We will be putting basic information on “DIY Rescue” on this page, in the hope that it will be useful to people keen on helping a horse in need.
It is heartening to see that more and more people are taking in horses that need help. It’s a sad fact that there are far more horses in Australia than there are good homes for them, and horse rescue and welfare organisations can only take in a small proportion of the total. (Don’t forget that adopting a horse from a welfare organisation makes space for them to help another one – click here to see our “adopt” page for links to horses available all around Australia)
The most important thing you can do, if you are keen on rescuing a horse, is to be really, REALLY, well prepared. “Rescue horses” are a varied bunch, but it’s fair to say that their rough backgrounds may lead to problems that a lot of horse owners would never otherwise encounter. No matter how experienced you are, it is advisable to have a network of experienced horse people around you for ideas and support, including vets, farriers/hoof trimmers, trainers/breakers, etc.
Before you find yourself in a situation where you have to decide whether to take in a needy horse, as a minimum you should think carefully about the following:
- Your horse handling experience – Horses in poor or unhealthy condition may be quieter than they otherwise would be. So it is best to be prepared in case there are unexpected changes in the horse’s behaviour once you get it home, especially as they start to gain weight and feel good again! If you are looking to buy a horse from the “dogger sales”, remember the horse may be there because the owner was unable to sell it by other means. This may be for many reasons, including health problems or various “training issues” that have made a horse dangerous to handle. It is also worth bearing in mind that it is not unheard of for unscrupulous people to drug horses so they appear quieter. Also some owners, once given a terminal diagnosis for their horse’s health, will send the horse to the sales as an alternative to euthanasia.
- Your horse health experience and general horse management skills/knowledge – Rescue horses may have special needs, and very underweight horses may be more at risk of ailments such as colic. Have you had experience with common horse illnesses and injuries, such as colic and cut legs? Can you put on a bandage and give an injection? Can you recognise the signs of a sick horse, including subtle behavioural changes?
- Your budget – Horse feed is not cheap, and skinny horses will obviously cost more to feed until they are a healthy weight. Health-wise, the following are general requirements for new rescues – health check from a vet, dental check-up, hoof care, vaccinations, worming, and perhaps chiropractor/massage/other rehabilitation for injuries. If the horse is a colt or stallion, you should also be budgeting for the cost of gelding. Add to this any new equipment you might need, eg. halter, lead rope, feedbin/s, rug/s, etc.
- Your time – Rescue horses can require a lot more of your time than normal horses. Eg. Extra washes for skin problems, time spent gaining their trust, ground work training, more frequent appointments with vets, farriers, equine dentists, etc.
- What sort of horse can you take on? – Big/small, old/young, handled/unhandled, quiet/nervous.
- Do you have an appropriate place to keep the horse? What about transport? – Important considerations with any horse. If the horse is unhandled, you’ll need a safe way to transport a loose horse, plus a suitable place for handling over time. Stallions and colts will need appropriate fences also until gelded (high, electrified, etc).
- Are you emotionally prepared? – While rescuing a horse can be extremely emotionally rewarding, it can also be draining and in some cases completely devastating. Some horses are so malnourished that they don’t make it, or have health problems that cannot be overcome. The horse may be in poor condition due to an underlying terminal condition that has not been diagnosed. Are you prepared to euthanise the horse if necessary? Unfortunately this is a possibility you need to be prepared for, and you should consider factors such as burial location, cost of burial, etc.
Some recommended reading/viewing on this topic:
- “Please read this if you are thinking of rescuing horses” ~ by Amanda Vella from Save a Horse Australia
- Rehabilitating the emaciated horse from Second Chance Horse Rescue
- Video on feeding emaciated horses from The Horse.com
We will be adding more information to this page in the future, that will hopefully be of use to people who are intent on rescuing a horse.