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In very general terms, a “horse rescue” (as we’ve chosen to define it):

“…is a person, group or organization who liberates an equine from a neglectful, abusive or generally unwanted situation that may result in the continued neglect, abuse or ultimate death of that equine.”


What may not be known is that there are several different models that rescues may follow, in order to achieve their goal of liberating those equines.  To say that one model is better than another is not for us to say.  Each has to be reviewed by their own merits.  In the end, if one horse (in the general equine term) is saved, it was a success in the eyes of that horse.  Additionally, “Each group must be evaluated on their own merits as to whether you feel they are a reputable, above board organization.”

For our purposes here, we’ll follow a timeline format in terms of the horses being rescued by the particular model being described.  This will not be by any means a definitive list of every model in existence but rather a list of the models as we are aware of them at this time.  We invite anyone who wishes to add to it to leave a comment and we’ll be happy to incorporate it.  Please also note that the model or approach may also be called other names that we’re not aware of.  Again, please feel free to send us a comment.

Content taken from various websites in order to describe the rescue model will be directly linked to those sites.  Should it be linked to a rescue group, it should not be taken as an endorsement as much as a sample reference.  Again, individuals looking to support a rescue group or to adopt from one must evaluate them for themselves.

A)  Nurse Mare Foal Rescue

Do not confuse this with nurse mare/foal placement.  In that situation, a mare may have passed during foaling or been left ill after foaling leaving her unable to nurse.  Foals may have been orphaned due to illness of the mare, the mare passing or the foal may have been rejected.  Programs are in place to help find owners of mares who have milk and owners of foals who need a mare to nurse them find each other.

In the case of nurse mare foal rescue:

nurse mare foal is a foal who was born so that its mother might come into milk. The milk that the nurse mare is producing is used to nourish the foal of another mare, a more “expensive” foal. Primarily these are thoroughbred foals, though certainly not limited to the thoroughbred industry. The foals are essentially byproducts of the mare’s milk industry. A thoroughbred mare’s purpose is to produce more racehorses. A mare can give birth to one foal each year provided she is re-bred immediately after delivering a foal. Because the Jockey Club requires that mares be bred only by live cover, and not artificially inseminated. The mare must travel to the stallion for breeding and may be shipped as soon as 7-10 days after giving birth to a foal, but a period of 3-4 weeks is generally allowed.

In general there are a number of reasons why a nurse mare may be called upon, among these are: loss of maternal mare, mare has no milk, mare rejects foal, and countless other malandy’s.

As far as the Thoroughbred breeding industry goes there are also numerous reasons a nurse mare might be needed, these include: travelling and insurance costs which prohibit the foal from accompaning the Thoroughbred mare to the stallion station, and this is just to name a couple out of many other concerns.

Traveling is very risky for these newborn racing foals, and insurance costs are prohibitive for the foal to accompany the mother to the stallion farm. At this point a nurse mare is hired to raise the thoroughbred foal. In order to have milk, the nurse mare had to give birth to her own baby. When she is sent to the thoroughbred breeding farm, her own foal is left behind. Historically, these foals were simply killed. Orphaned foals are difficult to rise and no one had tried to raise large numbers of them. Now, these foals do have value … their hides can be used as “pony skin” in the fashion and textile industries, and the meat is considered a delicacy in some foreign markets.

–Last Chance Corral, Ohio: http://www.lastchancecorral.org/foal-rescue

In these cases, these often day(s) old foals are taken in by rescue (most have to be purchased since they do have value for their meat and skins).  These rescues take on a massive amount of round the clock care (as any parent will attest to when remembering the care of their newborns).  If not taken by rescue, they are slaughtered.

Nurse mare foals are the first rescues.  Their destiny even before birth is either death or rescue.  There are no other options for these foals.

The nurse mares themselves may also require rescuing once they are no longer able to carry a foal to term.  Having outlived their use, they face slaughter if not sold privately.

Pros:  Foals saved from certain death  Cons:  Very labour intensive, high risk foals don’t always make it (stress, illness)

B) PMU Foal Rescue

PMU stands for “pregnant mare’s urine”. The urine of pregnant mares is used in the manufacturing of Premarin the female hormone replacement. This industry is located mostly in Canada, in the region of Manitoba, close to the Wyeth-Ayerst pharmaceutical company who manufactures Premarin. Since research has proven that Premarin causes cancer in women, there has been a decline in production of the hormone. Consequently, over the last few years over 300 PMU ranches have been closed. Only 70 are still in operation.

PMU ranchers usually chose a specific type of horse to breed, as they have to keep so many mares pregnant in order to collect the urine.  Foals are a by-product of this business, so they might as well be foals that can be sold. Some PMU ranchers treat this as a breeding business, as well as a urine production business.

–Saving Horses Inc., CA: http://savinghorsesinc.com/PMU_Nurse_Mare_Foal_Rescue.php

These foals are born to be sold or slaughter.  Some are well bred, some not.  With their dams being bred back so that they may provide pregnant urine again, the foals do not get to stay through the normal nursing period of a year as is done in wild herds.  Abrupt weaning occurs dangerously early.

Not to be forgotten, the mares of these farms have a drastically shortened life span (8 to 10 years rather than the typical 20 – 30 years).  Once they are no longer able carry foals, they too are sent to slaughter unless a rescue steps in.

C)  Breed Rescue

There are rescue groups who solely rescue horses of one particular breed.  Horses may come from a variety of sources, auction, owner surrender, dispersal sales, government animal welfare organization seizures, etc.  A full range of ages and conditions, the underlying commonality is the breed (although some will also take crosses of their chosen breed).

D)  Vocation Rescue

Rescues who specifically rescue horses from certain vocations is another model.  The most popular being race horses (thoroughbred, standardbred or quarter horse).  Similar to breed rescue (since racing is breed specific), however the needs of these horses is specialized.  Coming off of the track, their injuries are often specific, their retraining needs in order to have a second career is specialized.  These horses are typically between 3 – 10 years old, off the track.  Some have had successful careers, some didn’t pan out, others may have had career ending injuries that will allow them to still work in other areas.

E)  Open Rescue

An “Open” rescue is a general term to cover rescues that don’t seem to have a criteria to the horses that they rescue.  Various breeds from various disciplines coming from any source.  Their criteria of what they do and do not accept are unique to them.

F)  Slaughter Horse Placement

These rescues may also be placement programs.  Some may take horses in while others simply attempt to directly place horses from the feedlot.  Owned by kill-buyers, these horses have one last chance at life before slaughter.  Kill-buyers allow the horses they own to be posted by these groups to the public.  The hope is that someone will see the horse and want to give it a home.  The fees are often quite low, but still allow the kill-buyer some profit.

Horses into this model are of any age, any breed, any vocation and can be of perfect health to very ill.  Dumped for a variety of reasons, if they are not purchased by a home owner, they will go to kill-buyers.

This model is controversial as some feel that this only puts more money in the pockets of the kill-buyers in order to purchase more horses.  However due to the massive supply of horses into the feedlots, the impact is minimal.  The horses would still come into the lot, they would still leave one way or another.  If there was a limited supply the argument may stand.  Sadly, supply into the lots seems to be unlimited at this time.  Until the supply is restricted, this model will continue to be required.


In the end, there are many models that a rescue may follow.  As they are listed above, combinations or variations of them.  In order to be sustainable a model must be chosen.  It is impossible to save them all.  In order to be successful, they must say no to some horses.  If they don’t, they will quickly become inundated.  In this case, supply heavily outweighs the ability of the rescues to save them.  Save those that can be saved, that have a chance to be turned around and rehomed so that another can take its place and go through the same process.  A truly successful rescue has a high turn over of animals into their care and out into permanent homes.

Why do rescues fail?  Many reasons.  Burn out is common.  The heartbreak of rescue is unavoidable.  There will be individual failures and they take their toll.  Another is people getting in over their heads.  Either the demands of the animals or the demands of managing the rescue itself.  While most are manned by volunteers, each job must be done and done well.  Often appointing those who do not have the skills or ability to complete the task at hand.  While being unable or unaware is an honest flaw, it will be exposed in such high pressure situations.  Lack of support will also claim many.

The best of intentions isn’t enough.  A rescue needs people who are financially savvy.  Just as they need people who have good horse sense.  Some training knowledge would be helpful and some business sense too.  Like it or not, there are business needs.  Without the required skills, it’s easy to fall prey to failure.  Loving the horses isn’t enough.

Another pressure that most don’t want to talk about are the trolls.  Those who are not involved in the rescue directly, but have appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner.  Making comments, constant negative pressure, claiming that their ideas are better or that the rescues approach is all wrong.  Planting negative seeds where ever they go.  While they do not technically have any weight in terms of the rescue itself, they do apply an additional pressure, an emotional toll on those involved.  Constantly feeling under attack, worried that their supporters may believe the accusations and even lies, the rescue must invest their energy in defending themselves rather than for the horses.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who present themselves as rescue but have more sinister motives.  There are those who use rescue as a cover for dealing horses into slaughter.  Taking horses from well meaning owners who want their horses to go to someone who has time for them, only to flip them to the highest bidder.  Or those who are unaware that their hard work is actually hurting the very horses they’re attempting to save.  Many rescues have turned into hoarding situations, where they were unable to care for the horses in their care but refuse to adopt them out.  Some because they’re too attached, some because they honestly feel no one else can care for them the way they do.  Sadly there have been rescues that have had to be bailed out by other rescues when they became overwhelmed.

Rescues are a needed service in any animal based industry.  Do your homework, make sure you agree with their model of operations.  If you don’t, keep looking.  There will be one somewhere that you can fully support.  Invest your energy positively into rescue, they need you.

*This post was inspired by the Facebook page “For The Horses” and a discussion regarding rescues.