What You Need to Know to Rescue a Horse

There are many horses throughout the world, some living in luxury while others, unfortunately, live through neglect and abuse. If you’re looking to get a horse, you may prefer giving a good home to a horse that needs one rather than one that will go to a good home either way. While the idea of rescuing a horse is a noble one, navigating the terrain can sometimes be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start.

How do you rescue a horse? To rescue a horse there are a few things to consider:

  1. Where are you rescuing the horse from?
  2. Do you have the facilities to quarantine or house a rescue horse during their rehabilitation?
  3. Do you have the financial means to pay for potential vet and recovery costs?


Rescuing a horse can be a rewarding experience as you show the equine that there are good humans in the world. In this article, I’ll walk you through the different aspects of rescuing a horse and what you should know before starting the process.

Where Can You Go to Rescue a Horse?

The first question you may be asking yourself if you want to rescue a horse is where would you find a horse that needs a helping hand? Many times depending on where you’re rescuing the horse from, there won’t be much information about the horse, its age, training, or health condition. This is something to keep in mind when reaching out about getting a horse.

Horse Rescue Organizations

If you’re looking for a relatively easy process of rescuing a horse where the people involved want what’s best for the horse, one of the best things you can do is contact a horse rescue organization. These organizations have already pulled the horse from a bad situation and have done the necessary research, medical treatments, and training assessments on the horse. 

If someone is looking to purchase a horse, whether rescue is on their mind or not, I’ll often recommend checking at a horse rescue anyway. Most horse rescues want what’s best for the horse, so they’ll ensure the horse and you are a good match…something that many sellers won’t do. Horse rescues will also often have an application process to make sure that the rescued horse won’t end up in a bad home. 

In terms of finding the most trustworthy source when it comes to rescuing a horse, horse rescues are definitely the place to start.

Horse Auctions

Kill-buyers are people who are looking to buy horses cheap so they can ship them to slaughter and make a profit on the horse’s meat. One place that most kill-buyers find these horses are at auctions. While high-end horses can sell to good homes at auctions, there are also other horses who can be bid on and sold for much less than they are worth. These are the horses the kill-buyers are looking for.

When attending a horse auction, the horses that are shown later in the day are usually the horses most prone to go to the kill-buyer. You’ll have a chance to visit the corrals and see the horses, giving you time to visually inspect the horse, get to know their temperament, and talk to the seller to see if you can get any information on them. If you find a horse in the corrals that you want to take home, you’ll need to outbid the kill-buyer when the horse is shown.

If you’ve never been to an auction before, you may be wondering how you even get a number to bid. In my article, Buying a Horse at Auction (Helpful Tips & How it Works), I walk you through the process step-by-step of buying a horse at auction.

Horse Killpens

For the horses that have slipped through the cracks at auction, they will usually end up with a kill-buyer at a kill pen. A kill pen is a holding facility for horses before they are shipped to either Mexico or Canada for slaughter. Horses will stay at the kill pen until there are enough horses to fill the shipping trailers. Unfortunately, conditions at kill pens are often crowded, with horses being packed nose-to-tail in corrals. The corrals are often unsanitary with little food or water for the horses

The good news is that you can buy horses out of kill pens. The kill-buyer will usually take for the horse what they would get for the price of their meat. While this makes it a win-win for the kill-buyer, it does get the horse out of a life-threatening situation. Horses in kill pens are often in poor health and may have injuries from the crowded corrals. Nevertheless, you can find diamonds in the rough when rescuing from a kill pen.

I once had a 3-year old Quarab filly that came from a kill pen. She came registered both under the Arabian Horse Association and the American Quarter Horse Association with exceptional bloodlines. She had impeccable groundwork training and once under saddle, was a beautiful mover. I was almost in disbelief at how a horse like that could have ended up in a kill pen!

Bureau of Land Management

For those who have horse training experience and are looking to take on a challenge, you can adopt wild mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management. Many wild mustangs end up in government holding pens where they are kept until they are adopted out. The US government does this in an attempt to control the wild mustang populations that roam throughout the American West.

For those looking to adopt a wild mustang, there are even financial incentives available to rehome and tame these horses. Don’t be mistaken though, mustangs are not like your domesticated horses. It takes an experienced horse person to introduce them to domestication and training. The BLM also has an application process to ensure you have the facilities to house a wild horse and that you are capable of safely taming such an animal.

Directly to the Source

Did you drive down the road and see an emaciated horse standing out in a pasture? Your heart goes out to the animal, but you don’t know how you can make its life any better. One thing you can do is offer to buy the horse from its owner. Oftentimes, we see animals in neglect or abuse but don’t do anything about it. If you feel the urge to act, go directly to the source. 

While this may seem intimidating, chances are your offer won’t be denied. One reason so many animals end up in these situations is that the owner doesn’t have the money to care for them. A financial incentive is one way to get people to hand over their neglected animals. 

Besides going directly to the source to purchase a hurting animal, please remember that animal neglect should be reported to the authorities. Usually, animal neglect cases are often caused by the same perpetrator over and over again. If you can notify the authorities, you may be able to keep animals out of the hands of the perpetrator.

What Should You Do Right After You’ve Rescued a Horse?

What steps should you take after you’ve rescued a horse? With the exception of rescue organizations, most institutions that you rescue a horse from will not provide you with information about the horse’s age, health, or training. That being said, what should you do once you get your rescue horse home?

Quarantine the Horse

The very first thing you should do when you get your rescue horse home is to quarantine it from other horses. The reason for this is that you don’t know the status of the horse’s health. Oftentimes, horses in auction houses or kill pens catch a virus that is very contagious. Don’t worry, it’s a lot like a human cold. Rescue horses also oftentimes haven’t had regular vaccines or Coggins tests, so it’s a good idea to keep them separated from other horses until they are looked over by a vet.

Schedule a Vet Check

Once your horse is in quarantine, contact your vet. If your horse is suffering from emaciation or a serious injury, you’ll want the vet to come out as soon as possible. A veterinarian will be able to look over the horse and diagnose any problems it may have and determine a course of action to take for rehabilitation. They’ll be able to catch the horse up on vaccines, Coggins test, teeth floating, and any other routine care that may have been neglected.

Come Up With a Rehabilitation Plan

Another reason to have the vet out is that a veterinarian should be able to help you come up with a rehabilitation plan for your rescue horse if needed. If a horse has an injury or is malnourished and emaciated, you’ll need to gradually introduce food and exercise to their regimen. The vet should be able to consult you on the best course of action to take in order to get your horse to a healthy state.

Schedule a Farrier Visit

Horses that require rescuing have usually had their routine care neglected, and this includes regular hoof care as well. Oftentimes, rescue horses require immediate farrier attention, as their hooves have been left to grow. An overgrown hoof can damage other parts of the horse’s hooves and legs and should be addressed immediately. 

Make sure your farrier has experience with treating hooves in this condition, as it can be painful to the horse as their feet are worked on. These situations require a farrier with much skill and patience. 

Determine Horse’s Training Level

Once your horse has had time to settle in, rehabilitate, and recover, it’s time to determine their training level. Sometimes, rescue horses may never be in a condition where they can be ridden or worked; however, many horses can be rehabilitated to where they can be worked regularly.

One easy way to determine your horse’s training level is to start with groundwork. How does the horse respond to you on the ground? Are they respectful of your space and boundaries? Do they respond correctly to your cues? How do they respond to pressure on their sides and on their back? 

To learn some easy groundwork exercises you can do with your horse, visit my article 5 Best Groundwork Exercises For Your Horse.


I hope this article will be helpful to you as you walk through the process of rescuing a horse! Another way you can give a horse in need a home is by adopting an off-the-track thoroughbred. To learn more, visit my article Should I Get an Off-the-Track Thoroughbred? (Read Before Buying.)

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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