Over the last few years, the plight of unwanted horses has come into public attention. There are more horse rescues than ever before with rescue folks travelling to auction sales, working the animal shelters and combing the countryside for horses in bad situations. Rescues then provide shelter, feed, farrier and veterinary care, and offer these horses to new homes. Most rescues do a very good job of matching people with horses, and will help you select the right one for you. However, there are some things you should think about before you make a final decision.
The Initial Cost is Only the Beginning
The price of these rescue horses, called an adoption fee, is very attractive to those wishing to buy a horse but do not feel they can spend thousands of dollars to do so. With a price tag of anywhere from $200 to $1000 dollars, horse ownership appears to be within the means of people who previously thought they couldn't afford a horse. However, the initial cost of a horse is only the beginning of the horse care expenses incurred by horse owners. Furthermore, you may never actually own the horse. Many rescue and horse adoption organizations retain ownership, or only give ownership after a specified time.
Certainly, an adoption fee of a few hundred dollars looks very appealing. However, it's important to keep in mind that for the beginner rider, price should not be the first consideration. Most horses that end up in rescues will have one or more problems that have to be dealt with, either behavioral or health and sometimes both.
Be Prepared to Deal with Training or Health Issues
Young and or untrained horses, horses with soundness or health issues, or very old horses often end up in a rescue situation, and this can mean extra expense beyond the initial adoption fee. While the up-front cost may be attractive, you could be facing some substantial expenses within a short time, whether it is paying a trainer, veterinarian or other professional for their services.
Many rescue horses with behavioral problems are distrustful and scared. And while it is appealing believe the quote 'love conquers all', that love has to involve a firmness, skill and consistency in handling that may be beyond the ability of most beginner riders.
Additionally, in the excitement of taking on a new project, most of us underestimate the time, dedication and expense involved. Horses that were starving can look placid while they recover, but can become quite a handful once they've put on weight and gained energy. Those that appear to have slight soundness issues may have something that is going to take ongoing care, and may never improve. Most rescues don't have the budget to having imaging done of legs and hooves, so the horse that appears 'slightly off', and will 'probably be fine' with consistent hoof care, may have a more serious problem like navicular disease or arthritis.
Exceptions to the Rule
There is an exception to every rule and some people have had great success with a rescue horse. Maybe you will find the perfect beginner horse at a rescue, or you are the type of person who is excited to take on the challenge of providing for a horse with 'special needs'. However, the best experience for a beginner owner or rider is a horse that is safe and sound. And that is not necessarily the type of horse typically found at a rescue.
My advice, when considering adopting a rescue horse (or buying any horse) is to proceed with caution. Take your time and learn as much about the horse as possible, ask lots of questions and don't feel pressured to decide. Be aware of potential problems and decide how you will deal with them. All though the desire to own a rescue horse comes from a good place in your heart, know that by buying the perfect beginner's horse as your first horse, you will be gaining the knowledge to buy a rescue horse and give it the perfect home sometime in the future.