This stallion, Kansas, was rescued at age 23. He is shown here after 30 days of care from a rescue group.
1. Learn as much about your rescue as you can before you bring him home. Information about his health, training, and interactions he’s had with people will help smooth the transition from his old situation to his new life with you. Even if a medical history is available, have him examined by a vet to obtain a professional’s opinion on his current condition. This will help you make plans for his management, care, and physical rehabilitation if necessary. A vet will also provide the health certificate and negative Coggins report that is required for a horse to travel and live in most states.
2. Your rescue’s introduction to his new accommodations may not be trouble-free. It’s possible that he’s never seen the inside of a stall or spent the night in a pasture. For that matter, electric fence may be a complete mystery to him; he could panic if it zaps him or he may have no respect for it whatsoever. Familiarize him to his new living arrangements methodically, whether that means hand walking him around his new pasture or walking him in and out of his stall until he feels comfortable and relaxed. Keep stall doors and windows closed for the first couple of days until you’re certain that he won’t try to escape. His housing needs to be secure and hazard free – fencing, gates, and doors need to withstand his exploits without causing injury in case he becomes excited or anxious.
3. Plan to quarantine. Two weeks is standard, but consult with your veterinarian about the length of time that is appropriate in your situation. Though this may not be necessary if you are adopting a horse from a rescue organization that has previous knowledge of his health status, it is still a precaution worth considering. To quarantine means keeping the newcomer far enough away from other horses that there is no chance of physical or air-borne contact. Also be careful to prevent cross-contamination. Set aside buckets, brushes, and equipment solely for your new horse’s use. Handling him last before you leave for the day, or changing your clothing and washing your hands before touching other animals, can further safeguard against the spread of disease.
Two years of good care and one gelding surgery later, Kansas enjoys hanging out with mares in the field.
4. Be ready for behavior and training challenges. Many neglected horses have had little or no human contact for long stretches of time. Some rescues have interacted with humans in ways that have been painful and traumatic. Make no assumptions about what your horse knows or how he will respond to you. Play it safe and treat each encounter with caution and patience. Test the waters before putting him in any situation until you know he has the confidence to handle it. For example, instead of tying him fast, pretend to tie him by running the lead through a tie-ring and holding onto the rope. This will give you a chance to see how he responds to having his head confined without the risk of him having an unsetting experience or getting hurt.
Be careful about letting sentiment cloud your judgment. Just because you saved him, it doesn’t mean that this will be a magical experience for you both. He could be difficult to work with and require time and training before he feels safe and behaves predictably. If he comes to you physically or emotionally depressed, you may also see a positive change in behavior and an increase of energy as his condition and state of mind improve.
5. A rescue can cost more than the average horse. A horse in need may require veterinary intervention, intensive farrier services, medications, or specialized supplements. Expenses should decrease once a horse has been successfully rehabilitated, but there is always the chance that the horse you bring home will continue to have expensive needs. The financial aspect can be difficult to deal with, yet it is important to consider it carefully and responsibly so that providing for the horse doesn’t become a worry for you.