Rescue vs. Sanctuary

I saw a social media post recently where someone was trying to rehome a companion horse, and someone commented “Rescues only want horses that they can adopt out”. My first reaction of course was to reply back with a snide comment, but the logical side of my brain kicked in, and I started to think more in depth about that comment. On the one hand yes, it is true that we cannot take in every horse that is offered to us. On the other hand, we do everything we can to help rehome horses, even those that are only pasture sound. I think that the real confusion is the lack of clarity between a rescue (or transition center), and a sanctuary.

A horse “rescue” is an organization that takes in horses that have been neglected, abandoned, or abused. They then rehab those horses and rehome them, usually for a small adoption fee. A ‘sanctuary” is a similar facility that also provides homes for horses that cannot be ridden, either for physical or behavioral issues. Sanctuary horses usually require more maintenance, as many of them are elderly or have injuries that require costly medications and special diets. Although some organizations offer these horses for adoption, many horses are permanent residents of the facility.

As a 501 c3 nonprofit rescue, we rely heavily on donors and grants to help with the costs of caring for the horses. It is true that when we take in new horses, we say a small prayer to the Horse Gods that the horse doesn’t have some kind of hidden lameness or condition that will make it impossible to adopt out. The truth is that sanctuary horses are very costly, and daily maintenance on a special needs horse can add up very quickly. No one wants to have to make the decision to euthanize a horse, but you will find that there are many rescues out there who simply cannot afford to have a rescue horse become a permanent resident. There are many rescue organizations, including our own, who have horses that are rideable and some who aren’t. The trick is finding a delicate balance between taking in horses that are easily adoptable and some who aren’t. While we wish we could take in every single horse that is offered to us, we simply cannot always say yes.

This is why it is just so important to plan ahead when you decide to purchase a horse. Many people plan out all the things that they want to do with the horse throughout its lifetime, but give no thought as to what they will do with it once he/she is no longer rideable. Have a retirement plan for your horse, just as you have one for yourself. If everyone did this, then there would hardly be a need for rescues anymore!

Another way to help is to find a reputable rescue or sanctuary and sign up to send monthly donations. This support means more than you know, especially during certain times of the year when donations are slow. Having those reliable monthly donations makes it so much easier for us to make decisions as to how many horses we can afford to take in. You can also share social media posts and fundraisers, as well as horses available for adoption. The farther the reach the better!!

What I wish I could have told the commenter is that yes, we as rescuers do want horses that are adoptable. We also want the horses that aren’t. As a matter of fact, we want all of them. And more than anything, we wish that we lived in a perfect world where we wouldn’t have to exist, because no horses would ever be abused, neglected, or abandoned. But until that day comes we will be here, doing all that we can for as many horses as possible.