DONATE or LOAN A HORSE
Horse Donation Questionnaire (PDF document)
At some point in the life of your relationship with your horse you may be faced with a very difficult decision. Perhaps you bought the horse for a child who has since lost interest, or whose skills have advanced beyond that of the horse. Maybe the horse, due to age or minor injury, can no longer endure the rigors of the type of riding that interests you. Or, you realize that the cost of maintaining this horse is no longer within your means. You’re apprehensive about running an advertisement in the newspaper, and you do not want him/her to end up at the auction yard. Because you feel that he is not ready for retirement, you’d like to see him live out his life in a situation where they will be used for consistent light work and receive good care. You’ve heard of therapeutic riding programs. Perhaps the perfect solution is to find one and donate him to the program.
It is true that horses involved in therapeutic riding programs tend to get lots of love, attention and light to moderate work on a regular basis. However, even the most “bomb-proof” horse that every kid in the neighborhood has jumped on bareback and ridden may not be appropriate for use in a therapeutic riding program. This fact is not to be construed as a negative reflection on the horse or their owner. Just as people have individual preferences for the types of careers or leisure interests they pursue, horses express definite opinions as to their likes and dislikes as well.
A program horse requires a personality that can tolerate being surrounded by up to 5 people (an instructor, horse handler, sidewalkers and possibly others), this closeness runs counter to a horses natural instincts, and one might be disturbed by having their space so invaded. They must be able to stand quietly and squarely for long periods of time, to move off from a mounting block or ramp slowly and methodically, be able to lower their heads as a rider brings their leg over their neck and not be disturbed by various positions of the rider such as riding backwards. They must be able to bear the weight of adults as well as children. They need to accept unbalanced, uncontrollable, and unpredictable movements from a rider, screams of exhilaration or fear, balls, water, streamers, hula hoops, rings on the ears and bells on their tails! They should display an awareness of the stimuli they encounter, but not exhibit excessive nervousness or shying. Size can also be a critical factor in a horses suitability, generally 13-15 hands is ideal. Headset can also be a factor. Breed, on the other hand, is not a determining factor, many programs incorporate Arabians, Lippizans, minis, Drafts/draft crosses, gaited breeds and a well trained/behaved pony is often highly desirable. Excluding stallions, mares are used as much in programs as are geldings. Horses under 7 years of age are usually considered too young and immature for use. For a horse over 18 to be considered it should be in exceptional physical condition with other factors that would justify taking on an aged horse.
Words one might use as a guide for therapeutic riding horse selection would include: accepting, trustworthy, predictable, focused, willing, well-balanced, pain-free and forward moving through all gaits: walk, trot and canter on varied surfaces and terrains.
In a typical scenario the program instructor(s) will come and do an initial assessment. They may ask the owner to ride the horse and they may also wish to ride. They may assess its reaction to a varied selection of stimuli. They will look at its overall conformation to meet the needs of the riders and the programs activities. One thing is critical-a therapeutic riding program cannot afford to use impaired horses. A blind, significantly and/or permanently lame, or those requiring expensive corrective shoeing or supplementation are not typically accepted.
Horses that are to be considered for the riding program will come into it on a conditional basis or for a trial period. During this phase there will be an on-going assessment of its conformation, movement qualities, temperament, tolerance to increasing levels of stress, and its ability to adapt to new demands i.e. wheelchair transfers from a ramp. The program may ask the owner to fill out a questionnaire about the horses past history in terms of training, past uses, illnesses, injuries, feeding, health, shoeing schedules and general behavior. Horses must come in on trial with evidence that they are up to date on vaccinations, worming, dental exam/work, and shoeing or trimming. Before the final decision is made a vet check will usually be performed.
Most therapeutic riding programs are non-profit organizations which make donations of gifts including horses possible. However, many of them also operate on extremely limited budgets. In light of this, situations where the owner retains an interest in the horse, but lets the program use and provide most of its care while it is involved in the program, can be a very mutually beneficial arrangement.
Many options exist, and it is best to explore them with the individual program. If you think that you may have a horse which meets the criteria, contact a local program or call PATH, Intl at 1-800-369-RIDE or www.pathintl.org for the location of a program in your area. A horse selected for use in a therapeutic equestrian program is a truly unique and admirable creature whose gift of freedom, gentleness and unconditional love is unmatched. We are indebted to them for the enormous joy, companionship, and independence they provide to all therapeutic riding program participants.