Starting A Horse Rescue

August 9, 2022

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.

No matter your experience level with horses or homesteading, I hope this is a place you can get lost in, and learn something along the way - we welcome everyone from vets, to lifelong ranchers, trainer, to nonprofits contributing.


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If you care about horses, it can be difficult to know that horses are left starving, abused, or ill without adequate care. Horses are pulled from properties all the time in horrible conditions, or shipped off to a kill pen destined for slaughter.

For many, the thoughts of these animals suffering lights a fire to start a horse rescue of their own. But getting a rescue up and running, developing contingency plans, and raising funds is a lot more involved than taking on some sick or skinny horses. Here’s what you need to know.

Table of Contents

StartingAHorseRescue

Everything You Need to Know About Starting a Horse 501c3

What Is 501c3?

Section 501(c)(3) is the portion of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (IRS) that allows for federal tax exemption of nonprofit organizations, particularly public charities, private foundations, or private operating foundations.

Entities that can seek this determination from the IRS include corporations, trusts, community chests, LLCs, and unincorporated associations. Most 501(c)(3)s are nonprofits.

In order to qualify as a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization, a nonprofit must exist for exclusively charitable purposes that include:

  • Religious
  • Charitable
  • Scientific
  • Testing for public safety
  • Literary
  • Educational
  • Fostering of national or international amateur sports
  • Prevention of cruelty to animals and children

Planning for Your Horse Rescue

Business Plan

Along with planning the practical aspects of the facility itself, nonprofits should develop a basic business organizational structure and operational plan. A basic business entity, such as a sole proprietorship or limited partnership, should be chosen. The decision should depend on factors like the size and scope of the operation, capital funding, and the long-term goals of the business.

Facility Design

The type and scope of the facility for a horse rescue depends on the size and location of the property, the weather conditions in the area, the number of horses it will house, and the activities.

Overall, there are principles related to the design and construction of the horse facilities that are similar, no matter where the facility is located. Pasture fencing should be strong and able to weather the abuse from horses over time.

The number of stalls will depend on the number of horses you intend to keep. Most light breeds will be fine in a 12-foot x 12-foot stall, but draft horses may need more space. All barns, stalls, and enclosures should offer good visibility to ensure horses and handlers are safe.

Finally, stalls should be inspected for loose boards, protruding nails, and other flaws that can lead to injury. Remember, some rescue horses arrive suffering from medical conditions that require stall rest, which increases the likelihood that the horse can become injured.

Expenses

When you’re formulating your business plan, some expenses are going to seem obvious. Still, many business owners underestimate expenses – or forget some of them entirely.

The general expenses you’re looking at for a horse rescue include the cost of the property and structures, such as a stable and pasture or turnout. Also, you know horses are expensive to feed and care for, but those costs can be far more significant with an abused or neglected horse that’s coming to the rescue with severe problems.

Aside from the direct costs of the horses’ care, you should also consider business expenses like insurance, lawyers, office or software supplies, employee salary, and more. It’s better to slightly overestimate your expenses than underestimate them, which can leave you in a bind with your cash flow.

Emergency Evacuation Plan

Natural and manmade disasters can strike at any time. From wildfires to earthquakes to hurricanes, any of these situations may make it necessary to evacuate horses from the facility. Moving animals of this size and complexity is no small feat, especially if you have a large group.

All horse facilities, nonprofit or otherwise, should have a written evacuation protocol in the event of a disaster. You should create a list of volunteers that can be called if a disaster happens, and all disaster procedures should be reviewed and practiced in regular training sessions to ensure that everyone knows the drill if the worst happens.

The plan should include local facilities that can provide temporary housing, transportation, driving routes to the locations, and a contingency plan if a disaster takes out the primary routes to these locations.

The facility should also have a first-aid kit with adequate supplies for the number of horses the facility can house. Consider supplies like feed tubs, water buckets, shovels, pitchforks, and grooming supplies.

Attending Veterinarian

Rescue horses often come with health problems from life in an abusive or negligent environment. Any new arrivals should be screened by an attending vet to rule out illnesses or injuries. The attending vet should be chosen in advance and should be made aware of the protocol for the horses under the facility’s care.

Quarantine Procedures

Unless the horse comes with current vet records that confirm its safety, all horses should be quarantined for at least two weeks before they’re kept within close quarters with other horses. It’s important to have space and a plan to handle quarantines for new arrivals or horses that develop health problems.

Fundraising

Fundraising, grants, and donations are a big part of running a nonprofit. Rescues often host small events, such as online auctions, fundraising events, and giveaways to collect small amounts of money to help.

Grants are another way to raise funds for a rescue. Along with government grants, organizations like the Equus Foundation, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and Blue Horse Charities all offer grants to assist rescues in paying for care and retraining horses to prepare for adoption.

Adopter Evaluation

If you plan to adopt out rescue horses once they’re rehabilitated, it’s important to thoroughly evaluate potential adopters. All adoptions should be accompanied by a legally binding document that prohibits the adopter from selling the horse or placing it with another owner or facility without first contacting you.

Adopter applications should include a variety of information to gauge the horse’s potential new home. Veterinary records to show that other pets and livestock are up to date on vaccinations and veterinary exams and that the prospective owner hasn’t surrendered animals or been brought up on animal cruelty charges. It should also include a questionnaire with questions that are relevant to owning a horse or taking on a rescue horse with possible lifelong problems.

Euthanasia and Disposal

When horses can’t be saved, rescues need to make the decision to end their lives with humane euthanasia. This may be on the table if the horse is immobile, the quality of life is poor, or the horse is suffering from severe and chronic pain that can’t be relieved.

Euthanasia should always be done by a licensed veterinary, except in an emergency that requires quick action to relieve suffering. Once deceased, the horse’s carcass will need to be disposed of in compliance with all local laws. Make sure you’re aware of the laws and the protocol for handling a carcass of that size.

For example, some localities offer rendering services. If yours doesn’t, you’ll need to arrange burial services for the horse.

Marketing

All businesses need marketing, even horse rescues. The more you can spread the word, the better the opportunity to place horses in good homes or attract donors and volunteers.

Here’s what you need to succeed:

  • Your organization should have a website that represents your brand and showcases what you do. For a horse rescue, that should include adoptable horses, rescue stories, and an easy-to-find adoption inquiry form. You should also offer an email newsletter opt-in to keep subscribers aware of newly available horses, success stories, and changes or updates to the rescue itself.
  • Social media pages are a necessary tool to reach potential adopters and attract donations. Make sure you keep up with the pages and post often, responding to comments and messages. Work with multiple platforms to reach a wider audience.

What to Know Before Starting a Horse Rescue

It’s Still a Business

Approaching a non-profit solely as a venture to rescue abused or neglected horses will only lead to disappointment. It may be a rescue, but it’s still a business.

Before you begin, you need a business plan. You have to know what you want to do in terms of acquiring horses. Will you buy from kill pens, accept owner surrenders, work with local law enforcement, etc.? Whether you want to do all of them or just a few, you must know in advance.

Your business plan should also have a registration for the rescue as a corporation in your state. The state laws vary, but they usually require a corporate name and filing articles of incorporation that include a description of the business, the corporate officers, and the responsibilities. It may also include whether your business will operate as a for-profit or non-profit entity.

Non-Profit Helps

Filing for a federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit status with the IRS has advantages. With this status, you can raise funds from donors all over the country – and they may even be tax deductible for the donor. It also adds legitimacy to your organization, which may make some feel more comfortable donating.

If you want a 501(c)(3) status, you have to complete IRS documents that include a detailed description of the corporation, its mission, and its strategy. The documents should also include your bylaws, or rules that govern the business, the officers and their responsibilities, the articles of incorporation, and a list of the board of directors.

Rescuing Horses Is Expensive

Horses are expensive on their own, but taking in neglected or abused horses is more expensive. You will not only be paying for feed, water, and supplies, but the horse may need extensive veterinary care to recover from its medical issues.

In general, rescue horses need to be brought up to date on vaccinations, farrier care, and feed. You could be looking at thousands of dollars per horse, depending on the severity of their condition, and that doesn’t include the standard expenses you would have with any other horse.

Horses Need Space

In most areas, a horse requires at least one acre for space to run and graze. Rescue operators need to have space to accommodate these horses, as well as space for quarantine until testing comes back to verify that the horse is not positive for any contagious conditions.

Plus, horses that come from abusive or negligent homes are often too stressed to be out with a herd of other horses to fight for their place in the pecking order. It’s best for these horses to stay separated, at least at first, before they can integrate with the rest of the herd.

It’s a Lot of Work

The owners of horse rescues invest a lot of time, energy, money, and effort into rescuing horses. These organizations run lean, so owners may miss out on things like socializing with friends or going on vacation to run the day-to-day operations.

You Need to Make Tough Decisions

Not every horse can be saved. It’s the sad reality that you have to face before you can get into rescuing and rehabilitating horses. You need to know that you have what it takes to make the right decision and euthanize a horse that’s too old, too sick, or suffering.

It’s not only the right thing to do for the horse, but it’s a practical decision. A horse that’s a long shot is a significant drain on time and money, which could be used to save other horses with a more promising outcome.

Expect Burnout

Compassion fatigue is a very real thing. No matter how objective or distant you think you can be, at some point, the weight of the rescue can take a toll on you. It’s not just the experience of seeing horses that have been severely neglected or abused, but the constant stress of raising funds, choosing where to allocate resources, and handling the day-to-day operations.

The best way to approach this concern is by setting a goal for the number of horses you want to help. Once you reach that goal, consider if it’s time to step down or continue. If you feel up to it, you can set another goal as a checkpoint to see if the work is becoming too much for you.

How to Start a Horse Rescue: Frequently Asked Questions

Are horse rescues profitable?

The profitability of most animal rescues and shelters aren’t widely known, because they’re run as nonprofits. The same goes for horse rescues, especially given the expense of the animals involved. That said, horse rescues can be profitable enough to pay for the animal’s care, the team, and yourself. You may not become a millionaire, but you can follow your passion without going into debt.

How do I find horses to rescue?

Horse rescues obtain horses in a variety of ways. Some specialized rescues have a specific pipeline for rescue horses, like a racehorse rescue. They get their horses from the track and the track’s network. Other rescues may purchase or obtain horses from auctions or kill pens, take owner surrenders, or work with law enforcement and animal abuse cases to find horses in need.

Can I get grants?

Grants are available for horse rescues, like other nonprofits. You can apply for government grants to get funding, or search the various horse organizations like Equus Foundation and Heart of a Horse to seek out grant and funding opportunities.

Starting a Horse Rescue Takes a Lot of Heart

Starting and running a horse rescue is a noble endeavor for anyone. But having the goal to save horses and actually taking the steps to get a rescue going are two different things. Horse rescues are costly, time consuming, difficult, and emotional draining. If you have the passion, though, running a horse rescue and making a difference in the lives of abused or neglected horses is worth it.

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