Horse Rescue Reality
When thinking about starting a horse rescue, it is so much more than saving needy horses. Success requires a business savvy individual willing to be transparent with the public. So what does that look like?
Equine behaviorist Jennifer Williams, Ph.D. says there are five skills crucial to operating a thriving horse rescue. She is the co-founder and president of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in College Station, Texas.
1. Understanding non-profit structure and business management
Good horse rescues provide critical services to their communities. Before thinking donations, it is crucial that horse rescues groups understand what is needed to establish and run a 501(c)3, tax-exempt organization.
Although establishing a horse rescue as a 501(c)3 is not required by law, it is required for donors to receive the tax benefits from their charitable giving.
“Private horse rescues” must be transparent regarding their lack of tax-exempt status when dealing with potential donors. An operator of a so-called “private rescue” may be required to report any donations as income and personally pay taxes on it.
Williams says to achieve 501(c)3 status, the rescue must have a Board of Directors, be incorporated in its state, and submit paperwork and a fee to the IRS. Once a rescue’s non-profit status is achieved there is ongoing management so its donations are tax-deductible. There are additional considerations including directors and officers’ insurance.
Reputable horse rescues are transparent with their foundation documents. This includes the rescue’s IRS Determination letter, which is proof of 501(c)3 status, annual form 990, by-laws, and Articles of Incorporation. The documents should ideally be on the non-profit’s website.
In Canada, the horse rescue should provide its Canadian Registered Charitable Status.
The public can also request the rescue’s policies that govern how the operation facilitates horse adoptions, foster home management, veterinary care, including euthanization, and contracts.
2. Knows how to care for horses, utilizes an equine veterinary support system
Good horse rescues have skinny, sick horses, but can provide intake documentation along with progress reports showing each horse’s improvement. Fat, shiny horses should also be present as they wait for adopters.
Every horse should go through a veterinary medical intake process upon arrival at the rescue, which includes photos. Doing so establishes the horse’s baseline.
Williams adds all horse rescues should provide their horses with vaccinations, Coggins, dental care, and routine farrier care. The rescue should have a vet also diagnose illnesses and lameness issues.
“Good rescues are willing to have horses euthanized who cannot recover from illness or lameness on the advice of a veterinarian,” Williams states. A policy helps horse rescues govern tough decisions during emotional times. Williams says guidelines help the rescue make “pragmatic and humane decisions” in these situations.
Horse rescues don’t have to go it alone, although they should have a good understanding of equine husbandry.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners and the University of California, Davis, among others, have published guidelines for horse rescues. Williams states most horses rescues aren’t following the recommended standards. She attributes the issue to a lack of knowledge that the guidelines exist.
Funding and resource allocation
3. Sufficient funding
Running a rescue takes money, and responsible horse rescues have sound, sustainable finances. These operations maintain an annual budget and adjust the budget yearly with the BOD’s approval.
Top tier horse rescues receive funds from a variety of sources including grants while working to keep their expenses low. At all times the horses receive quality, consistent care.
Williams adds that the financial responsibility is not left in the hands of just one or two people. She says good horse rescues employ checks and balances to make sure money is being spent appropriately.
The person responsible for making deposits should be separate from the person responsible for writing checks. Someone other than the treasurer should review the financial records on a routine basis. More than one person should be on all bank accounts.
Some horse rescues have paid staff. Williams says the salaries should be appropriate for the responsibilities and location, but exorbitant salaries are a sign of problems.
An all-volunteer horse rescue may sound ideal at first glance. Although, how does the horse rescue operator feed themselves unless they are independently wealthy?
Other options may include a supportive spouse, an amazing family or great retirement package after working their entire lives.
Although, do you work for free? Probably not.
4. Smart allocation of resources
The best horse rescues use their resources wisely. Doing so shows a commitment to the donor base, volunteers, and the horses. It also prevents the rescue from over-committing itself which presents a new series of obstacles.
Williams says reputable horse rescues make it a goal to find good adoption matches rather than placing horses anywhere or keeping them all (unless it is a sanctuary for horses). A knowledgeable horse person should evaluate every horse’s training level prior to adoption, according to Williams.
An adoption contract should disclose any known health, lameness, or behavioral issues. It should also prohibit the adopter from breeding mares. A reputable horse rescue enforces its adoption contracts.
Additionally, it has an open door policy if a former rescue horse needs to return.
Vetting potential horse adopters
A vetting process should be in place for adopters. Horse Authority recommends a two-tier approach when it comes to horse rescue due-diligence.
That means calling a potential adopter’s professional references or doing a stable check, but then doing a criminal background check on every adopter. You think you know someone – until you don’t.
A background check ensures you aren’t rehoming your rescue’s horses [or small animals] to a convicted animal abuser (including animal sex abuser) or hoarder.
Horse Authority provides criminal background checks at a negligible cost to ensure your peace of mind and your rescue horses’ wellbeing after they leave your care.
Find out how your horse rescue can also increase donations while vetting potential horse adopters.
5. Ability to turn away a needy horse
Fiscally responsible rescues understand that they can’t help every needy horse. Yes, you read that correctly.
Williams points out that well-run horse rescues have savings to cover emergencies.
Horse rescues constantly in crisis mode with emergency fundraisers for vet care or “bailing horses” are a red flag.
A horse rescue with a good reputation has the ability to network to find other sources of help closeby for needy horses.
“People have great intent to rescue and care for horses, but then they become underfunded and run out of money, and then it becomes a worse situation than where the horses came from in the beginning,” incoming AAEP president R. Reynolds Cowles Jr., DVM, said recently.
Committed to improving horse welfare?
There are many ways to get involved even if the particulars of starting your own rescue seem daunting. A little research will guide your efforts as you establish your best path forward.
We applaud your efforts since education is the first step in changing lives!