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The Right Way to Take Care of a Rescue Horse

I am an animal lover who cares about the well-being of pets. I have a soft spot for dogs. I also love horses.

This is Shonac two weeks after being rescued. He is still malnourished-looking, but he has greatly improved and is healing from a fungal skin disease.

This is Shonac two weeks after being rescued. He is still malnourished-looking, but he has greatly improved and is healing from a fungal skin disease.

How to Take Care of a Rescue Horse

Right this minute, horses are being neglected and abused somewhere. Slaughter is also a possibility. Most of these neglected horses end up at auctions. All states have them; you probably have horse auctions close to where you live. In some places, the auctions take place once a week, monthly, or even daily.

These auctions are a good place to find horses that need rescue. Please consider going to auctions if you are in the market for a horse. Horses don't necessarily need to be registered with a perfect pedigree and lineage to make a good pet!

You may be saving the horse from ending up in a slaughterhouse and, consequently, on somebody's table in Belgium for dinner.

There are more and more equine rescues in the United States, but most have limited funds and resources for buying and taking care of rescue horses. Because of this, many are unable to rescue all the horses that need help.

You can help by attending an auction and taking a horse (or several, if you have the room and resources) home with you!

How Rescue Horses Are Different

Rescue horses often do not function the same way as horses who have been taken care of properly. They may have gone without proper diet and health care for a long time, which can affect their metabolic and digestive systems.

Coat and Hoofs

They may have diseases or be infested with parasites. Most often, they have not had any proper hoof care and are subject to founder and other hoof problems. Their teeth almost always need floating or other attention, especially in the case of senior horses.

They may have skin conditions that need tending to. Fungal infections are quite common. They need the prompt assessment of a competent veterinarian and special care to ease them back into health without shocking their systems.

Feeding a Rescue Horse

The first thing you will think you should do is "feed the horse up." Wrong! That is the worst thing you can do! The most essential thing to keep in mind is that any adjustments should be made gradually and in tiny increments.

If you are keeping the horse in a stall or dry lot, keep fresh, clean grass hay (grass, not alfalfa) and water in front of them at all times. These are two diet staples they can have unlimited access to.

But as to graining, only feed the horse one very small handful of a complete pelleted food 3-5 times per day. If you give them more, you could colic the horse. A 10-11% protein mix is adequate.

After about a week or so, if the horse shows no sign of distress, increase the amount of grain to 1/2 lb. three times daily until you reach the amount specified by your vet as a normal daily intake for the particular horse.

If the horse continues to tolerate the diet change, you should be able to increase the daily total ration by one pound every ten days. If your rescued horse is a senior horse, it should receive senior pellets instead of regular feed, as regular feed is too hard on their digestive systems.

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It takes horses a long time to recover from being undernourished. Don't be discouraged. It may take up to a year for the horse to achieve good health. Usually, though, you will be able to see a marked difference for the better after a week or two. After that, progress is slow. Remember, it took the horse a long time to get that way!

Health and Quarantine

A newly rescued horse should always be quarantined. If they are harboring diseases or parasites, you won't want them infecting any other horses you may have. Generally, quarantine should last for at least two weeks.

Strangles (Streptococcus equi) requires 10 days of incubation before the horse begins to show signs of infection. It is better for the rescued horse to be kept apart from other horses during its recuperation to reduce stress due to fighting for food, herd dominance, etc.

The horse should have a Coggins test done and you should wait and make sure the results are negative. It may take a few days to get the results back. At the auctions, there is supposed to be a veterinarian there who certifies that the horses are Coggins negative. You should ask to see a negative Coggins on the horse before taking it home with you. Being on the safe side is always best.

Keep the horse as clean, dry, and comfortable as possible. And make sure the first thing you do is call your vet out to look at the horse to determine what health concerns the horse may have. The vet's advice is the main advice you should defer to and follow!

Photo #1 - This is "Sugar Candy," a pony with extremely overgrown hooves and founder.  Her hooves were actually much worse than what they look like in this photo.  About 6 inches more of the hooves were buried in soft dirt that you can't see here.

Photo #1 - This is "Sugar Candy," a pony with extremely overgrown hooves and founder. Her hooves were actually much worse than what they look like in this photo. About 6 inches more of the hooves were buried in soft dirt that you can't see here.

Hooves and Parasites

The other important thing you need to do is call your farrier right away and get him to look at your rescued horse's hooves. Especially if the hooves are overgrown or look foundered. Hoof care is extremely important in a horse's life!

In the photo above is an example of what shape a rescued horse's hooves might be in. This is Sugar Candy, a pony I rescued from a local auction. When they brought her out into the sale ring, everyone laughed at her and called her "Snowshoes." Of course she had to come home with me!

Her hooves were actually much worse than what they look like in this photo. About six inches more of the hooves were buried in soft dirt that you can't see here.

It took about a year and monthly farrier visits to get her hooves halfway normal. Her bones had grown into an abnormal position, and she was foundered, which was very painful and made it difficult for her to walk.

There are different opinions about parasite removal in rescue horses. As a general rule of thumb, the rescue horse should be fed pyrantel tartrate (daily wormer) for 2–4 weeks, then at four weeks, they should be given ivermectin according to the horse's weight, then 6–8 weeks later, they should be wormed with fenbendazole, and then continue with a regular worming rotation program.

It is not a good idea to give Quest/moxidectin while feeding horses the pyrantel tartrate daily wormer medicine. Consult your veterinarian about your horse's worming needs.

Social Issues and My Experience

Rescue horses have other issues, too. Either they have been abused or they have been stuck in a pasture or a dry lot somewhere and no one paid any attention to them at all. You will find that your rescue horse may be headshy, may bite or kick, or may have other bad habits that you will have to work on.

The horse may not be used to being near people. Remember here that it took the horse a long time to get this way, and it will take time and patience to get the horse to trust you and learn to do what you want him to do. Horses require attention and care every day, day after day. Be patient with the horse, and you will be rewarded.

The photo at the beginning of the article is of Shonac about two weeks after I brought him home from a local horse auction. He has muddy legs from wading in the pond. He probably doesn't look very good to you, but to me he looked wonderful considering what he looked like when I found him.

His hipbones stuck out at least a foot on either side, head all gouged and bleeding, rain rot all over his head and in his eyes. That's what the pink area around his eyes is. He was really a mess. In this picture he had filled out considerably and was up to 1/2 lb of senior pellets 3 times a day, plus all the grass and water he could eat.

He couldn't get enough of grazing! He had been kept in a dry lot with no food or water! The vet said he was about 20 years old. He was so malnourished he could barely stand up or walk when I first brought him home.

Shonac was an Appaloosa who did the "Indian Shuffle." Underneath the white, his skin had black spots all over like a Dalmation. Everyone said, "he is so ugly!", but he was a very gentle horse, and anyone could do anything with him—little kids could walk around under his belly and pull on his tail and he didn't mind a bit. Shonac is an Indian name which means something like "he who survives great hardship, but achieves great fortune at the end." I thought it fit him perfectly.

Shonac lived for 2 1/2 yrs. after being rescued. His last days were spent on a 21 acre farm, eating good Kentucky grass in the company of 14 other horses. Shonac was really the beginning of rescue for me. Sadly, he has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I miss my friend.

More Information About Rescue Horse Care, Health, and Training

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has developed a new resource guide titled "Care Guidelines for Equine Rescue and Retirement Facilities." The guide is designed to help the non-veterinary caregiver successfully provide care to a rescued horse or a horse in need of rehabilitation.

Subjects addressed in the guide include basic health management and nutrition, refeeding the starved horse, caring for the geriatric horse, and determining when euthanization is necessary for humane reasons.

"Care Guidelines for Equine Rescue and Retirement Facilities" is available free of charge from the AAEP office. To request a copy, call 800-443-0177 or send an e-mail to

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Robin and Clyde Campos from San Antonio. Texas on February 07, 2020:

How long do you wait to say afound horse is levally yours? Can we register him later?

MagicStarER (author) from Western Kentucky on December 07, 2010:

Please consult a vet for this diarrhea problem, needs fecal testing probably.... on December 06, 2010:

Purchased a horse 4 months ago and have problems with diarrhea some times. Any advice would be greatly accepted. He is a 15yr old Quarter horse and was neglected last winter and lost a lot of weight. He has gained back a lot but still has diarrhea. Thanks and please share any advice.

MagicStarER (author) from Western Kentucky on February 01, 2010:

To MEEESHELL: This is all very excellent advice from someone who obviously knows what they are talking about! Thank you very much for adding so much to this hub! Remember: Always rely on your vet's advice before beginning treatments!

MEEESHELL on January 29, 2010:

Grass Hay, Probiotics and Beet pulp are very good at starting an emaciated horse on. I always put my rescues on a dose of probiotics in the am/pm, feed low sugar/protein feeds and feed several meals daily. Slowly bulk their grain (NO CORN-Good quality Senior that is not too high in protein is good-like LMF etc.) and Alfalfa--literally handfuls to start--(UC Davis has a good article on Alfalfa and the Re-feeding syndrome), and put them on a good vitamin supplement. For our area, Horse Gard is preferred. I always worm my horses 1st with Fenbendazole, since it is the gentlest on the horses system at 1/3 of a dose a week for 3 weeks followed by Equimax in a month. I always purge my horses too, with a Panacur purge, then start on a daily wormer. Always keep Banamine available, if your horse starts to colic you may need it!! Of course, always talk to your Veterinarian first! I am a huge fan of also putting them on a Selenium supplement--most are deficient in my area and simply putting them on a vitamin supplement initally does not cut it--and always do bloodwork to make sure that there isn't any major organ damage that is irreversible--or causing the horses condition (EPSM etc.) As soon as the horse is strong and healthy enough, a good float will do wonders! I have a farrier that works with me on my rescue horses, she is patient and wonderful! It takes a lot of work and commitment, but is worth it!!!! Oh, and for parasite riddled horses I will put them on Lixotinic or Iron Power--it helps with Anemia and builds their immune systems!!!

MagicStarER (author) from Western Kentucky on December 03, 2009:

Thanks for reading, everyone!

k@ri - Shonac was a good name, wasn't it? I had not looked at his pic for a while, almost made me cry to look at him again. I miss him. He was a very good horse, so gentle and certainly did not deserve the treatment he had received. He got so he looked much better than that photo above, but his age and the years of malnutrition caught up with him in the end. He became senile towards the last - he would "get lost" in the woods in the back pasture and "forget" to come eat with the rest of the horses. I would have to walk way back out there twice a day and go get him to feed him - poor thing! One night he just laid down and did not get back up again...

Lee: I'm glad you have bonded with a horse and I assume you brought him home with you? (I'm hoping?) It is amazing the bond you can form with a horse. I loved mine like they were my children. They certainly add a lot of joy to your life - even if you can not ride them. They are wonderful companions, too - I loved to play with them and teach them tricks! I taught Magic Star how to make faces - LOL. She could also fetch - and loved to play pranks on me. If I would be out working on the fences, she would steal my bag of fence clips and run off with it. She was also a Houdini, and could get out of any enclosure as soon as you turned your back to her. (She would always time this at the worst possible moments - one time I had to go catch her in a downpour, slogging through 2 feet of mud! And she did not want to be caught!)

She led me on a merry chase, that's for sure! (And me, with my arthritis, and my breathing troubles, chasing a damn bratty horse through the mud...)

She used to, when she was still a baby, when I first got her, wait until you bent over and sat her feed dish on the ground, then she would kick you square in the butt! (I had to break her of that bad habit right off the bat! LOL!)

I broke her of the habit of kicking, but if she got in a bad mood, she would turn her butt towards you, and turn around and give you a look, as if saying, "Well, I COULD kick you if I really took a notion..." LOL! What a character she was! But really just a big spoiled baby! Horse babies act up just like human babies do...

Question: How do you cure a horse of kicking you?

Answer: Whack them in the butt with a plastic bucket, make sure it makes as much noise as possible! (This is what other horses do in a herd, and is what a horse understands. It does not hurt them, but makes a big noise and makes them think you are a boss horse kicking them!)

When you have a horse, you have to understand horsey language, actually BE a horse, yourself!

(I have lots of pictures of Magic Star - as soon as I can get them scanned onto my computer - I will write an article about her, since she is the namesake of my hubs.)

Lee Geurts from Green Bay, WI on December 03, 2009:

I recently bonded with a rescue horse at the barn. He was already "rehabilitated", but the process of bonding with him even now after his "recovery" was interesting. I love writing about some of my horse experiences as well.

Great article.


Kimberly Bunch from EAST WENATCHEE on September 02, 2009:

Love it, and Great Job! Here's one of mine:

justmesuzanne from Texas on May 12, 2009:

Thanks for a very informative and thorough Hub! :)

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on April 24, 2009:

Thank you for helping these poor creatures. Shonac was a wonderful name!

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