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Why I fed the trolls, chapter 2

This week, I joined a “Gaited Horses” group on Facebook in order to promote some of our available horses.

Within 12 hours, someone was asking whether they’d be allowed to breed an adopted mare, after being told that our contract has a no-breed clause. Now, why is this such a big deal? If you’ve followed us for any length of time, you’ve seen the cases where we’ve brought in, rehabilitated, retrained, and rehomed multiple horses from backyard breeders who breed mares until they can no longer carry a foal, kept way too many horses on way too little property, or in unsanitary conditions, or were simply overwhelmed by numbers. We simply will not contribute to the ongoing, very real problem of overbreeding unremarkable horses by owners who have zero plans for the horses’ futures – those they own and those they create. Breeding because foals are cute or you want your kids to see the miracle of life or your horse is pretty is not a reason to breed. We don’t want to rescue our adopted horses’ offspring in 5 years.

Within 24 hours, we were accused of “making a killing” on selling horses but calling it adoption – on a post about a horse with a $500 adoption fee. I personally work way too hard and put way too much time, sweat, personal money, and tears into this organization to be accused on Facebook of ripping someone off, doing something dishonest, or somehow profiting from it. Our founders and board members do even more than I do – freely. It COSTS them money every month, every year, to keep helping animals. Safe Harbor is a 100% volunteer organization. It always has been. Its volunteers give time and energy to the animals because its something they believe in. We absolutely need donations to feed, farrier, vet, and train the herd. We are grateful for each and every dollar our donors feel moved to give. But, anyone who clicks through our adoptable animals can quickly tell that we don’t profit from adoptions.

For example –

Joe Babe has 2 YEARS of dressage training on him; his fee is 2 months’ worth of training. We lose money every month we feed and shoe him and he stays, and yet, he will be with us until his right person comes along. Rosie had surgery to remove an eye when she arrived. We have been caring for her for TWO YEARS, and she is FREE to the right home who will care for her forever. On average, we vet ($150), farrier ($30-$60 per month), and feed a horse for 4-6 MONTHS before they find a new home. We are fully transparent on a horse’s history and our experience with each horse – our goal is successful lifetime placement, so it follows that honesty is the only policy. (This is not something you can guarantee when buying a horse outright, by the way.) Our volunteers give space in their pastures, gas in their trucks transporting horses, time hauling hay, sweat cleaning stalls, time putting on events…….they do it for love of the horse, the desire to make a difference, the desire to right a wrong, the desire to help. If anyone is getting rich off rescue, I’d love to meet them and find out their secrets, because anyone I know who is doing it right is doing much the same as we are.

Now, in fairness, kill buyer Facebook pages have grayed the area for some as to what is “rescue” and what is real rescue. See our posts here and here.  By the way, that second post – the sweet young Standardbred that was beyond saving? Safe Harbor donors paid his vet bills. I paid his “bail,” transport, food, medical supplies, and burial out of my pocket. I didn’t think it was fair for the rescue – or its donors – to ask for reimbursement of these expenses we’d thought would be covered when we agreed to get him out of the broker lot he was suffering in. In turn, I was told I was a terrible person for euthanizing this horse that I watched fall repeatedly as he tried to run, struggle to get up when he laid down to roll, and who whinnied happily for me every time he heard the back door open. I cried as I made a headstone for this would-be dream horse of my childhood that people so totally failed. But sure, we’re all over here making a fortune off rescue, just calling it adoption so that we can take people’s money.

If you scroll through our adoptable list, you’ll notice a number of horses that have “come back” to Safe Harbor. This is part of the adoption process; our lifetime safety net. This means that if you can’t afford your adopted horse anymore – your kid outgrows the beginner-broke horse you adopt – you get divorced and lose the farm – we will either bring the horse back to a foster if we have a spot, or we will assist you as the adopter in finding a new home, including advertising and reference checks.

On the flip side, if you adopt a horse from us for a $400 fee as a green broke, young horse with a bright future, you put 3 years into making the horse an upper-level eventer, and someone offers you $25,000 for that Safe Harbor horse – all you need to do is ‘vet’ your buyer, check their references, and both of you sign the transfer contract that’s on our website. We don’t need to know the sales price – we simply require that the safety net follows the horse for its entire life, so that if that horse is EVER in need of a safe place, for any reason, that it can always come back to us. And of course – we love updates.

After this guy trolled hard and couldn’t find any more ammo, he said we aren’t a rescue if we use professional trainers. OK then. Tell that to the foster who has put HOURS upon hours into Mystic, giving him the basics a horse his age needs to know. Tell that to the foster who worked with a volunteer for months to gain confidence working with her difficult mare and they are both better for that time. Tell that to the foster who brought the starved thoroughbred back from skin and bones to solid walk/trot/canter. I’ve trained my share for myself and others – and been paid for it. For 3 years, I evaluated and put training time into Safe Harbor horses as a volunteer. Happily without pay, happy to make a difference, happy to help the horses. Other volunteers have done the same across the life of the organization. Given that we all also have lives and work jobs outside our foster farms, that generally means that if we have a totally green (unstarted) horse come in, it’s going to go to a professional who starts horses for a living for a minimum of 30 days of training – unless one of us has the time to start it and is comfortable doing so.  We won’t adopt out any horse that is totally green unless it’s a horse like Mystic who is too young to start under saddle. That’s just one more protection for the horse, to ensure a stable, lifetime placement.

Finally, I told this troll that we are happy to disclose our expenses if someone is concerned how we spend their donations. If anyone has a question about a horse’s vet bill, what it costs to feed a particular horse per week/month, what their farrier requirements are, or anything similar, I hope that they will reach out. We as an organization have zero problems sharing screenshots of receipts with our donors or with a prospective adopter who wants to know what a specific horse’s upkeep costs are per month.

I do hope that if anyone has concerns about donating to Safe Harbor – or any other 501(c)3 nonprofit rescue group – that you will research the organization, feel comfortable asking questions, and feel at ease with what your hard-earned money is used for. We’ve gone to great lengths to gain additional certifications through GFAS to document and demonstrate the way in which our rescue operates. Everything we do, we do for the animals in our care. It’s just as simple as that.

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