Each Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse world. Today, we recognize Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society.
Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society is a registered 501(c)(3) organization whose mission statement is as follows:
Our mission is to improve the lives of equines by educating and helping owners, assisting law enforcement agencies, rehabilitating abused and neglected equines, and placing them into safe, permanent homes.
BEHS strives to achieve our mission by building a welcoming, transparent environment.
We spoke with Dr. Jennifer Williams, executive director of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, to learn more about the organization’s good work.
HN: How did BEHS get started?
JW: We were founded in February 2005. Several of us had been involved with another rescue organization, and we decided there was a need for another rescue in Texas with a different focus/emphasis. The people who broke off invited friends, and we had about 30-40 people involved in setting up the rescue.
It was a really collaborative group – the logo, mission, direction, policies were discussed and voted on as a group. The board members and officers were proposed by and elected by the entire group.
Those early days were SO exciting. We did most of our work via email (because we were all spread out – we were organizing to cover both Texas and Arkansas, and that’s big area!). Some days, we probably had over 100 emails to our email list.
Once we got policies ironed out and our basic structure set up, things slowed down a little and we got to focus on helping horses. The nice thing was we had our structure, policies, and plans in place so we could really focus on the horses (instead of getting horses and going “What do we do now?!”)
HN: Can you describe your facility, staff and volunteers?
JW: We don’t have a facility, we work solely through foster homes.
Like anything, there are benefits and drawbacks of only using foster homes. The horses get a LOT of one on one attention, and the foster homes really get to know their foster horses and can tell us a lot about them. Too often, though, they fall in love and adopt their foster – and we have fewer spaces for horses!
Eventually, we would like a facility where we could do all of our intake and then assign horses to foster homes from there.
We only have one paid staff – that’s the Executive Director (me). I’m responsible for coordinating with the Board of Directors and all of our volunteers to make sure our horses are cared for and that we have the funds to do so. I coordinate our Bluebonnet Horse Expo, write grants and/or work with volunteer grant writers, send out newsletters, write and distribute press releases, manage volunteers, and a million other things – most of my work is NOT hands on, although I do always try to have a foster horse or two. I like being able to walk outside and see the reason we do all this work.
We have about 100 volunteers. Right now, we have about 40 people fostering horses. We have volunteers who check up on adopted and foster horses, check out neglect investigations, perform administrative tasks, help organize our advertising campaigns, and much more. We have a volunteer Board of Directors and about fifteen people who are coordinators – our Fostering Coordinator, Adoption Coordinator, Inspection Coordinator, etc. Without volunteers, we wouldn’t exist.
HN: Where do your equines come from — lawful seizures, owner surrenders, auction pulls?
JW: Our number one source of horses is law enforcement cases: this includes seizures due to neglect, abandoned equines, and strays. That means that most of our horses are in very poor shape when they arrive, haven’t had veterinary or farrier care in a long time, and have unknown histories/training.
Occasionally we take horses from owner surrenders – that’s when we have extra foster homes and neglect cases have slowed down.
HN: How are you funded?
JW: Our funding comes from donations, donations, and more donations!
Our biggest fundraiser is the Bluebonnet Horse Expo, which is coming up on October 22, 2016 at the Travis County Expo Center in Austin, Texas. The Expo is a day of horses. It includes training/riding/horse care demonstrations by equine professionals, a silent auction of horse-themed home décor, jewelry, and clothing, a western/ranch/horse-themed art show and sale, vendor area, live auction of saddles, a tack sale area, horse and horse adoptions. It also is home to the Bluebonnet Rescue Horse Training Challenge, a competition in which trainers and foster homes take a Bluebonnet horse for four months and then compete over an obstacle course and in a freestyle competition. We normally offer about fifty horses for adoption, including the ones competing in the Challenge.
For the month of August, we’re selling t-shirts to help with funds for a bunch of incoming horses – the website for that is https://www.booster.com/bluebonnet.
In the later part of August and into September, we’ll be working with Special Horses to have another fundraising for these new incoming horses. Their website is http://www.specialhorses.org, and they’ll add the fundraiser with its own link here in the next week or so (once we finish setting it up).
We also offer memberships to the rescue to raise more funds for the rescue. We have members all over the world! Memberships start at $25 for 12 months, and members get access to members-only email lists and Facebook groups and often learn about what’s going on in the rescue before the general public. The most important part of being a member is the satisfaction that goes into knowing your membership fee is helping needy horses!
HN: What’s your rehabilitation and adoption process?
JW: Most of our horses come in emaciated, and the refeeding process is tailored to each horse. We look to see whether or not she/he was being fed at all before coming to us, if there’s other factors (age, pregnancy, nursing, health issues), etc. in order to set the refeeding schedule.
We have a vet evaluation soon after the horses arrive. We get them vaccinated for VEWT, flu/rhino, rabies, and WNV. We also get strangles vaccines to horses under the age of four. At the same time, we pull a Coggins. Once the horse is healthy enough for sedation, we have a veterinarian examine their teeth and perform any necessary dental work, and all males are gelded.
When the horse is healthy and all veterinary care and farrier work is up to date, we assess their training level. We have a handful of foster homes who are able and willing to do this, and we send other horses to trainers.
We generally don’t put horses up for adoption until they’re rehabilitated and assessed, although we make exceptions if a previous adopter wants to adopt and finish rehabilitation or if the foster home wants to adopt.
For the first two weeks a horse is up for adoption, the foster home has “first dibs” – after that, the foster home can still adopt unless someone else has already put in an application for that horse.
We have an adoption application that asks questions about the adopter’s experience, what he/she wants to do with the horse he/she adopts, and some basic horse care questions. We also ask questions about the facility where the horse will live and require several photos that show the condition of the facility and other horses at the facility. We also ask for a personal, veterinary, and equine professional reference, and all adopters must join the rescue.
Once an adopter is approved, he/she can go visit the horse(s) he/she is interested in. When he/she finds the right horse, we require an adoption contract and a fee. The adoption fee is based on the horse’s age, health, training level, etc. The adoption contract stipulates that the adopter will not sell, give away, lease out, or send to slaughter their adopted horse. They agree not to breed the horse, and they agree to return the horse to Bluebonnet if they cannot keep him/her.
We conduct follow-up visits at 2, 6, 12, and 24 months post adoption, and if there are problems we may schedule additional visits. We try hard to work with our adopters to resolve problems, but we will take horses back that aren’t working out. If an adopter returns a horse within 30 days, he/she gets an adoption fee refund. If they return in the first year, they’ll get half their adoption fee back.
HN: What’s one thing you wish people know about running a horse rescue or the work that you do?
JW: It is hard to pick one thing!
Rescue work is a combination of hard, heartbreaking days when you want to throw in the towel and awesome, joyful days when you cannot imagine doing anything other than rescue work. I got into this because I love horses and want to help them, and since 1998 I’ve personally been able to help over 1500 horses (working for two different rescues). I didn’t get involved in rescue work to meet people or make friends, but I’ve met the best people in the world thanks to the rescue. Every day, I share the joys, and the sorrows, with this excellent team of members, volunteers, foster homes, adopters, and donors. We’ve become a family for the horses who didn’t have one, and we’ve become a source of support and love for each other. The people who give so much are inspiring. I’m so lucky to have this passion and to live this life.
To learn more about Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, please visit the organization’s website. You can also “like” BEHS on Facebook.
If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected]. Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.