‘Adopt don’t shop’ is a phrase which was recently coined to highlight the importance of adopting animals from rescue centres. It was hoped that families would go to their local rescue centre when looking for their soon to be beloved family pet, rather than fork out a small fortune on their new furry friend. Rescue centres are almost always full to capacity – filled with animals of all different shapes and sizes who have undeservedly ended up in their current situation. Unfortunately for these animals, the pull of designer puppies or well- bred/well -schooled horses still leads people to spend hundreds or thousands of pounds on their new family member. Three years ago, I would have been one of these people.
Unlike most modern day horse owners, who were placed on their first pony as soon as they were able to hold up their own head, I was not hit with the ‘horsey bug’ until I was 22 years old. As a child I was sometimes left with my friends at a local riding school where, with all the other children on the yard, I would do my bit to help with mucking out in the hopes of having a free riding lesson at the end of the day. Although few and far between, I enjoyed these lessons very much. I can still remember in great detail the pride I felt in being deemed competent enough to finally ride without a lead rein – the smile on my face lasted for days! However, these lessons were a brief thirty minutes in a long day of other very dirty, very smelly duties. Being from a family who did not own any animals, and my mother being particularly sensitive to dirt and bad odours, I often found myself feeling a little left out as the other children on the yard would play ‘den’, fighting to be the fastest to climb to the prime position at the top of the muck heap. I was more concerned about making sure my clothes didn’t get dirty rather than making new friends and so the horse bug eluded me.
Fast forward to 2012, when the same friends, having moved to their own smaller yard started to invite me to join in with their weekly hacks. My noble steed was a 20 years young American Quarter Horse named Em. He was fantastic! The perfect mix of confidence giver and school master! I soon fell in love with riding and so I jumped at the opportunity to loan Em from the Yard Owner. I was his only rider and although my name wasn’t on his passport to all intents and purposes he was my very own horse – he certainly felt like my very own. For two wonderful years I loaned Em, until unfortunately in the summer of 2014, it was discovered Em had a heart murmur and both myself and Em’s owner made the decision to retire him, a retirement he still enjoys to this very day! I was now left without a noble steed, and as my friends continued with their weekly hacks and competed at shows I began to find my new role as their groom tiresome. I was jealous of them and longed for a horse of my own to join in the fun.
I had a list of things that I wanted my new horse to be – somewhere between the age of 7 – 10 years; at least 15hh; gelding; preferably a cob or cob cross; and any colour except chestnut! I browsed Facebook, re-homing websites, put out feelers at other yards, all to no avail – prices for my ‘dream horse’ could be upwards of £3,000 – my budget less than half of that. As time went on I lost heart in my search, nothing I went to see seemed to fit what I wanted. It did not matter much, I had a new job at CHAPS which was keeping me busy and working at the weekends meant that I was no longer at the yard looking longingly at everyone else’s horses. Besides, as my friends would always tell me:
“Horses have a way of finding you.”
I had never thought about re-homing a horse from a rescue centre until I started working at CHAPS – it was not something I had ever heard of people doing, indeed, everyone on the yards I had been had always bought and sold their horses. I must admit when the idea was first put to me to look for a horse at a nearby rescue centre I was not overly keen on the idea. The application form asked for details on the yard the horse would be kept at, vet references, farrier references, previous experience and it would be mandatory to take a riding assessment. Being new to riding, I found all of this very intimidating! I didn’t need some stranger to tell me that I wasn’t a good enough rider to re-home one of their horses. I hated the idea of being tested or judged. On top of all this there would be on going home checks and the horse would never be signed over. I didn’t understand how this horse would ever feel like my own with a bunch of nosey so and so’s butting in every few months to remind me that the horse wasn’t mine and give their opinion on how I was looking after it. Even if the rescue centre had had a suitable horse, I had already persuaded myself that it wasn’t a good idea and stuck to saving my pennies in the hopes that I would soon be able to purchase my OWN horse.
Duke found me in November 2014. He came to CHAPS skinny, injured and soaked to the bone. He met only one requirement on my list – he wasn’t ginger! However, he was four years old (too young), barely 14.2hh (too small), a rig (too bolshie), and so skinny and lanky we originally thought he was an Irish Sports Horse. I didn’t care! My list went out the window! I loved him as soon as I saw him and knew deep down I could never let him go to anyone else and so if the only way I could keep him was to follow the policies and procedures of CHAPS’s re-homing scheme, I would. If he had to remain under the ownership of the charity then so be it – I didn’t like it, but I would accept it if I meant I could take Duke home. In October 2015, following a home check and a charitable donation (which was substantially less that my original budget – another positive of re-homing!) Duke moved to his forever home. We have since had two follow up checks where a staff member comes out to see us, but other than that it was totally up to me how much contact I made with the charity. Being in the rather unique position of working at CHAPS, all the staff had daily updates and news of all the milestones we were reaching – his first time being lunged; his first time riding in the school; his first time on a hack out; his first set of shoes; his first clip etc. At no point during his time with me did I have anyone question or judge what I was doing with Duke, any suggestions relating to him were made only after I had sought advice on the subject. On the contrary all the staff were supportive and ecstatic to hear of Duke’s progress, and it was lovely to be able to share it with the people who had worked so hard to rescue him and bring him back to health.
Looking back on the situation, I had a childish and naive stance against the re-homing policies of the rescue centres. I held the same misconceived ideas over re-homing which I fear many other people have and I hope that the below points will help to address these misconceptions. Below are some of the points I had misgivings on and how I now realise they were never really obstacles that I should have worried about in the first place. In fact, from my experience of re-homing, there are far more positives than negatives.
Home Checks – An initial home check is carried out to see where the horse is living. This should not be an issue unless you already know the environment is unsuitable. Re-homing charities want to make sure that the horse is going somewhere with suitable grazing, secure and safe fencing and has an appropriate sized shelter or stable (depending if they live in or out). They are not there to judge how tidy your muck heap is, or how neatly you make your horse’s bed. They understand that working yards/stables/farms etc are bound to be a little untidy – they will not make a decision on if you are a responsible owner by how clean your tack room is. All they want to do is ensure that the horse has a suitable environment to live in. If you think about it, anybody who was looking to sell their horse privately (any decent owner) would ask to do a home check before selling their horse – it really is no different. Any subsequent visits from the charity should not be of concern as they will just be a brief visit for a friendly catch up. At first I thought that during these checks I would be judged or assessed by how happy the horse seemed, or how well -groomed he was that day. I thought that if they saw something, however small, that they thought was wrong they would take him away from me. It was nothing like that. The staff came to see how we were getting along and did a quick check of Duke in the field. I knew they were performing a visual check on him to make sure everything was okay, but as a responsible owner who made sure his feet were trimmed, his jabs were up to date and any injuries were tended to, I had nothing to worry about. They made a quick fuss over Duke and left, the whole visit was over in 30 minutes. It was up to me then if I wished to keep the charity up to date on his adventures.
Riding Assessments – Although a little daunting, these riding or handling assessments are crucial to a successful re-homing. There is no point having a nervous rider with a young or stressed horse – it will only end in a loss of confidence for both horse and rider. Similarly, there is no point in somebody re-homing a bombproof plod if they have aspirations to compete in the future. These assessments are to ensure that the personalities and abilities of both horse and human match. Again, it would be common for you to ride the horse you would potentially be buying privately to make sure they are suitable for your needs. The advantage of re-homing a horse is that they have been professionally backed and trained at the centre, and there is no chance that the horse may have been drugged to mask any health issues or behavioural problems as you sometimes hear with private sales. There is also a ‘trail period’ which you can have with the charity to see if you and the horse get on. If you do, great, if not, then the horse will go back to the charity. ‘Trial periods’ are not always available when buying privately and you may find that you have committed and bought a horse which is not suitable and now have the responsibility of selling this horse on again.
Terms and Conditions – Rescue horses are usually re-homed with some terms and conditions. Firstly, you cannot breed from these horses. Anyone who has seen the strain on rescue centres can realise why this is a no brainer! Why breed more horses when there are so many already looking for homes? Other T&C’s relate the horse’s general well- being – that their feet must been trimmed or shod regularly by a qualified farrier and that veterinary care will be provided for the horse. Again, this is a no brainer and would be no different if you were to buy a horse privately. Any other T&C’s will relate to a horse’s individual welfare. For example, you will have to agree not to compete a horse who has been deemed unable to jump. Again, this should not be a problem as if you were looking for a horse to compete you would not have been assigned this horse in the first place.
Ownership – The fact that ownership will not be transferred seems to be the most off putting point for many people who are looking to re-home. The only reason that charities keep ownership is so that they are able to do everything in their power to ensure that the horse will not be placed in the same situation it was rescued from. Unless there is a serious welfare concern, there is NO REASON why the charity would remove the horse from your possession! It is the aim of these centres to find loving FOREVER homes for their horses, so that vital space can be freed up in the centre. It is not in the best interest of the horse or the charity to take your horse away from you! In fact, you can take comfort in the safety net that the charities provides in a safe, secure environment for your horse to return should they ever need to. We do not know what lies ahead of us, so should you be unable to continue to care for your horse (finances/illness/death) you will know that your horse always has a safe and knowledgeable home to return to, rather than selling your horse and being uncertain of its future.
Due to the unique circumstances that CHAPS closed, I was allowed the opportunity to transfer ownership of Duke to myself. I can honestly say it has made absolutely NO difference to our daily lives. He is as much mine now as he was three years ago when he entered my life. As a responsible owner, I never had anything to fear from having his name registered under a charity. They were not going to pull up at my yard with their trailers and take my horse away from me just because they could, and I can tell you, hand on heart that no charity ever would! Re-homing Duke has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life. To think of where he came from, or where he could be today had he not come to CHAPS, and compare that to the happy, healthy horse he is today is worth so much. I believe this feeling must be unique to those who re-home or rescue an animal, a sense of purpose and contentment that you have done something good in the world. If I was ever in the position of looking for another horse, I wouldn’t have a second thought about re-homing again.
Why spend thousands of pounds on a horse when there are so many poor, neglected animals waiting for their second chance at a loving home? #AdoptDon’tShop