Rescue 101

Rescuing a horse may be as simple as adopting a horse from an existing rescue organization or as complex as pulling a horse directly from one of the hundreds of killpens in the United States.  Both approaches have risks and rewards.

There are over 160,000 horses this year that are at risk of slaughter.  Reports have shown that over 92% of these horses are serviceably sound for continued use.  Given the glut of unwanted horses, it still is hard to find the right horse for each owner.   The best advice is to rescue a horse because you want to save a life, not because you are looking for your next grande prix jumper.  The horse you rescue may arrive unhealthy, unsound or in need of training.  It is a risk – but it is rewarding to know that the horse you saved is alive because of your efforts and commitment.  The best advice is to lower your expectations and commit to making a lasting relationship with the horse you save, be patient, and know you are doing the right thing.   While ERN typically only provides funds to help horses and other (501c3) rescue organizations, there have been many occasions where ERN physically has rescued a horse, mostly younger horses (under the age of four).   We have had remarkable success.  The majority of horses have been sound and have an eerie sense about them.  It’s almost like they know that we were their savior.  The group of rescue horses we have worked with are all unusually accommodating, polite and willing to please.

     Remember– SADLY there are some horses that are not worth saving.  ERN tries to focus on saving those horses that can be saved and that have a good chance at a second life.  When there are so many at risk, choosing a horse that is too old, or too unsound or dangerous, will only prove costly in the end.  There are so many young, lithe horses deserving of a chance.  And, YES, it is hard not to save them all!

Rescuing a horse from a killpen/broker program is not for everyone.   You have to deal with whatever you have purchased, and there is NO guarantee. ERN has purchased horses from killbuyers only to have them humanely euthanized when they arrived.  AND that’s okay.  We did right thing, humane euthanasia is a better end-of-life than in the fate of a killbuyer!  Alternatively, if you adopt a horse from an existing rescue, your risks will be substantially lower.  By rescuing locally, you may open a stall up for the rescue organization to rescue a slaughter-bound horse.  Consider that rescues may be more suited with the expertise and patience for bring along and rehab killbuyer/broker owned horses, and look there first.

     If you choose to pull a horse directly from a killbuyer, there are many rescues that work with known killbuyers.  These organizations visit the killpens, photograph, and videotape a number of horses.  These horses are then posted on Facebook (see at risk horses).  Some horses posted  “Broker Owned” are more expensive than others.  The killbuyers buy a group of horses from auction.   They set the price of each horse.  Some horses are posted as “Broker Owned” for several weeks.  These horses are not necessarily slaughter-bound, however if they don’t sell for the higher price after a period of time, they are moved into the killpen and sent to slaughter.  It is a good rule of thumb that any horse under $400 is a candidate for shipping to slaughter. Killbuyers are business men.  They recognize the true value of a horse is only worth what someone is willing to pay.  They also realize the longer they wait for a higher price the lower their profits because they must continue to feed and care for the horses they have in ‘inventory.’   Killbuyers are at many horse auctions.  Less than $400 (depending on size) is the price point at which the killbuyers can begin to realize a profit through selling a horse as meat.  Any horse selling at auction at this price, or less, is at risk.

Want more advice?

If you are rescuing a horse from NJ, TX, PA, LA or even WA – chances are we have rescued a horse there before and have contact that can advice you on transportation, quarantine and veterinarians.  Send email to – for more urgent issues; call 978-273-8469.


There are many options to [transport horses] throughout the country.  If your new rescue has been through proper quarantine (see below), then you may use a commercial van.  One place to get quotes is  If you are working with killpen/broker lot horses, there are several pages on Facebook dedicated to transporting horses. HomeRUNs and Rescue Rangers are popular pages for transporting horses.  ERN uses Load and Go on Facebook quite often.


Quarantine is essential for a minimum of 21 days.  If a horse shows any symptoms, quarantine should be extended to 21 days after the last symptoms.  Check with your veterinarian for more specifics on your horse.  Most horses have been exposed to contagious ailments that you don’t want in your barn.  There are many quarantine options associated with most killpens.

Extra Expenses

Finally, make sure you have saved up enough financial reserves to accommodate veterinarian, blacksmith and dental costs.  Most horses arrive in need of some physical care.

Don’t forget your local rescue.

     Although rescuing a horse from slaughter is appealing to the soul, it is RISKY.  To mitigate your risk, you may want to look locally for your next horse.  Local rescues tend to give you more assurance on the horse you adopt.  Typically the horses are up to date on shots and healthy.  Most rescues are honest about the horses they place and many are willing to take them back if a new home does not work out to expectations.  To find rescue local to you, and search the “Equine Welfare Network” by zipcode.  This search will return only qualified 501c3 Rescue Organizations.