Spotting a Sketchy Horse Rescue

Before you volunteer, donate, or adopt from an equine rescue, here's what to look for to make sure the organization is doing what's right for horses.


We should support good horse rescues. Since humane societies are rarely equipped to take in equines, these private organizations fill a huge need. However, some “rescues” are really scams, hoarders, or horse dealers in disguise. Here’s how to tell the altruists from the underhanded.

Emotional Scare Tactics

First and foremost, be wary of excessive pathos. Every animal rescue is going to have some emotional, heart-wrenching stories to tell, and that’s OK for occasionally grabbing the attention of donors.

However, if an organization is constantly bombarding the public with tales of woe and pitiful pictures, that’s a sign that they’re deliberately milking tragedies.

Herd of Horses


This is especially true when the sad stories are about the rescue manager’s personal life: medical bills, feeling let down or persecuted by others, vehicle breakdowns, et cetera. Anyone who continually cries “pity me!” should not be in charge of what is essentially a very demanding large-animal business.

Financial Crises

Although rescues are normally non-profit, they are still professional establishments. Like any business, they shouldn’t spend more they can make (receive in donations), or take on more work (animals) than they can handle. Horse rescues that consistently beg for help, fall short on hay, and are in debt to the local vet, yet are still taking in more horses, are not rescues at all: they are hoarders.

They may intend to provide good care and rehabilitate and adopt out all their equines. However, they amass so many, they don’t have the time or money to do so. Neglect ensues. Volunteers can help this situation, but they are only temporary relief. Good rescues are able to responsibly limit intake and adopt out enough horses on a regular basis that overstretching is rarely an issue.

Failure to Adopt

Sometimes rescues act too much like permanent sanctuaries, warehousing even healthy horses instead of helping them move on. Somehow, no adopter is ever good enough.

Or alternatively, none of the horses are “really ready” to be adopted. Hoarders also resist euthanizing equines that have long lacked good quality of life. This is doubly shameful, since the donations keeping one suffering horse alive could instead be used to take in a healthier one.

Shady Dealers

On the other end of the spectrum are the horse dealers posing as rescuers. These brokers care only about a quick profit. Preying on the public’s sympathy, they take in donations for feed, vet, and farrier bills—and pocket most of them.

Dealers disguised as rescuers rarely bother with any real adoption requirements or contracts. They will sell intact studs and sometimes even breed mares regardless of their conformation or health. They don’t quarantine new intakes and will lie about a horse’s health and abilities in order to sell it. They actively seek out horses to take in, even from out of state, so they can sell them again quickly.

These opportunists may claim to be “non-profit,” but their personal finances are often mixed with the rescue’s. An establishment’s 501(c)3 status can easily be checked by visiting the Exempt Organizations page on the IRS’s website, or by calling the EO department directly at 877-829-5500.

Hard Proof

When researching a rescue, look for transparency. A rescue asking for public donations should be willing to provide, or proactively offer, proof of their honesty.

Pictures and descriptions of each horse being cared for and offered for adoption should be easily accessible, along with a thorough explanation of how the adoption process works. A board of directors, monthly meeting minutes, up-to-date financial records, and certification by state or national agencies are the gold standards here. One such agency is the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Fortunately, there are many great rescues out there whose dedicated, hard-working staff deserve our time and financial support. Just be sure to vet them thoroughly!

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!


  1. Absolutely a fantastic article and so so true! Horse advocates need to find local rescues and go see where the money is at

  2. Thank you for saying in print what I have been thinking for several years. There are rescue groups that ALWAYS have a tragic screaming emergency that needs contributions–lots of contributions. Then, there are some rescues who, although crying overloaded, will not or rarely adopt out a dog or cat, although there are people who would take them. It seems to me they are behaving as hoarders. Then, there are rescues who bypass beautiful, healthy animals needing rescue to help an animal close to death, raking up thousands of dollars in vet fees and repeatedly calling for more contributions. Thank you for authoritatively putting into writing what I have had suspicions about for a long time.

  3. I did rescue on my own at my own expense, for years and years, so when some of these so call rescue, tell me how much they spend a year/month/daily on a horse, and it is way over the normal amount. I question them…make them explain, and “if” I hear, well lawyer fees, barn building, (when there is a nice barn on local) road gravel, new lawn mower or tractor…..I do not give and will come out and tell them way. Unless 110 percent goes right back in for feed/hay/vet/farrier cost, it is not a true rescue.

  4. Good article.
    Id like to add a few things: there are 2 “rescue/shelters” in California that are notorious for killing hundreds of horses every year that donated funds, including funds for vet exams, board, farrier care, etc, have been sent by the hundreds of thousands of dollars to rescue.
    They capitalize on the fact that most donors interact with them on social media only, and the donors don’t follow through regarding keeping track of WHERE are the rescued horses AFTER the excitement and drama of a “crisis rescue” is over.
    These “rescues” have hundreds of horses that entirely disappear and because of their ties to a local kill buyer in the case of one of these “rescues”, it is feared that some horses rescued/bought with donated funds may have been sent to slaughter.
    Neither of these “rescues” will show vet reports and vet bills, let alone euthanasia reports and bills from the vet and also the body disposal company, for ALL of the horses they say and have written their vet is examining.
    Basically there are MANY opportunistic horse and dog “rescues” making an outrageously good living USING SOCIAL MEDIA where much of their following and donors help them from afar over the Internet and these followers will never meet the rescuers in person, visit their facility, etc.
    Without social media marketing where “anything goes”, these rescues would be dead in the water because they would have to rely on local and regional support, or they’d have to PAY for marketing via mailers, commercials, etc.
    When people that portray themselves as “rescues” but they actually “sort” horses just like a trader and/or kill buyer does, and they dispose of horses not worth enough money on selling by killing them (one of the rescues noted above related in writing how as of September 2016, they had shot 56 horses rescued in 2016 with a .22 – illegal in CA under cruelty laws) or disappearing them “wherever”, and they won’t show vet reports and bills backing up their claims of horses having “quality of life issues”, MOST animal lovers agree that that is not rescue.

    • I know of the one in California you are talking about! A total disgrace. I also heard they are opening up under a new name. Hope it is just a rumor. Please beware of this group as they are sick and twisted!!

  5. I SO agree. And I have three, OMEGA HORSE RESCUE and Rosemary’s Farm in upper New York State which is now a sanctuary. Here in the Northwest, we are fortunate to have, SOUND EQUINE OPTIONS.


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