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4 Ways You Can Save Horses’ Lives and Avoid the Horse Rescue Hustle

I took a much needed break from finishing up the final draft of Covenant- (March 2018!). But I found myself dragged back into the shenanigans that can often swirl around the world of horse rescue. And aside from deflecting the Twitter trolls who cause more problems than they solve, it got me revisiting questions I’d had a few years ago when I had toyed with the idea of running my own rescue.

I became a quick study about that world, during my time volunteering for a few local horse rescues. And I am now blessed with two amazing and beautiful mares I adopted (and rehabilitated- a story for another time) who have changed my life. Besides learning that things had changed in the horse world in the thirty years since I last owned a horse, I learned that there is a right way and wrong way to rescue a horse.

Nowadays anyone with narcissistic personality disorder and a smartphone can dupe people into giving them money. It happens every day. But in the horse rescue world there is a clear and present danger and there seems to be no end of people out to profit off the suffering of horses. 

It is a noxious cocktail of innocent, well-intentioned people who follow deceptive drama queens posting hyperbolic videos and misleading images in their news feed. These horse rescue drama queens go to auction week after week and hyperventilate about saving horses doomed to die. They cry crocodile tears and make a spectacle of being a savior to all these horses about to die and beg you to send money right away to snatch "random hip number" from the clutches of Satan. And when the doomed creatures are rescued by your hard-earned money, then all that florid rhetoric is lavished on you in praise of your incandescent generosity. It's an ego-clinging Molotov cocktail. Cue Sarah McLaughlin. Who, but the most shrewd of us, could resist? 

They usually have webpages with large and easy-to-find Paypal buttons, some hyperbolic biography of the ‘star of the show’, and some pictures of horses but not much more. Not the important stuff, that is. As if hyperventilating on cue and having a story to tell is credential enough to rescue horses, some even have podcasts and other redundant social media footprints. In short, any manipulative, sadistic and borderline psychopath can hang a cyber-shingle out and call themselves a Horse Rescue Crusader. The problem is, are the horses really saved from their terrible fate?

So what is a well-intentioned, innocent horse-lover to do? There are four basic principles that apply to making a wise choice about which equine rescue organizations to donate to, ones that are doing horse rescue right.

1) Take Deep Throat’s advice: follow the money. There’s an easy way to do that. Look for the horse rescue’s GuideStar badge. 

While there are several levels, like medals- bronze, silver, gold and now platinum, the bottom line is that (from their website) “at GuideStar we gather and disseminate information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization. We provide as much information as we can about each nonprofit’s mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, governance, and so much more. We do that so you can take the information and make the best decisions possible…,” about where to donate your money. The higher the medal, the higher the transparency and efficacy.

For example, if a horse rescue has a bronze medal, it means they have enough transparency to be worthy of donation, but lack things like a sufficient governance structure, year-over-year metrics (necessary for continued grant funding- think SMART goals), and adequate outreach or community involvement. In short, the money goes where they say it goes, but they're not much of a change-agent for horses.

Platinum means that the organization is totally transparent and an A+ student with funding, governance, outreach, etc., and are really making a difference for horses. And when a horse rescue has that seal, they’ll make sure it’s where everyone can see it- only swindlers hide their perfidy.

Let this not dissuade you from giving to Bronze Seal charities, though. Given that GuideStar participation is voluntary, any horse rescue that has been awarded any badge is holding themselves to a higher standard. If they meet all the other criteria, then they very much deserve your donation. Some horse rescues simply cannot function as efficiently as a Goodwill or a Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.

2) Credentials!!! All legitimate professionals have to provide their bona fides for their job. As an educator for nearly 20 years, I know all about this one. And just like you wouldn’t want your child to be taught mathematics by some yahoo off the street, you shouldn’t want horses to be handed over to people without the ability to provide proper care for them. This one’s easy, too. Look for this seal, or a smaller version of it.

It’s the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. From their website: “The sole purpose of The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) is to ensure that these animals receive the highest standards of care during rescue, rehabilitation, and the rest of their life. We are the only globally recognized organization for certifying that a facility meets the GFAS Standards of Excellence….” A no-brainer. These certified sancuatuaries know how to properly care for animals. When you go to the GFAS website you will find a whole host of equine rescues to which you can donate your hard-earned money. Given that GFAS membership is voluntary, any horse rescue that has been awarded this certificate is holding themselves to a higher standard

Charlatans bilking the public in the name of saving horses, can play a horsey shell game on social media with their misleading posts. No one ever knows for certain if the horse you donated your money to last week on Twitter actually got rescued and stayed rescued.  Or  worse yet (let's be charitable and assume that they were successfully pulled), that the horses pulled at auction ended up right back in the slaughter pipeline weeks, months or years later because of said horse rescue drama queens' manipulative theatrics. That's the type of bad karma that turns you into a cockroach the next time around.

3) In keeping with the school metaphor, ask yourself, “Did they get the Student of the Month Award?” Or “Are they on the Honor Roll or Principal’s List?”  When I worked for another non-profit decades ago, I learned that in the non-profit world grants and awards are better than gold. They’re big gifts of money burning holes in the pockets of philanthropic organizations that are looking to support like-minded organizations. Usually there is some kind of application process or activity to show how much the organization deserves to be funded in their like-minded philanthropic work. One of the most coveted equine rescue grants is the ASPCA’s Help-A-Horse Day Award. Big money and lots of competition usually produces innovation. So has the horse rescue in question ever applied for, let alone won this important ASPCA grant? Your money is well-spent with these grant recipients.

 Additionally, if they are being recognized by other transparent and legitimate groups in the wider, non-profit world, then that is quite an accomplishment, too. 

But the most salient feature of this particular criterion is that if a horse rescue operator is on the up-and-up, earning money for their horse rescue the honest and good, old-fashioned way, they don't need to be a drama queen on social media hyperventilating week after week about the tragedies on the kill lots and begging for other people’s hard-earned cash. In effect they do not become the Killbuyers' Handmaiden.

4) And I’ve saved the best for last, “How well do they play with others?” Is the horse rescue you’re planning on giving your hard-earned cash to, collaborating with other legitimate and transparent organizations, equine or otherwise?

Some examples I’ve seen of both are Homes for Horses (above), Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA), local public schools, Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA), and so much more! As I watched the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival on Facebook, their charitable partner organization was Brooke USA, an international, working equine, rescue organization. These organizations have similar goals- working equines. Whether it's a donkey in India pulling a cart or a warmblood piaffing its way past the judge at C, they share a common cause of protecting working equines.

Collaboration is an important aspect of equine advocacy, especially in today’s political environment. No one can do this horse rescue thing alone and because there is such a dire need to save equine lives, we need all the well-intentioned and willing people we can get; all pulling in the same direction. But hucksters, swindlers and drama queens need not apply.

So ask the tough questions, do your research, and stay well-informed. And most importantly, if you do nothing else, stay away from the Twitter and Facebook horse rescue drama queens (and their trolls) crying for your money, taking advantage of good, well-intentioned people who just want to solve a very real and serious problem.  

Here's  how to evaluate the horse rescue you're considering throwing your money at.

The Rubric (not mathematically accurate):

4/4 is an A: definitely give, they're the change-agents 

3/4 is a B: certainly give, they're in a growth mindset

2/4 is a C: probably give, but use discretion. Not all categories are equal.

1/4 is a D: walk away, there's something fishy going on

0/4 is an F: run away, report them to local authorities!

I hope this has been a useful decision matrix. Please reward the truth, support transparency and help to genuinely save horses from the horse slaughter pipeline. Why? Because I’ve learned from being involved with the horse rescue world, that there are too many people flying just below the radar these days and horses are still dying. It is my life-long ambition to help recalibrate that radar so that No Horse Gets Left Behind. 

In closing, I am reminded of a poem my mother gave me many years ago:  Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism…. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy. (Excerpt from Desiderata by Max Ehrmann)

P.S. I realize that I’ve created a webpage for two organizations that don’t meet the above-mentioned requirements. It’s because they are not proper horse rescues, and do not operate on that end of the horse slaughter pipeline, as it were. And 5-Calls is for information purposes only and not a part of this narrative.