Whether you’re looking for your next show-ring champion, an endurance athlete, a trail horse, a therapeutic riding mount or a mellow companion, chances are you can find the perfect horse in an unexpected way: adoption. Photo by Shelley Paulson
“There are horses of all different shapes and sizes, ages, breeds, colors and disciplines,” says Emily Weiss, Ph.D., vice president of Equine Welfare for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Through The Right Horse, the ASPCA’s initiative, the organization is working to increase adoptions, improve the lives of horses in transition and collaborate with industry professionals, equine welfare organizations and advocates. On its online adoption platform, potential adopters can view hundreds of horses ready for many different careers.
“There are horses that come from our rehoming partners who end up being champions at horse shows, great trail riding horses, and best friends,” Weiss says. “Some end up being therapy horses that make an incredible difference in the lives of humans.”
With research from the ASPCA identifying up to 1.2 million U.S. households with the interest and resources to adopt a horse in need, there is a promising amount of matchmaking to be done. We talked to five adopters who all found their perfect match through The Right Horse’s partner organizations.
When Daisia Bartos’ mom sent her a link to Calypso at the Humane Society of North Texas, she knew she had to make the drive from San Antonio to Fort Worth to meet the gorgeous gelding.
“He’s about 14.2 hands, and I thought he was so cute,” says Bartos. “I decided to get him on the spot, because I just fell in love.”BEFORE: Calypso had been abandoned in a stall and was extremely malnourished when he arrived at the Humane Society of Texas. Photo Courtesy Daisia Bartos
Calypso, then named Flame, had been abandoned in a stall and malnourished before coming to the Humane Society. He’s now approximately 8 years old and spent a year getting healthy at the In The Irons Equestrian Center where Daisia works. There, he received some round pen training but needed a strong rider. At first, he would bolt when Bartos went to mount, and is still scared of anyone but her. However, the two have developed a strong bond.
“His personality and mine—we’ve just clicked,” she says. “It’s beautiful. He’s taught me a lot. He’s so willing to learn. That’s why we’ve progressed so far in two months.”
Recently they began jumping, and the small horse has a big leap.
“The other day I put him over a cross-rail, and he decided he wanted to jump 4 feet. That was awesome!” AFTER: Daisia Bartos spent a year getting Calypso healthy. The two bonded from the start, and he is very willing to learn under saddle. Photo Courtesy Daisia Bartos
Bartos plans to show him and keep him for the rest of his life.
“We’ve created such a big bond in this short time,” she says. “If he’s anxious—head is up high, ears alert, eyes wide—and I walk up to him and put my hand on his head, he completely relaxes.”
Of adopting horses, Bartos recommends it. “If you’re willing to put in a great deal of time and patience, you get so many great things out of it.”
Erin Degnan of Bernardston, Mass., knew she wanted to adopt an off-track Thoroughbred and found After the Races, a Thoroughbred rehabilitation and rehoming center, in Elkton, Md.
“I was impressed by the honest, detailed descriptions of each horse available, the videos of the horses, how content and relaxed they looked, and the amazing reviews,” she says.
She fell in love with Cackle the Cuda and adopted him in October of 2019. Eight years old at the time, he had retired from racing after 43 starts. In their first year together, they tried dressage, jumping and trail riding.
“He has proven himself to be an amazing trail horse and has lovely ground-covering gaits,” says Degnan. “With this in mind, I decided to try out some distance riding with him—something I’ve never done before. We recently completed a 15-mile conditioning ride, and I am hoping to compete in a limited distance ride [25-30 miles] with him next year.”Cuda raced 43 times before Erin Dengan adopted him. He immediately showed an affinity for trail riding, and they now compete in distance rides. Photo Courtesy Erin Dengan
Degnan advises potential adopters not to judge horses by their breed stereotypes.
“He is very brave; nothing fazes him out on the trail,” she says. “I feel completely safe going out with him alone, because I know he won’t freak out or do anything dangerous with me. He is excellent at finding the best path through tough terrain and always knows the way back on a trail.”
Degnan advises following your intuition when you meet the horse that you feel is the right match.
“I knew as soon as I rode Cuda that he was the horse for me, and my intuition was correct,” she says. “He is my ‘heart horse,’ and I feel so incredibly lucky that I found him.”
When Karlee Boots and her mom, Tiffany Smith, purchased a former racehorse ranch in Edmond, Okla.,to build a wedding venue, they knew they wanted to fill the acreage with rescue animals of all shapes and sizes. At Nexus Equine, an equine adoption center located in Oklahoma City, they discovered a 22-year-old Belgian Draft Horse named Hugo.
“I fell in love,” Boots says. “We had to bring him to our ranch and let him live out his life.”
He had come from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania with two other drafts. “All of their body conditions were very poor,” she adds. “He was the only one of the three that made it.”Karlee Boots adopted 22-year-old Hugo to live at her ranch, which is used as a wedding venue. Photo by Aaron Snow Photography
Just home a short time, Hugo is in great health now and enjoying a ranch retirement with other adopted horses, dogs and even a pig.
“He’s the most gentle giant I’ve ever met,” she says. “Since he’s been working his whole life, I just want him to be comfortable and happy. He’ll trot up to the fence for treats. He’s such a gentleman. Pampering him is my favorite thing.”
Boots says there are many misconceptions about adopted animals in general.
“People think they’re better if they’re bought from a breeder. But in actuality, there are so many amazing horses in rescue. You just have to find the perfect one.”
Kelli Sorg of Nicholasville, Ky., had her horses stolen in 2007, never to be found again. It took 10 years before she was ready to try horse ownership again.
“I decided to look into horse rescues, because I wanted to give a horse a second chance the way I felt like I had been given a second chance over and over again in my life,” she says.
She heard about the Kentucky Equine Adoption Center (KYEAC) in Nicholasville and originally intended to adopt just one horse.
“When I went out to KYEAC to look at the horses, one mare appealed to me immediately,” Sorg says. “Of the nine horses I had stolen, the boss mare in that group was a large black-and-white Paint. When I walked up to Esprit for the first time, I looked closely because I wondered if this was my Paint mare. Of course she wasn’t, but the bond was already established. After walking around the farm and looking at other horses, I met Mandy, an almost solid black Rocky Mountain Horse with blue eyes who is a very in-your-pocket sort of horse. Then I realized what most horse people do: Two horses are just as easy as one.”
Esprit had been the longest resident at the center and adopted and returned more than once.Esprit was the longest resident of the Kentucky Equine Adoption Center when Kelli Sorg took her in. Photo Courtesy Kelli Sorg
“I was Esprit’s person,” says Sorg. “That’s all she had ever been looking for: someone to provide security and consistency and a sense of purpose. She was already beginning to fight with heaves, so she and I didn’t do a lot of riding, but she restored my confidence in myself as a horse woman. We played ground games and worked on liberty work that felt like dancing.”
Esprit recently lost her battle with heaves, but Sorg still has Mandy and has adopted several other horses. Her positive experience with the center led to her dream job as their development director in 2019.
“Now I get to help make connections between horses and people just the way someone helped me make the connection with my heart horse, Esprit.”
When PATH Intl. certified riding instructor Kendra Loring of Albuquerque, N.M., decided to start her therapeutic riding business, she wanted to use adopted horses and began volunteering at New Mexico Horse Rescue in Stanley.
When some people think of “unwanted” horses, they may think of old, broken down horses with behavior issues that aren’t rideable, but often this is a misconception and definitely wasn’t the case for Loring.
“They were amazing horses,” she says.
She ended up adopting two horses from the rescue in 2013: Cinnabar and a pregnant mare, Misty. Cinnabar was not one of the horses Loring originally considered, but the Thoroughbred mare had ideas of her own. Kendra Loring adopted Cinnabar, a 21-year-old Thoroughbred, to use for her therapeutic riding program. Photo Courtesy Kendra Loring
“When I went to meet a Quarter Horse in the pasture, Cinnabar was attached to me,” she says. “She wouldn’t leave me alone.”
She shares that Cinnabar enjoys being a lesson horse for both adults and especially for kids, whom she loves. Cinnabar is now 21 and lives a happy life at Loring’s equine facility.
“She’s my heart horse—she’s a part of me,” she adds.
Kendra’s advice to potential equine adopters is to keep an open mind.
“Just because you have it in your mind the breed, age, or type of horse you want, that may not be the horse that’s meant for you.”
This article about equine adoption appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
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