Many types of horse programs love to get donations. Those that get the most are camps, schools, and therapeutic programs. The ideal situation is when someone wants to give you their horse that is not being used for whatever personal reason they may give, and this horse is well and correctly trained, good with beginners, great on the trail, has wonderful manners, and no vices, and you have known him for years. Like this is really going to happen. NOT!

Unfortunately, that situation may happen once in five hundred donations. Most of the time, whether the donor is well-intentioned or not, the horse has something wrong with it. Problems may include medical and/or soundness problems, lack of or poor training, and aggressive or bad behavior. Now, obviously, there are no perfect horses. What we need to do is learn how to effectively evaluate horses before we accept them into our programs and before we get stuck with someone else’s problem or vet bills.

The largest reason why programs end up with unsuitable horses is a lack of knowledge about the horse and a lack of experience on the part of the person accepting the horse. The following guidelines are designed to help in evaluating equine candidates for donation to your program. Many of the guidelines are the same as those for purchasing a horse and the reason is simple. It costs just as much to feed an unsuitable donated horse as it does to feed a suitable one. The goal is the same: to find a horse that can willingly do the job required.


1. Knowledgeable person either from your staff or in the area needs to help evaluate the animal in question. Some people may charge for this service, others may not, but if you must pay it is better to spend the money and have the animal properly evaluated than save a few dollars and make a costly mistake. The fee may range from $25 – $100.

2. Establish criteria for evaluating the animal for pour program: size, age, training, minimum confirmation requirements. The horse must be able to walk, trot, and canter, both directions on the correct lead and have the necessary special skills required by your program such as jumping.

3. Observe the horse first in his own environment where he is comfortable. Don’t just have someone drop him off.

4. Horse’s history. Are there any previous illnesses or lameness? Is the horse current with vaccinations, coggins, worming, and teeth? It is a good idea to require all preventative medical care before a horse comes to your barn. Is the horse easy to handle? How does the horse handle medical treatment? If the horse is a mare, how is she during her heat cycles. It is pointless to accept a horse that needs three people to treat it medically or that must be laid off for a week every month of the summer, or whose behavior is erratic for long periods in the spring or fall.

5. Look at the overall health. What is the condition of the feet, coat and muscles? If there are problems, can they be solved easily? You do not want a long or expensive rehabilitation program. A horse in rehabilitation eats just as much as any other.

6. If the horse seems to be one that will work for your program, but you suspect underlying problems such as hidden lameness or recurring health problems, it is a good idea to have the vet do a pre-purchase exam for suitability for your program. The exam is cheaper than feeding a horse that you cannot use and easier on everybody than having to move a useless horse that everyone loves.

7. Many programs will insist on a 30-day trial period and then, if the horse works for the program, they will accept them as a donation. This works well and seems to keen the donated horses limited to usable horses and potential horse donors who are seriously concerned with finding a good home for their old standby. Others will not be willing to wait 30 days while you evaluate the horse in your program.

8. You should also consider requiring the owner to have an appraisal done so that there will be no disagreements or hard feelings about the value placed on the horse for tax purposes. Most donated horses are over-valued and often there can be hard feelings in the light of hard reality. The appraisal is especially important if you are dealing with more expensive horses where it may become necessary to protect your donor with a professional appraisal, and it will protect your program as well.

9. Always have a donation form that both parties sign stating that the donor gives unconditional and full ownership of a specific horse (name, breed, age, dollar value, etc.) on a specific date. This is preferable to a loan where the horse can be recovered by the owner with little or no notice, or any deal where the owner can call off the agreement. Sometimes horses are "donated" to a program with the proviso that should the horse for any reason become unsuitable that rather than being sold it must either be "retired" or returned to the donor. Few programs have the budget to "retire" oldsters so as difficult as it may seem, make sure that you have ultimate control of the horses that you decide to accept.


Contributed By: Brenda Tallmon Hendrix (AAHS Safety-Certified Instructor/Trainer)

Reprinted with permission of the copyright holder and the American Association for Horsemanship Safety.  P.O. Box 39, Fentress, TX 78622.