Equine Donation: An Option for Your Horse?

Is equine donation the right option for you and your horse? We spoke with two experts in the field to find out.

Top photo: “Exceptional Zip” or Rudy, donated to a school program
All photos courtesy of Stier Equine Donations unless otherwise noted

It’s back-to-school time for thousands of students all across the country. Simultaneously, summer show circuits are winding down. Perhaps you’re looking at your high-caliber reiner or your seasoned 4′ hunter and thinking it’s time to retire them.

Donation-based equestrian organizations, including college or university programs and therapeutic riding schools, are always in need of quality horsepower. Most of these organizations do not have a budget to purchase horses and thrive on the generous donations and loans from horse owners seeking a suitable home for their former show animals. On the other side of the equation, horse owners whose animals are slowing down in their competitive careers seek secure homes where they know the horses will receive excellent care (and lots of love). In the current horse economy, it’s not always possible to sell horses whose top competitive days might be behind them–so donation can provide a happy solution.

Lindsey Stier, a certified equine appraiser, acts as agent through Stier Equine Donations for horse owners seeking to place their animals. With experience both as a collegiate competitor at an NCAA school and as a coach at a donation-based private high school equestrian program, she has a natural talent for matching horses with just the right program, whether it’s a top-notch NCAA school, a small university fielding an Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) team, or a therapy program seeking semi-retired steady mounts. Donations are tax-deductible, allowing owners to write off the horse’s appraised market value, so Stier can provide the appropriate service for all parts of the donation process.

Gold Pine Star or "Sara," donated to a school program

Gold Pine Star or “Sara,” donated to a school program

“Horses that are good candidates lead excellent lives.  Universities with strong veterinary programs are adept at managing horses that may require more constant medical care.  Also, with world-caliber riders doing the bulk of training and exercise at the NCAA level, some horses with behavioral issues or idiosyncrasies really flourish,” states Stier.

Nancy Kohler, equestrian program director at Alfred University and USEF “r” judge, agrees. “Horses seem to thrive in our environment, which is nice to see.” Kohler has welcomed several horses who could no longer show for behavioral reasons turn into steady and reliable school mounts thanks a lower-stress environment, as well as horses who could not physically take the rigors of high-end showing but make excellent lower-level animals.

However, both Stier and Kohler caution that not every horse will be an ideal candidate for donation. “They have to have desirable qualities for therapy programs or competition programs to be candidates.  Non profits are required to keep horses they accept for a minimum time period, so they really try to ensure that the horses are a good long-term fit,” Stier comments. Kohler has mandated a 30-day trial period, which protects both her program, potential donations and horse owners: “It gives us a chance to really see the horse in work. In most programs the horse has to be able to tolerate a lot of different rides; that means a different set of hands, seat, and legs every time someone gets on it.  And a horse can be a really good quality horse with an excellent show record and be beautifully trained but that does not mean it will fit well into such a program.  As much as those of us accepting donated horse wish for that high end, fancy show horse, the way the horse responds to this environment is just as important as the show record.”

"Gandalf," donated to a school program. Photo courtesy of Alfred University.

“Gandalf,” donated to a school program.
Photo courtesy of Alfred University.

While many horse owners will reach out directly to programs to try to place their horses, Stier’s professional services offer the advantage of already having connections to many kinds of programs all across the country and a proven track record for successful matches. However, horse owners should understand that programs can only accept horses that they need. For Kohler and Alfred University, that means two types: “the steady eddy that can tolerate the up/downers and the other end of the spectrum, the horse that can jump 3’ and turn in a lovely equitation round.  We have plenty of the middle-of-the-road type horses.” Other schools and programs will have a different set of needs, so owners should search thoroughly to find the best match for their horses.

Ultimately, a good match is a win-win-win for all parties: the schools can teach their students to ride on high-quality horses retired from the show pen, while horse owners receive tax benefits, and can also choose the first right of refusal if they wish should the horse reach the end of its useful years in the program. Owners also get peace of mind knowing that their horse will receive excellent care as well as lots of one-on-one love from students. Everyone wins when owners’ generosity benefits young people–but the horses win most of all.

"Rufus," donated to a school program.

“Rufus,” donated to a school program.

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