rescue

I know what you’re thinking!  You’re thinking, “I want something pretty and sound…I can’t find that at a rescue!”

But you can.

You might put in some extra time and money to finish a horse’s training.  You might have to look for that diamond in the rough.  You might not find a horse that’s registered or exactly the breed you were looking for.  But…there are lots of nice horses waiting to be adopted.

This pretty mare was rescued from a feedlot.  She had limited training and poor ground manners.  After putting in some time, her current owner is showing her…and, added bonus, she ended up being pregnant…with a mule, no less!

(Jamaica, photo by Sue Winslow.)

(Jamaica and her baby, Surprise, owned by Jennifer Marek.)

Adopting From a Rescue is Easier and Safer Than Rescuing a Horse Yourself

Many people think they’d be better off rescuing a horse themselves (from, say, a pitiful ad they find on Craigslist) – and for a handful of capable folks with the necessary resources at their beck and call, that might be possible.  But the rest of us are probably better off adopting a horse from a rescue.


For one thing, rescues usually have vets and trainers and farriers they work with each time a new horse arrives.  They know what to look for, know what questions to ask, and know what to expect from a horse who often shows up with no history and questionable life experiences.  This means that you don’t have to find out the hard way that your new horse doesn’t stand for the farrier or, even worse, isn’t broke (that’s not something *I* want to learn the hard way!).

When you adopt from a reputable rescue, they will disclose the horse’s entire medical history (to the best of their knowledge) as well as the horse’s level of training.  They want to make sure that you know what you’re getting into, and that the horse will be receiving adequate care.

Take a look at this pretty mare – the rescue that adopted her out warned the owner about several perceived health concerns.  In this case, most of them were unfounded – but the new owner knew in advance exactly what she might have been dealing with and was willing to take on the possible expenses to provide her with a lifetime of care.

(Coco, adopted from Rerun by Suzanne Stern.)

When You Adopt From a Rescue, You Allow the Rescue to Save Another Horse

This is the real beauty of adopting a horse (aside from gaining a wonderful companion for yourself, that is!).  When you adopt a horse from a rescue, the rescue is in then able to bring in another horse who needs help.

And there are a lot of horses that need help.

Rescues don’t often have empty stalls.

There are always unwanted horses, and not always enough room, money, or manpower to save them all.

I hope to encourage those of you who are in the market for a new horse to broaden your horizons a bit and contact a local rescue.  You never know what they might have available (always call or email…horse people are busy, and the website might not be updated) – your new best friend could be waiting for you.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for at a rescue, I hope you will remember all of the unwanted horses out there and – when the time is right – consider donating to your local rescue (most rescues welcome donations in the form of volunteer hours, used tack, feed, and of course, cash!).

What positive rescue stories would you share with someone who was trying to decide whether or not to adopt from a rescue? 

About the Author
Carrie is a dedicated mother and wife. Some of her favorite things are horses, iced tea, getting packages, lip gloss, Christmas, cloth diapers, babies, writing, a clean house and her Connemara pony, Seamus.