Where is Aiken Equine Rescue based?
It is based in Aiken, South Carolina.
What makes your program unique?
We are one of the only aftercare facilities that is also involved in racing as far as owning race horses. The President/Executive director and his wife own race horses of their own. Because of that we are able to work from the inside out because we have developed friendships and acquaintances through the industry, whether it is through sales or direct relationships with owners, trainers, grooms, exercise riders, and jockeys. We are pro-racing and think it is a great sport when it is done the right way. We give owners and trainers an outlet for their horses when retiring, giving them a safe place to land instead of ending up in a bad spot.
What happens when a horse is accepted into your program?
First, the horses go into a minimum 21-day quarantine. We do this for two reasons. One, we want to make sure that the horse is healthy. Two, it gives us a chance to get to know the horse and decide which herd is best for the horse. During this initial time the horse is in a smaller, individual paddock with a turnout shed.
Second, the horse is turned out in one of the herds. (There are eight different herds, each with four to nine horses.) We give them a couple weeks of just being horses. Each pasture is six to ten acres with plenty of space to run. During that time we are evaluating the new horse, learn her personality. It helps tell us what they’ll be like when they’re ridden, what owner they need
Third, we sit on the horse, see what her riding attitude is, what adopter she needs. We have a full spectrum of horse people in the area and are fortunate to have this for adopting our horses.
Do you require new owners to do reporting?
We follow up after one, three, six, and twelve months. We spend a lot of time with people before signing contract. We don’t usually have to do follow-ups because new owners are sending pictures and updates before it’s time. They’re excited to have a new horse, plus they already have a relationship with us.
How many horses have you worked with?
We have worked with over 1,100 horses. At least half of those horses have been Thoroughbreds.
Tell me more about the Pre-Trial Intervention Program you work with.
We work with Pre-Trial Intervention and at-risk youth who have to do community service. We also work with kids headed down that path with nothing official on record. We make it a positive experience. We aren’t their parents or court; we give them work but make it fun. We work around horses, not with them. We talk about issues and reasons why the horses are there. Sadly kids can relate to the horses’ backgrounds- abandonment, starvation, misbehavior. The kids connect with the horses. When the kids arrive they give up their phones (with some grumbling), go in the field with the horses, and they have a new perspective being with these large animals. By the end of the day they can see what they accomplished and see the horses are thriving no matter what they’ve been through. When we see these kids later, the kids are much more open. Some come back and volunteer on their own.
Tell me about the estate planning you offer.
Six years ago a horse named Franny, who is near 40, came to us when her owner passed away. The executor (from out of town) came. There was no money in the estate, and the executor was unaware of the horse. He didn’t want horse to be sent to auction. Aiken took the horse. This encouraged us to start a program for estate planning. When people are there for tours (open 6 days a week), we talk about making a plan for animals- horses, dogs, whatever. Passive thing is to assume someone in the family will take it. Nine out of ten times there isn’t space, time, money, desire to do it.
How does Aiken receive funding?
We are primarily funded through general donors. We also do multiple fundraisers throughout the year; try to do something different to keep it fun and interesting. We receive some grant money through groups like Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and Thoroughbred Charities of America. We also have received some local grants.
Do you have a story about a horse?
Unique Cat stayed with Aiken for almost four years. He was an older horse who was anxious all the time. He didn’t do anything wrong, just had a hot head. Finally he took a breath, and now he is in a new career teaching lessons to kids. We attribute it to the turnout. We let him be a horse, no matter how long it took. We’ve found that the longer time a horse is on the track, the longer time they need for turnout.
If people want to help your program, what can they do?
We always need volunteers. We have only three paid staff but have 65-70 horses at a time. Volunteers are vital. Volunteers can be hands-on with horses, man a booth at events, work with visitors doing tours, write grants, complete general paperwork, help with lawn mowing and fence fixing, assist in event planning. We are also glad to have people help get the word out about us. Of course, donations of money are accepted.