The next time you think about adding another horse to your herd, why not consider fostering or adopting a horse from a rescue center?
I have both fostered and adopted. My experiences with both were largely rewarding. I also learned a lot about myself and my horsemanship skills, particularly where my strengths and weaknesses lie. For example, if you read a previous post entitled “Trucks, Trailers and Loading-Oh My!” you will see that my foster horses taught me that I need a lot of improvement in the loading department. My rescue horses have certainly given me interesting experiences, plenty to mull over and lots of fodder for writing.
My adoption and fostering experiences all came about during times when I was looking for a new horse to keep an old horse company. I adopted my horse, Lance, from the Indiana Horse Rescue not long after I started my backyard horse adventure. I more recently fostered a series of nine horses over a three year time period. Some of the horses were exclusively companion horses due to age, lack of training or a health issue. Others were rideable but in need of a refresher.
I tried to get my fosters used to as much handling or riding as I felt I could do safely within my abilities. I figured that even if I never rode my foster, I could reacquaint him or her with the basic handling skills that might help make for a more adoptable equine. I also love to work with obstacles so I would often incorporate some into my horse riding/groundwork. I then sent any fun photos to the rescue in case they wanted to put them on their Facebook page to try to attract adopters. What horse doesn’t look impressive playing with a big ball, standing on a pedestal or traversing tarps?
In contrast, I also had one foster that I felt mostly just needed to be left alone. He stayed with me for about six months before he found an adopter. During his time with me, he seemed sour about being ridden and largely uninterested in interacting with me. He stood obediently for hoof handling and to have his teeth floated so I was able to address his physical needs, but I felt that I wasn’t doing him any favors by insisting on long grooming sessions, doing groundwork or introducing him to every obstacle. I decided the best I could do for him was allow him to “let down” in my quiet pasture.
Hopefully those quiet few months set him up well for his adoptive home, but I will never know. Sometimes your impact is clearly obvious; sometimes not. Several of my fosters went back to the rescue after I was done fostering so I never met their eventual adoptive families. Other times I had opportunities to meet the families when they came to preview a foster at my home. I always enjoyed showing what the horse could do and answering the prospective adopter’s questions. Sometimes you later hear about how they do in their adoptive home; sometimes you don’t. That is something you need to be okay with when you foster.
As far as fostering success goes, it often comes down to finding the right match between you, the prospective horse and the horses you already have at home. You will need to be aware of herd dynamics, especially if your foster horse will be sharing pasture space with your own horses. Also consider your match with the rescue organization itself. Do you feel comfortable talking with the staff and asking questions? What are the options if you have difficulty with your foster or decide your adoptive horse isn’t going to work out? Make sure to get agreements in writing. You don’t want misunderstandings about “who pays for what” regarding the foster’s care or the length of their stay with you.
Be super honest with the rescue about what you are looking for and your abilities as a horse handler/rider. For example, the rescue I worked with knew that I didn’t have the skills or experience to accommodate a horse that was super aggressive or overly reactive. Rescues want to try to make a good match between horse and adoptive/foster home.
Keep in mind that your foster horse may not initially react like a horse that is regularly handled/ridden. Most of the horses that I fostered seemed to be victims of neglect where they were turned out without much human interaction or care. Even if a horse has a positive history with people prior to their neglect, it may take them awhile before they relax into being handled again. They may initially balk or shy at being caught in a pasture, haltered, fly sprayed, trimmed, etc . . . With all my fosters, I learned to take things slow and not assume the horse knows a certain thing/is okay with something. Patience and a calming confidence will be essential tools in helping the horse adjust to you and your home.
Of course, there are some horses at rescue centers that have not experienced abuse or neglect. Many people forget this- some owners don’t want to sell their horses but instead donate them to a rescue so the horse can be adopted out instead of sold. Most rescues allow adopted horses to be returned at any point after adoption, even if they don’t retain official ownership rights to the horse. This type of “return policy” provides a barrier in place to hopefully prevent the horse from ending up in a bad situation as happens sometimes when a horse is repeatedly sold down the road.
If this post has piqued your interest in fostering/adopting, I would highly encourage you to do an online search for horse rescue(s) in your local area. Most have website/Facebook pages you can explore. Several of them also have blogs that you can follow like the one from the Heart of Phoenix rescue based out of West Virginia. Here is a link to a recent blog post that provides good food for thought: https://heartofphoenix.org/2020/02/20/the-most-common-horses-ending-up-in-rescue-in-appalachia/
Unfortunately, there is no national governing body for horse rescues so they tend to operate independently. There are several national organizations though that want to promote horse adoptions and support rescue centers. Check them out at these links:
A Home For Every Horse at https://ahomeforeveryhorse.com
The United Horse Coalition at https://unitedhorsecoalition.org/
The Right Horse Initiative at https://therighthorse.org/
These websites provide general information about adopting/fostering that you might find helpful. Don’t forget that there are breed specific organizations such as those that cater to helping off-the-track Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. BLM Mustangs are always available for adoption too. It seems like every year there is more interest in all types of horse adoption. Now is a great time to join the rescue bandwagon.