Demographics of Equine Donation and Adoption Examined

Horse rescues and adoption facilities typically deal with two groups of people: those who are there to adopt a horse and those there to relinquish a horse. While each situation has its own set of circumstances, the USDA recently funded a study to determine just who is relinquishing the animals and who is adopting them.

Kathryn Holcomb, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, led the study with the goal of characterizing and identifying the demographics of owners who relinquish to and owners who adopt horses from nonprofit rescue organizations throughout the United States.

The nationwide survey of 144 nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary groups yielded data on 280 horses relinquished to their organizations from 2006 to 2009. Of the 225 horses deemed available for adoption, just 73 had been placed in new homes at the time of the survey.

 The survey results revealed some key differences between relinquishing and adoptive horse owners, including:

  • About 66% of relinquishing owners were single women, while 62% of those adopting were families or couples;
  • Reported  incomes of relinquishing owners were evenly distributed among four possible income categories while most adoptive owners’ incomes were fairly evenly distributed between the upper three categories;
  • Most relinquishing owners had prior horse-owning experience and many still owned at least one horse; and
  • While relinquishing owners used their horses for a wide variety of purposes, most adoptive owners planned to use the horses for pleasure riding/driving or as a companion horse.

“These results report that owner financial hardship is responsible for many relinquished horses and point to the importance of targeting both new and experienced horse owners and adopters for education and efforts to help current owners keep their horses through difficult times,” Holcomb said.

The researchers believe “these findings will serve to help develop effective education programs for (promoting) responsible horse ownership and optimize acceptance criteria and successful adoption strategies of horses by nonprofit organizations.”

The study, “Characteristics of Relinquishing and Adoptive Owners of Horses Associated with U.S. Nonprofit Equine Rescue Associations,” was published in Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science in January, 2012. It can be viewed online

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.