When you’re used to being around horses full of vigor and vitality, it’s hard to imagine that there are horses somewhere that’s abused, starved, and neglected. All it took for me was curiosity and a click to get transported into a gallery full of horses dying in kill pens. It’s a maddening sight — and what’s more heart-wrenching is the fact that these innocent horses will be shipped to slaughter.
Fortunately, there has been an increasing number of organizations in recent years that raise awareness about equine welfare and advocates starting the conversation about rescues and adoption.
One of the most popular supporters of this cause is polo player Pamela Flanagan. Ever since she rescued her first horse in 2016, she has always been an active and outspoken advocate. Having rescued and adopted nine horses for herself, she has also helped more than 20 horses find their new home.
For Pamela, the best part of adopting a horse is its transformation. “I really like the process of taking in a horse and fixing it, making it feel better, seeing it grow, and knowing that I was part of that growth. It’s truly fulfilling for me to help these animals lead better lives,” she explains.
For those interested in adopting rescue horses, Pamela shares tips from her experience in taking in and repurposing her nine rescues.
“You wouldn’t want to be a total beginner when adopting or rescuing a horse. I highly recommend they go through a proper adoption agency,” Pamela suggests.
Unlike online shopping for clothes and shoes, first-time horse owners should not traverse the world of horse shopping unassisted. It is essential to know exactly what you want and have someone assist in making sure you get the right match. This is where adoption agencies come in.
Adoption agencies help to match you with a rescue that fits your set of criteria. They can also fill you in about the history of the horse and the pros and cons that come with it. If things are not working out well with you and the horse, you have the choice to bring it back.
There are many organizations out there, so be sure to pick one with a respectable reputation and proper accreditation. Here are some trustworthy rescue organizations you can reach out to: The Right Horse Initiative, Redwings Horse Sanctuary, Ayuda a Caballos Maltratados, and CYD Santa Maria Association and Rescue Center.
After finding your match, try to learn and interact more with the rescue. If you’re inexperienced, bring a rider friend or a professional trainer to help you gauge the rescue’s skills. However, the opinion of your trusted veterinarian matters the most. Ask him/her to perform a pre-purchase exam to determine the rescue’s present health condition.
Once everything is agreed upon and contracts are signed, it’s time to take your rescue home. Introducing your rescue to his new environment might make him nervous, so keep him in a secured and risk-free housing where he will not be able to hurt himself. Give him time to adjust before introducing him to other horses, but make sure to start working on your bond, too. You may do so through grooming, some groundwork, and giving him treats.
Keep in mind that any neglected horses have little to no contact with people. Human interactions could be more traumatic than therapeutic for them. Their temperament is unpredictable at first, so it’s best to test the waters and do things with caution.
Having a rescue is very different from having a healthy horse that has received excellent care and training from its breeder. “The most challenging part is trying to figure them out. Oftentimes, you don’t know their stories and backgrounds. It’s challenging to know why the horse is afraid of a saddle and a blanket, why the horse doesn’t want wrap on its legs, or why the horse is so shy,” Pamela details.
When it comes to feeding, it’s best to consider its Body Condition Score (BCS). When a rescue has already spent enough time in the adoption agency, there’s a chance that he already has a diet plan. If not, ask your veterinarian for help to ensure that your rescue gets the nutrients he needs. Sudden changes in food amounts are bad for the horse as it increases the risk of refeeding syndrome, which may cause multi-organ failure and death.
Full rehabilitation could take weeks, months, or even years in severe cases. Once your vet gives you the green light, you could start giving your rescue a safe amount of physical activity to help rebuild its muscles, such as few turns in the round pen and a slow lead line walk.
“It’s definitely a test of patience when you first let them in,” Pamela added.
Rescue horses are not broken─they come in with different skill sets! Some may have never been ridden before, some may be from the racetrack, or some could have been excellent jumpers. There’s an endless possibility, so having an open-minded helps.
Once your rescue has reached a BCS of 3.5 to 4, you may start an evaluation for its training. If you do not have the experience, have a professional do it for you because the assessment needs to be honest and accurate. Pushing a horse to do something it doesn’t want may cause harm to both parties.
A professional trainer can evaluate the gait and ability of your rescue. If you also know your rescue history, it could help the trainer design a better program for him.
How long does it usually take to train a rescue before using them in polo tournaments? “If the horse has never been ridden before, probably a full year minimum. Some horses I got have already been ridden a little bit, and I started stick and balling with them in three months. The training depends on the skill level that they have when you acquire them,” Pamela shares.
At the end of the day, remember that everything will be new to your rescue─from different housing to different saddles and bridles and shoes. With lots of perseverance, you and your rescue will have a successful future.
You are his alpha; show that you are confident in him and that you will protect him, and he will go beyond any measure to do the same for you.
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Pámela Piedad is a journalist, author, designer, and the Editor-in-Chief of POLO LADY Magazine.