The painful task of rehoming your horse could happen to any one of us at any time for any number of reasons: ill health, marriage break-up or financial problems. The list is depressing and diverse. Without doubt it’s a distressing decision, over which owners agonise endlessly, made more arduous by the numerous ways in which to go about it.
Recent statistics put the number of horses in Britain needing new homes or rescue at around 7000.1 With figures like this it is easy to see why UK equine sanctuaries are working beyond capacity and why struggling horse owners may find themselves facing some very difficult choices.
Mhari-Clare Boswell from East Sussex knows just how this feels. Increasing work commitments over the past year were making it impossible to give her beloved 16.2hh Warmblood (Mickey), the time, work and attention he needed. Having enjoyed five wonderful years together it was every bit a painful decision. Mickey had successfully undergone an operation on his hock some 18 months previous, yet despite a good recovery and remaining sound, Mhari-Clare was not happy about putting him on the open market.
“I did not want him to get into the wrong hands, to be passed from pillar to post or a far worse fate. I have had many good years with Mickey and him being rehomed was a heart-breaking decision none of which was his fault. I wanted to rehome him with the right person knowing that if it didn’t work out I have the option for him to come back to me.”
Giving a horse away may sound easy enough to the uninitiated; but anyone with experience of this scenario will most likely roll their eyes and regale you with his or her own personal horror stories of loans-gone-wrong, horses being sold on without permission or being neglected and mistreated. Finding the right home is hard. But Mhari-Clare knew of a society that many of us may not have heard about and Mickey was listed on Horses4homes.net.
Horses4Homes is a registered charity, which aims to safely rehome horses using a bespoke, state of the art, online application process. Founded in 2012 by Tarma Rowles and managed by Rebecca Evans (Vice Chair of National Equine Welfare Council), it is based upon an unwavering belief “that all horses deserve the right to loving homes with responsible owners.”
Listing a horse is free. Owners are asked to provide honest and open information about behavioural traits and ridden issues, which may influence the best type of person suited to take on a horse. This is an organisation determined to match applicant to horse and owner. Veterinary details are provided; activities that the horse must not participate in are listed; and owners forego any sale price. Importantly, for Mhari-Clare, potential applicants are assessed and best matched to the horse in question.
It sounds so refreshingly transparent, in stark contrast to the scenarios countless of us have faced when horse hunting with unscrupulous dealers or indeed members of the public, where horses have an uncanny habit of not being quite as described. So does it work?
Kirsty James from Weymouth for one knows it does. Hooked on horses from the age of three, Kirsty had just been through the most tragic of experiences. Having taken on a retired Grand Prix gelding three years ago, the unimaginable had happened.
“…Fraser was just not right in the field, I called the vet knowing it was serious just from his behaviour. Within the hour I was holding my beloved soul mate whilst he was being put to sleep. He had developed impacted colic and suffered a double twist in his large intestine, the vet doubted he would survive the journey to hospital and I could tell he was in pain. I made the heart breaking decision to say goodbye to him on the vets advice.”
Understandably, the shock was huge and thoughts of a new horse were far away in the future, yet three days later she received an unexpected email from a friend with a link to Horses4Homes.
“I clicked the link not knowing what it was for and when I saw Mickey I cried and cried and cried. I knew I wanted to meet him but it felt too soon. I had a very sleepless night and at some silly hour in the night messaged Mhari-Clare through the site. I laid my heart on the line and decided to let fate take its course.”
It seems fate did. Mickey had barely been listed for a week when Mhari-Clare received Kirsty’s email. Kirsty was the experienced, confident and loving rider that Mhari-Clare was looking for, who could provide the one-on-one attention and varied exercise that Mickey needed.
“Mickey is not the most straight forward of horses, when Kirsty told me about her old horse Fraser, his quirks were very similar and from that I felt that she could potentially be a good match.”
The application process was quick and easy, allowing both women to exchange emails and phone numbers and one week later Kirsty made the 240 mile round trip to meet Mickey.
“I was like a cat on a hot tin roof, excited, nervous, what if Mhari-Clare doesn’t like me? What if Mickey doesn’t like me? Is it too soon after Fraser? Will we find the yard? So much was going through my head.”
Fortunately for Kirsty, Mhari-Clare and Mickey, everything seemed to fall into place.
“We worked in the school; I made an utter hash of straight lines and circles but still enjoyed him. Mhari-Clare invited me to go for a hack and she walked alongside me. Mickey spooked but I stayed put and to my surprise, stayed relaxed, and this is when I knew for certain I wanted to take Micky home with me. On the way back I had a fantastic canter up the hill and felt that he was definitely a horse I’d be happy with forever.”
Mhari-Clare also knew that she had found the home she wanted for her horse so Horses4homes drew up a bespoke rehoming agreement and put it in place for Mickey. With such positive outcomes, it is little wonder that the popularity of Horses4Homes is growing and proving that a good home is far more valuable than any money. Indeed, since last year it has helped over 300 horses find new homes, with each passing month seeing 50 new horses listed and 100 potential adopters registering. Carl Hester (patron) sums the achievement up perfectly.
“Horses4Homes has always been a fantastic concept. Its results, in such a short time, are to be commended. “
This “fantastic concept”, saw Kirsty bringing Mickey to his new home just ten days after her initial email to Mhari-Clare.
“I put him into the stable, he walked around it and came back to me and put his head in my arms (despite a 3 hour journey and being on a brand new yard) and he just stayed with his head nuzzled on my chest.”
And what of Kirsty’s plans for their future together? They sound like everything that Mhari-Clare could have wished and hoped for.
“To love and care for Mickey forever… I would love to do a pairs hunter trial at VERY low level, in the winter but that may wait until 2014 because as I have grown older I prefer to have one leg in each corner on the ground!”
1 World Horse Welfare (04/07/2013) ‘Shocking statistics lead charity to ask horse owners: “Do you really need to breed?” ‘
Written by Catherine Green, BHS Member, Member of Tilford & Rushmoor Riding club & Volunteer for Horses4Homes