Giving Away a Horse:  What a Donor Needs to Know

At Equine Legal Solutions, we receive a surprising number of inquiries about equine donations gone awry.  Unfortunately, giving away a horse is a lot like selling it – the only real difference is that you don’t receive any money in exchange for giving up the rights of ownership.  Once the horse leaves your possession, you have very little control over its future. 

Here are some tips to help ensure that a horse you give away lives out his days in a good home:

Charge a Fee

Much like charging a modest adoption fee for puppies and kittens, you can help protect your horse by selling him for a modest price that reflects his condition, training, or other reasons you are giving him away.  Having to pay even a modest amount of cash for a horse helps screen out well-meaning folks who might not have thought carefully enough about the adoption as well as folks with a more sinister motive.

Consider Leasing Instead

In difficult economic times, many horse owners are faced with the choice of giving away hard-to-sell horses because they simply cannot afford to care for them any longer.  Many times, the economic situation is temporary.  In these cases, it may make sense to lease your horses to caring folks instead of selling them or giving them away.  ELS offers tips and forms for leasing your horse. 

Get Creative  

There are many charitable organizations that might be interested in adopting your horse and giving him a useful life.  Rescue organizations are an obvious choice – see the “Rescue” section of the Bay Area Equestrian Network’s Business Directory.  There are also more creative options.  If your horse is serviceably sound with a very quiet temperament, he may be well-suited to a therapeutic riding program – see “Therapeutic Riding Programs” in the BAEN business directory.  Many university equestrian programs depend upon donated horses and it is a tax-deductible way to support your alma mater.  You might also try contacting local 4-H clubs and Pony Clubs to see if there is a match for your horse.  Remember how badly you wanted a horse as a youngster – there are kids out there who might LOVE to have your horse.  Finally, there are kind folks out there who just want a companion horse or lawn ornament – reach out to them in the ways described above for finding a lost horse.

Screen the Adoptive Home  

In Equine Legal Solutions’ practice, we have heard horrible stories about what can happen to a donated horse, from starvation to being sold at meat auctions.  We can’t emphasize enough that you should go and personally inspect the place where your horse will be living, even if you are donating your horse to an organization that appears legitimate.  Check out the condition of the place and the condition of the other animals on the property – are the stalls clean and the animals well-fed and in good shape?  Chat with the people there and ask to see the feed your horse will receive (bad hay is a bad sign).  Ask them for veterinarian and farrier references, then call those references!  Trust your instincts – if you’re not sure, don’t give them your horse.

Have a Written Agreement

Most charitable organizations that routinely accept donated horses will ask you to sign a written horse donation agreement (and if they don’t, they should, for their own protection).  Make sure that you read anything that you are asked to sign carefully, noting what it says about what will happen if the organization doesn’t keep your horse.  Ask for a copy of the agreement to take home with you.  Equine Legal Solutions has a Equine Donation Agreement form that clarifies the terms under which you are giving the horse away, and can help protect you from liability in the event that your horse injures someone after he has left your care.

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