Responsible Horse Ownership

By Trisha Dingle
Whitehaven Arabians

I am sitting down to write this blog on the tail end of the Carolinas’ first winter “storm” – and while today it is a balmy 65 degrees down here in SC it is still easy for me to remember the days of below freezing temps we recently endured. Although I wasn’t happy about “northern” weather hitting the south I was well prepared for last weekend, and I’ve been around long enough to know that this weekend’s spring-like temps won’t last.  Having lived in the Carolinas now for seventeen years I’ve come to realize that we do get snow and ice, but as a native New Englander it stills amazes me how many people really don’t know how to dress properly to endure being outside with horses in freezing temps. (This is especially true with parents sending their kids out for riding lessons). So for the subject of this month’s blog I will share with you some “northern” secrets for dressing appropriately so that you can survive barn chores when the temps dip to the thirties and below.

Layering is the key!

The biggest problem most people run into is getting dressed in the morning in a cold house, and then when they start moving around outside beginning to sweat, which leads to damp clothes and chills. So the key to success is wearing multiple layers that wick moisture away from the body while also blocking wind/rain/snow from getting down to the skin, and which can be removed and added easily as temps and activity levels change. Besides staying dry another key to staying warm is to trap pockets of warm air and body heat close to your body, which can also be done by using multiple layers of clothing.

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Trisha showing in the cold and rain at Hillcrest Farm, February 2016. PC: Erica Anne de Flamand

Layer 1 – Moisture Wicking

My first layer – including my underwear! – is always some sort of lightweight, moisture wicking fabric. While the traditional cotton long underwear is great and will keep you warm, once it gets wet with sweat it traps the moisture against your skin, leading to chills. I prefer any of the silk liners or moisture wicking athletic wear to use as my first layer. This will give you a level of warmth, while pulling any sweat away from your skin and to the outer layers to prevent chills.  My preference for shirts is to wear something very lightweight with full arms, or a sports tank top that will serve the purpose without adding bulk, so that I can easily move my arms with multiple clothing on.  I also will do a layer of this fabric on my legs, and you can even get sock and glove liners that are lightweight but provide this initial layer. Polar fleece also works well for this purpose.

Layer 2 – The “Stuffing”

My second layer is usually my major “warmth” layer. When I’m working around the barn this will be my work jeans, or when riding my riding britches. Note: having a couple of larger pairs of jeans or britches laying around work great for winter riding – these will fit comfortably over your moisture wicking layer, without hindering your ability to move. When I lost weight I kept my “fat jeans” for this very purpose! For my upper body I’ll usually wear a warm sweater or polar fleece pullover.

Layer 3 – Wind and Water Resistance

My final layer will be protection from the elements – something wind and water-resistant. For my legs this will be either waterproof rain pants (in wet weather or if I’m doing a lot with water that day), or generic warm-up pants that can be bought in workout stores. These will keep your legs dry while adding an additional layer to trap warm air with, but can be easily removed as the day warms up or when you are very active. For wet weather I’ll also add a heavy water resistant rain or ski jacket – if its not super cold then just something waterproof will do, but in colder temps a jacket with goose feather lining can’t be beat! On cold dry days I’ll often just wear a windbreaker over my other warmer layers, which will block the wind from penetrating down to my skin.

One of my favorite pieces of clothing for riding in winter weather combines layers one, two, and three – fleece lined riding britches! They are super warm, soft, and comfortable, with a fleece lining and water/wind resistant outer layer. Often this is the only thing I’ll wear on my legs while riding, and in doing barn chores I may just add rain pants if needed. I have to be careful though – if temps are going to get above the forties I find these to be too warm and will end up sweating quite a bit they are so warm!

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The Arabian stallion, WH Bodacious, after a South Carolina ice storm, circa 2004

Keeping Extremities Warm

One of the biggest components to staying warm in frigid temps is to keep your extremities warm. This starts with your head – we lose the majority of our body heat through our heads, so a hat is definitely a must. Hoods (from jackets, sweatshirts, or fleeces) can help, but I personally don’t like the restriction and lower mobility from wearing a hood. My preference is a hat with earflaps that comes down low on my neck. Stuck doing nighttime chores? My mom found me the best Christmas gift this year – a toboggan (for us northerner’s I’m talking about what southerners call a knit hat, not the big sled we use in New England!) with LED lights in the front – for nighttime feeding I just switch on a little light and not only does my head stay warm but I can see where I’m going!

Socks are very important – too hot and your feet sweat and get cold, not thick enough and your toes freeze. I prefer Llama wool (not as itchy and hot as sheep wool) or Wool IQ (which you can get from Tractor Supply). Neither are super thick, and they seem to do a great job at keeping toes toasty without causing overheating. As for boots, you definitely want something waterproof in the winter, even on dry days – there’s nothing like being snuggly warm until you spill a bucket of ice water on your unprotected feet! They are a myriad of types of winter footwear available now for riding, its mostly personal preference. I’ve had an older pair of lined Ariat paddock boots that have served me well for a number of years when I’m riding, and for me the cheap short muck boots from TSC keep me warm doing barn chores (with good socks that is!).

After toes the next hardest thing to keep warm are fingers, so good gloves are a must. Like boots this is also personal preference, but I find that I have become a “glove hoarder” over the years. I have a different type and weight for every degree of temperature! For riding I have polar fleece gloves, thicker suede gloves, and even my old riding mittens from New England (although I found even in CT my hands would sweat in these). For working around the farm I have fallen in love with a leather work glove I found at TSC – they aren’t super thick so its fairly easy to open latches and work buckles while wearing them, and they are water resistant so stay dry through most contact with water. I also have a slightly thicker lined glove that are my “blizzard” gloves – more like ski gloves, they aren’t as easy to work buckles and latches with but they are super warm for extreme temps. I keep multiple pairs of each around the farm, so if one gets wet I have backup.

Additions

Whoever invented the “Little Hotties” hand warmers was definitely a genius! I open a pair of these each cold morning and keep one in each pocket – anytime I’m not actively using my hands (walking back from a pasture, waiting on buckets to fill, etc) I remove my gloves and stick my hands in my pockets for a quick warm up (and they work even with most gloves on).

I don’t recommend scarves around horses, as it can be too easy for loose ends to get caught on things (or even stepped on when trying to clean out hooves). However infinity scarves (with no loose ends) or even some stretchy warm headbands/ear covers work great for covering up skin around the neck. Of course there are always turtlenecks, but on days when it’s thirty in the morning and sixty degrees by lunch you may get a little hot, so I prefer something easily removable.

Many people swear by full body coveralls, and I have been in situations where I wish I had a pair. However I find that different parts of my body get hot/cold depending on what I’m doing, and I prefer to have the option of removing or adding a layer to my upper or lower body without doing so to the other half. Also around horses I like having the least amount of restriction to my movement so I can react quickly (especially on cold windy days when horses are fresh), so for me I feel that coveralls can be too bulky. But again that is a personal preference, and for some people they are a lifesaver in cold weather.

Vests –I am a big vest person. As I’ve stated a few times I don’t like having my motion restricted, and the more layers you wear the more you may start to feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man! For me wearing a vest as one of my inner layers, or tossed on over an outer jacket, helps keep my core warm without hindering my ability to move my arms. They are easy to take on and off, and are definitely part of my daily layering system.

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While it looks ridiculous my zebra hat keeps me super warm in freezing weather!

Unlike some areas of the country, weather in the Carolinas can be super unpredictable, especially the farther south you go. I keep extras of everything in a trunk at the barn – extra t-shirt, sweatshirt, polar fleece, jeans, britches, socks, wool socks, and plenty of gloves. This way if I am spending all day at the farm I am prepared for all temperatures – this is especially helpful on those odd days where its in the seventies all day and drops to freezing as soon as the sun sets. I’m also prepared for the event that I get splashed with water on cold days – by having extra clothes on hand I can change out of the wet ones and prevent chills later on.

In closing, there are “warm weather” people and “cold weather” people, and I am definitely the former! But unlike when I was a kid growing up in New England, there are tons of “smart” fabrics that can keep you warm and dry without hindering movement. And with just a little bit of research and preparation, it is possible to stay warm all winter long AND keep you horses cared for and in shape for riding come spring!

By Trisha Dingle
Egyptian Rose Sport Horses

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Last night, while I was sitting at my computer trying to decide on a subject for this month’s blog, I received a phone call from a fellow farm owner. “Please”, she begged me, “I need you to do me a favor and write an article on why parents shouldn’t buy their kid a pony for Christmas”! I laughed as we lamented on the trials and tribulations of trying to explain to parents that horses and ponies aren’t overgrown dogs that can live in your backyard for junior to hop on occasionally. Then a little while later I received a text from another horse mom, telling me that her family had decided to purchase the horse I had for sale that they’d tried the day before for their ten-year old daughter – of course at that news I was overjoyed! Hypocritical, perhaps? Not really, when you realize that the two families in question are completely opposite on the “horse ownership scale”. What’s the difference you ask? What makes one family ready for horse ownership and another not? This can be ascertained by answering a handful of questions.

christmas cuteness1.Is one (or both) parents a current, or former, experienced horse owner? If you can answer “yes” to this question, then by all means go ahead and buy the Christmas Pony and pass this blog on to an inexperienced horse family. The problem with deciding to purchase a horse or pony as a Christmas gift is that its too easy to get caught up in the spirit of the holiday, and the image of arriving at the barn on Christmas day only to see your child’s eyes light up at the pony with the Christmas bow can be all too overwhelming. Generally speaking, if the family is already experienced in horse ownership, then the thought to purchase an additional member of the family is something that’s already been thought out carefully and won’t be an “impulse” purchase.

2.Has your child been regularly taking lessons, or for that matter has he/she ever even sat on a horse? If the answer is no, you are better off purchasing a package of riding lessons at a reputable stable before jumping into horse ownership. Yes, many of us grew up with fantasies of finding a gift-wrapped pony “under” the Christmas tree, and we want to make that dream come true for our children. But again horse ownership is an expensive and time consuming activity, and there is nothing worse than having your pony end up as a discarded “toy” after a couple of months when your child realizes how much work riding really is. Again, if your child hasn’t gotten to experience the bumps and bruises of regularly being around horses, opt for the riding lessons and/or horse camp before purchasing the pony – that gift can wait another year.

3.Do you have proper accommodations for said Christmas pony? While keeping your new family member at home in the backyard can be an appealing idea, the average horse needs more than a fenced in yard and a shelter. Contrary to popular believe horses and ponies are pretty sensitive creatures and can be high maintenance: the so called “easy keeper” ponies may not require a lot of feed, but too much grass or an improper diet can lead to laminitis and expensive vet bills; horse manure piles up quickly and attracts flies (and disgruntled neighbors!); curious ponies can become mini Houdini’s breaking out of pastures and wreaking havoc on the neighborhood. Not to mention the fact that horses are HERD ANIMALS, which means they are much happier living with companions. Some will be content with goats, llamas, or donkeys; others need other horses. Which adds to the expense and time commitment. Also remember that children tend to be herd animals as well – how much fun is it to ride your pony all alone when all your friends are out riding bikes, four wheelers, or riding their ponies together at the local riding stable? If you aren’t prepared to have a few horses or other animals at home, then there’s the matter of boarding at a reputable riding establishment, adding on to the original cost of the pony as well as your time commitment.

4.Do you have reputable help in finding an appropriate horse or pony? It doesn’t matter how much experience you may have with horses, we all need professional assistance when finding the right equine partner, whether for ourselves or for our children. Horses have a habit of tugging at our heartstrings, and often even experienced equestrians make snap decisions rather than choosing a horse that really meets our needs. There are also, unfortunately, a lot of unscrupulous people out there, who will sell inappropriate horses and even go as far as drugging untrained, wild, or lame horses just to make a sale. I’ve seen way too many inexperienced horse owners get duped, so it only makes sense to have a reliable professional help you find the right match for your child and your family.

5.Do you have a relationship with the professionals who will help take care of your Christmas pony? Just like you wouldn’t take your child to any random doctor or enroll him/her in a preschool you know nothing about, you don’t want to trust your new horse to unqualified caretakers. You will need an experienced equine veterinarian and farrier, a good feed dealer (that sells quality HORSE feed, not “all stock” or feed inappropriate for equine consumption), a hay dealer, and a trainer/riding instructor for your child. And this is the bare minimum for a pleasure pony – if your child desires to start attending horse shows the number of professionals needed will increase. And if you are dead set on keeping said pony at home, who will care for it when you go away on vacation? In addition you also need to have a good working relationship with these people – while veterinarians are put on this earth to help our horses, nothing angers one more than being called out in the middle of the night to treat a suffering animal who’s ailment could have been prevented from proper and knowledgeable care.

6.Do you have all the equipment needed for the pony? At the very least you need a saddle that fits both your child and pony, a bridle, saddle pad, girth, halter and lead rope. Your child will need some sort of riding boot and an ASTM/SEI approved riding helmet. And while all this can be given as complimentary gifts under the tree, you need to make sure all of it fits properly and is appropriate for both child and pony.

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7.Are you fully prepared for the expense of horse ownership? Growing up I never could understand why I couldn’t get a horse – after all, I knew horses that were available for FREE. My parents always explained to me that “acquiring” the horse was always the cheapest part – it’s the supplementary care that costs the most! Even keeping a horse at home, the minimum average cost/month is $100-200 (this is just for hay, grain, farrier, and minor annual health care). Add in riding lessons, extraordinary health care, blanketing, and board if you can’t keep your horse at home…the cost adds up quickly. Also, are you fully prepared for what it costs to purchase an appropriate, SAFE horse for your child? While there are many horses out there that can be purchased for a bargain, oftentimes these horses have health issues that will cost later in supplemental care, or they have training/behavior issues that make they unsuitable for a child’s first horse. Buy cheap now; pay later in training or vet bills (and hopefully not in child’s hospital bills!)

I once had a farm manager tell me that as a sport, horses aren’t horribly expensive, but they are extremely expensive pets! The lessons learned from horse ownership, the responsibility, the compassion and camaraderie – makes the expense well worth it. The majority of children and teenagers that grow up around horses generally stay away from drugs and other risky behavior plaguing youth these days. However a pony bought impetuously for a child who loses interest in a few months will quickly becomes a very expensive pet, and all to often it’s the horse/pony who ends up suffering and being discarded. So while as an adult even I have daydreams of walking into the barn to find my dream horse wearing a Christmas ribbon around his neck, and while I am overjoyed in helping kids (and adults) Christmas dreams come true, I urge all parents to think long and hard before buying that pony for Christmas, and make sure that horse ownership is truly something you are prepared to handle.  

Responsible Horse Ownership – October 2016
By Trish Dingle

 

One of the challenges of working for an equine rescue/rehabilitation facility is finding suitable homes for the horses in our care. There are so many unwanted horses in the world, and so many quality horses available, that there just doesn’t seem to be enough homes for each of them. And the more time a horse stays in one of these facilities, the less space the rescue has to help other horses in need. As a professional trainer for the past twenty years, I’ve spent a lot of time matching my clients with the right horse, and I’ll admit that “rescues” weren’t usually the first place I turned to when looking. But now that I’m on the other side of the equation I’ve realized that they are the first place I will turn to when looking for a student or myself. Yet here at Race2Ring we still struggle with getting people to look at our horses, and I know many other programs have similar problems. I put the question out to a few Facebook groups: “Have you ever, or would you ever consider, adopting a horse from a rescue?” The responses were quite varied and informative, and while many people do have legitimate reasons for foregoing the “rescue route”, there is also a severe lack of understanding when it comes to “rescue” horses. So for this month’s blog I’m going to take a look at some reasons why people won’t look at a rescue horse, and hopefully dispel some myths and inaccuracies.

1. “I’ve had friends get burned by rescues before”. Not all “rescues” are created equal, and some bad eggs have given the good ones a bad name.  Unfortunately, just like there are many unscrupulous trainers and sellers out there, the same can be said for a lot of rescues. So before you go and adopt a horse from one, be sure to check it out first. Some questions to ask: does the rescue provide proof of its 501c-3 non-profit status? Is it GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) verified?  Does it have positive feedback on social media? Is its website professional, and does it have testimonials from happy adopters? Do you know other people who’ve adopted from them? Is their adoption process professional and in depth? When you go to visit are the animals happy and in good health (the ones being adopted, that is) and do their employees/volunteers behave in a professional manner? This is one area where you can usually trust your gut – if something about the process doesn’t feel right, or there are any red-flags to the above questions, its best to move on to a different organization.

2. “I don’t want someone else’s problem”. One of the main concerns people have about adopting a rescue is they don’t want a “damaged” or “broken” horse.  And while this is a valid concern, as a horse owner for the past 25 years I can honestly say the only horses I’ve had who didn’t come with some sort of physical or emotional baggage were the ones I’ve bred and trained myself! Even when purchasing a horse chances are there is some “problem” in the horse’s history, be it physical or mental.  Nearly every competitive horse I’ve purchased or found for clients at some point needs some sort of retraining and/or physical maintenance – body work, joint care, special shoeing. Another thing to keep in mind is that not all “rescues” are focused on helping starving abused animals. There are a number of facilities that actually take in healthy sound horses, many who need a change in career, or who’s owners have had an extreme life event and just can’t care for them anymore. Many of these horses are “marketable”, its just their owners want to ensure they go to a very good home and/or they can’t put the time and money into selling them. For this reason for the rest of this article I’ll be using the term “rehoming facility” as opposed to “rescue”, as the latter often has a negative connotation associated with it.

darcy w500 h500

"Darcy" - Regal Captive, or "Darcy", is a registered AQHA with pleasure miles who was rehomed through Race2Ring with Amanda C. Darcy had no health or soundness issues
but had previously been in a bad home, so his owners sought help from a rehoming organization with finding him the perfect match for him, rather than go the sales route.

 

3. “I don’t want to ‘lease’ a horse, I want to own it”. Another concern people have is the “lifetime lease” clause in many facilities’ contracts. I’ll let you in on a little rehoming secret – we don’t’ want these horses back! For every horse that gets returned to a facility, that’s at least one more horse in need that gets turned away. Many facilities do officially sign over full ownership on a horse (often after a certain period of time), and you can do with your horse what you’d like. Some do have “no sale” clauses on their contracts, and many do a “lifetime lease”. But again these organizations aren’t looking to take your horse away from you – the point of these types of contracts is to ensure that the adopted horse is well cared for and doesn’t end up back “in the system” or worse, at auction and possible slaughter. Also the majority of organizations are truly looking for one-owner lifetime homes for their horses, and don’t want to see a horse sold after just a few years. Yes, if you fail to care for your horse properly, the organization will (and should!) repossess the horse. But generally speaking this horse is yours for life, and the main reason for choice in terminology is to ensure that the horse has a safe place to land if and when you can no longer care for him. Yes, this does mean that if you adopt a horse for $500, put five years and thousands of dollars of training and care into a horse, you cannot sell the horse for a profit. But if that is your intention with your horse, then you are better off purchasing an inexpensive training project, and not adopting.

4. “I want a horse I can compete with”.  Many people forgo looking at adoption because they have certain competitive goals for themselves and their horses, and they don’t feel they will find what they need at a “rescue”.  This was my main issue as a public trainer – my clients and I were looking for sound, broke horses (often with registration papers) to compete. It wasn’t until I started working for Race2Ring that I realized there are a number of rehoming organizations that do have sound, broke, registered horses available for adoption. Some of these horses have no training or soundness issues whatsoever; some are older horses that may need some maintenance and/or to drop down a level or two of competition, and some may just need a change in career. I’ve personally helped rehome some very nice and well-trained dressage horses, a handful of registered Arabs and Half-Arabs (with show records and no limitations), and some very nice talented warmbloods (and yes, I’ve had to refrain from adopting a few myself!).  These programs are out there, you just need to do a little bit of exploring, and you’ll be amazed at the number of quality horses there are available for adoption, at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a horse! And the plus side: these reputable rehoming organizations do their homework, and will provide you with as complete a history of the horse as possible, which is a lot more than I can say for most sellers out there.

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Pickles-Kathryn: Pickle Me Pink is an unregistered paint pony with eventing experience who's original owner had rescued her as a yearling from an auction. When she outgrew Pickles she sought out Race2Ring rather than sell the mare, as she felt the rescue would be better able to find her a perfect home, which we did with junior rider Kathryn J.

 

5. “I’d rather rescue one myself”. That is a very noble thought, and for experienced horse owners it can be a great way to acquire a “diamond in the rough”. However rescuing on your own is not advisable for the average horse owner. If you followed this blog through the spring you saw how in depth and expensive rescuing a horse actually is. Rehabilitating a starved and/or abused horse is not something that can be done overnight, and frankly the average horse owner just doesn’t have the experience to do it correctly.  In general you will spend more money on veterinary care and feed than you will if you purchased a well-trained healthy horse, not to mention additional training costs if you can’t do the work on your own. Chances are it will be months, possibly years, before the horse is rideable, if at all. And I’m sorry, but nothing angers me more than to see an individual go out and “rescue” a horse, and then immediately set up a “Go Fund Me” account asking for help paying for it! This takes money and support away from the legitimate rescues who are experienced in equine rehabilitation, and to me its akin to me purchasing a horse who may need retraining or have been fed incorrectly and asking the public to help me pay for my personal horse. In addition, all one needs to do is peruse Facebook to see numerous ads for horses that have been “rescued” and are now up for “adoption” just a month or two later, and all the individual wants is a few hundred dollars to “recoup the money I put into him”. So please, if you are an experienced horse owner – or at least have an experienced team of professionals (vet, farrier, trainer) to advise you – please leave the rescuing to the programs that are experienced and capable of doing so. Instead why not adopt an already rehabilitated (or mostly rehabilitated horse) from a program who has done all the homework on the horse – this then opens up a spot for the facility to take in another rescue, so in affect you are rescuing two horses by adopting!

6. “I want the option of breeding my mare someday”.  As a stallion owner myself, I can relate to this issue (and have actually turned down a few really nice mares for this reason). This of course is an individual decision, but something you should really give some thought to before turning down adoption for this primary reason. First, keep in mind that a “maiden mare” (never had a foal) becomes less likely to conceive the older it gets. While there are incidences of teenage maidens getting in and producing a healthy foal, the majority of experienced vets and breeders will tell you its safest to breed a mare for the first time before the age of ten. And chances are any mare you purchase/adopt you are going to want to ride for a few years before breeding, so unless you are looking at a younger mare, the “no-breeding clause” that rehoming programs have is a moot point. The other option to weigh is how badly would you really want to breed: if you board your horse, this means finding a suitable facility for foaling out as well as pre and post-foaling care (caring for a pregnant and nursing mare is not something the average boarding facility is capable of doing). Most facilities will charge more for a pregnant/nursing mare, as more specialized care is required as well as an increase in feed and hay. Not to mention come weaning time you’ll be paying for two horses. If you keep your horses at home, are you really knowledgeable enough to care for a mare and foal at home? Is your facility “baby proof”? Do you have a knowledgeable support team to advise you on mare/foal care if you don’t have the experience? And what will you do with the foal – keeping in mind that it will be a good 3-4 years before you can ride it yourself. After thinking strongly about these questions you may find that the breeding option isn’t as important as you may have thought, making adoption a viable alternative to purchasing.   

7. “There is too much red tape involved with adoption”. One final issue that keeps people from considering adoption is the actual application process. Depending on the organization this process can be quite intense, and it’s understandable why it can be a turnoff. What you have to remember is that rehoming organizations have been entrusted with ensuring the continued care and well being of their charges, so it is up to them to be responsible in regards to where they place each horse. In addition, as I stated above once a horse leaves the program they really don’t want the horse back – both for the sake of the program as well as trying to limit horses from being bounced from home to home. And of course the last thing anyone wants is to place a horse in a home where it will be neglected or abused. So it behooves the group to be sure they are extensive in their research of the prospective home. Just like there are unscrupulous sellers and rescues, there are unscrupulous buyers who are looking for cheap horses to flip, and yes some of these people do prey on rescues, hoping they are too busy with new horses to follow what happens to those they adopt out. Additionally, there are many “tire kickers” out there on the internet, and as rehoming programs tend to be short staffed as it is, they really don’t need to be wasting time on people who really aren’t interested in adopting. So yes, the process may be a little more intense than purchasing a horse, but it is well worth it.

If you’ve ever turned down the option of adoption due to any of the above reasons, I hope that you now have a better understanding of the Rescue/Rehoming/Adoption world, and will consider giving a home to one of the many horses in need in one of these facilities!