By Prof Mary Pardee, M. ED
I am a professional beggar. This may be a strange statement given that I am gainfully employed in my fourteenth year as a Professor in the School of Equine Studies at Lake Erie College and as the Director of their riding program. Why am I reduced to soliciting fellow professionals, friends, and strangers? I need horses for my riding program.
I get phone calls, texts, and emails all year long from hunter/jumper and dressage professionals across the United States who are looking for good employees. They want that hard working, well trained young person who will be an asset to their business. I recently sent two undergraduate equine studies students to the Netherlands to ride for the summer at a prestigious sales barn. They cleaned stalls, groomed, rode and even showed. One day I received a message saying, “They’re great! Send me two more just like them every year.” Quite a compliment to those students and to our program, but without the correct horses to train them on we can’t produce those riders.
Donating appropriate horses to collegiate riding programs is one of the single biggest things the equestrian community can do to help with the development of the next generation of equestrian professionals. While it may not generate the same amount of money for the owner as a sale, there are tax benefits to donating to nonprofit colleges (consult with your tax accountant for specifics). Plus, good programs provide a loving, consistent home for your horse.
First, let me dispel some firmly held myths and rumors about donating horses to collegiate programs. I can’t speak for all programs, but at Lake Erie we don’t sell our horses. The intention is that this is their forever home for the remainder of their work life. When they tell us they are done with their job, we find safe retirement homes for them. Our horses never go to a sale or an unknown adopter. Sometimes we have to make the difficult decision to euthanize a horse. This is rare, done with great deliberation, and when we know they will not have a quality life due to their health issues. We owe it to all horses to give them care and compassion, which sometimes means a dignified death rather than an unhappy life.
Well run programs like Lake Erie College do not over use their horses. Our horses typically work once a day, five to six days a week, and rarely jump more than twice a week. They get extended breaks over school holidays. For many of these former show horses these are the longest breaks they’ve had in their life.
Lake Erie College is very fortunate to have received some amazing horses over the years. Over the last 15 years we have hosted and provided horses for the Emerging Athletes Program National Training session twice, IDA National finals twice, IEA Nationals, and countless IHSA shows. Our students have successfully competed on our school horses at rated horse shows at places like Kentucky Horse Park and World Equestrian Center. Some of the horses go on to excel in our Therapeutic Horsemanship program, providing valuable therapy for members of the community who have physical and/or developmental challenges. However, the need for suitable horses for collegiate programs never stops. Horses age out of the work, decide they don’t want to work anymore, or simply need to retire due to soundness issues.
Our horses have body condition assessments done twice yearly by a professional nutritionist. We follow rigorous health care protocols and do joint injections and preventative maintenance as needed. We are serious about good saddle fit, thoughtful riding, and appropriate placement of the horses in the right classes and with the right riders. Some have never left the property since the day they arrived because they didn’t like the travel required by a show career. Others have changed careers entirely. We listen to these horses and respect them. We don’t need them to be ready to meet a competition timeline or expectations of show ring success. As long as they are sound and sane their quirks become teachable moments, not something that ruins their marketability.
So, back to the begging. What kind of horses are we looking for? A solid citizen who is still sound and sane. I personally hate the term, “school horse sound.” To me, that is often an excuse for using horses that limp. Programs are usually fine with horses that need daily maintenance, like anti-inflammatory drugs, but most cannot use a horse that can’t trot sound. Most programs are not able to do all the cutting edge therapy that horses on the circuit get so horses with chronic, high maintenance issues are rarely a good fit.
What can we take? We can take a horse that doesn’t have two good lead changes, one that is a 4–8 faulter, one with a less than perfect jump or one who will never get a ribbon in the hack in any company. Got a hunter that moves great but doesn’t want to jump anymore? Yes, please! What about a horse who is great at home but melts down in the show ring? Sure—they never have to leave the property with us.
If and when the time comes to part with your horse I hope you find the perfect home. If that home is as a valued member of a reputable college program then rest secure in the knowledge that they will be an important “Professor” for many students for years to come.
Important Questions to Ask & Common Donation Procedures
1. Be very direct about your wishes for your horse. Ask if they ever sell horses that are donated. Ask for a written “Right of First Refusal” if the program decides to sell (if they do this) or retire your horse.
2. Tell them if you wish to be notified about any major change with your horse’s health that may require retirement or euthanasia.
3. Ask for referrals from previous donors. Check the credentials of the faculty and staff who will be teaching on and caring for your horses. Go visit, if you can, and see if the horses are happy. Get confirmation about their “end of use” plans for their horses (retirement to verified homes, sale, euthanasia policy, etc.) and see if they consistently honor “right of first refusal” for donors.
4. Most programs require a trial period with the horses. This is critical for the horse’s long term success there. Some are just not suited for life in a collegiate program, but the trial period helps to minimize bad matches.
5. Be honest about your horse’s veterinary history and behavior. The more we know the better we can find the right place for them in the program OR we can save everyone time and money by telling you if it won’t be a good fit.
6. If the donation value is over $5,000.00 you will need an appraisal. Also, if the donation value of your horse is over $5,000.00 ask if the college plans to keep your horse for at least three years. If they get rid of your horse before three years are up, you may get a notification from the IRS reducing your donation tax credit.
7. There is paperwork involved! We are not private businesses, and are accountable to our college’s business office.
8. If your horses is accepted for a trial it is typical for the program to ask the donor to pay for shipping. We usually have large herds to maintain and budgets to work within so shipping payments may not be an option for us.
Mary has been a member of the faculty at Lake Erie College for 14 years and has over 35 years of experience as a teacher and trainer, specializing in hunters and equitation. Mary’s students have competed successfully at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Wellington, FL), Kentucky Horse Park, World Equestrian Center, USEF Pony Finals, IHSA National Finals, and many others. Mary believes in a classical approach to riding, teaching strong basics in dressage as well as jumping, with the goal of creating a “thinking rider” who develops a partnership with their horse.