Friday Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding: Horse Haven of TN

Q&A with founder/director Nina L. Margetson.

Each Friday Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization that is doing good work in the horse world. This week we salute Horse Haven of Tennessee.


Horse Haven of Tennessee is the state’s largest and oldest equine welfare organization. In business since 1999, HHT has cared for over 802 horses to date, rescuing them from abuse, nursing them back to health and then placing them in healthy, loving homes. It’s a 501-C non-profit with 100% of donations benefiting the horses.


Photo via the HHT Facebook page

Nina L. Margetson, HHT Executive Director and Founder, kindly took the time to answer a few of our questions about the organization.

What inspired you to create HHT?

I have always had a passion for horses. Never having the opportunity to have one when I was young, I always longed for the day I could. While most children were playing with Barbie dolls I was playing with ceramic horses. When their legs would break I would tape them together (“fix them”) and play on. I would save up my money for horses instead of candy or toys. I made a barn out of a box with cardboard dividers as stalls. I played with my horses and would put them to bed in their barn at night and slide the whole box under my bed, ready to play the next day. Growing up I always wondered while riding to my grandmother’s house why all the horses I seen along the way had no one riding them and they just stood in a field. I realize now that my whole life was being prepped to do what I am today.

My first horse was an old Belgain cross mare that I saved my money to buy when I was 17 years of age. Snoopy came with a one-eyed goat and I walked them both five miles to the stable I worked at because I had no tack and actually bought her taking the word of the owner. She was a great mare and when I had to sell her after graduation from high school she went to a youth riding camp where she lived out the rest of her life. I moved to Tennessee in 1979 with my husband from New York state. In 1991 I had the opportunity to have a new neighbor move in next door to us in South Knoxville and she was the new Director at the Humane Society of Tennessee Valley. Vicky Crosetti actually is the person that encouraged me to pursue my dream of working to help horses in need. I worked with the Humane Society for nine years. One June day the call came in that there were four horses in need in Roane County from a cruelty confiscation and they had no place to take them and asked if Vicky could house them because there was a seven-acre pasture type area at the shelter in South Knoxville. She came to me and asked me if I was ready, and the rest is a blur.

I hit the ground running in June of 1999 and haven’t slowed down since. I’ll never forget what Vicky told me in the early years of HHT when I would get discouraged. She said if I Horse Haven could make it through the first five years and get past the criticism, negative remarks and remain focused on our mission we would survive. Here it is 15 years, 804 horses later, and we remain focused, open minded and non-judgmental because we know we are making a difference for the horses in Tennessee that need us. It still gets discouraging sometimes because our laws regarding equine are not seen as a serious issue in Tennessee, but we know every baby step we take is just one step closer to a better future for our equine friends. We have worked hard to earn the reputation of Tennessee’s Premier Equine Welfare Organization which I was thrilled to hear us referred as at a national conference for animal welfare workers a few years back.

When horses come to you, what kind of situations are they coming from?

The horses that come to HHThave been confiscated, or owner released, because of cruelty and neglect that the owners are being prosecuted for by the local legal agency.

About how many horses are under HHT’s care at any given time?

This number fluctuates. We have never had to turn down any county that has called because of space. We have had as many as 50+ horses at any given time. Our largest case was 38 horses confiscated in Knox County a few years ago. Because of the large number and limited space at our main facility we housed them for 16 days at Chilhowee Park while they waited out their quarantine time. This allowed us the opportunity to foster out some of our horses and open up space for the others. We currently have our main facility on Reagan Road, and five holding facilities in Knoxville. We opened a Middle Tennessee Hub last year and have three holding facilities just outside Nashville. We hope to open a public facility that would allow volunteers to come and assist with the care of the horses like our facility on Reagan Road in the not-so-distant future once we can find some funding. Having a facility in Middle Tennessee allows us to shorten our transport distance when calls come in from the middle and western part of the state. In the first 12 months our Middle TN Hub cared for 35 horses that would have otherwise had to come to Knoxville. It is a great asset to have that opportunity and our Middle TN representatives have been a great blessing.

What is your rehabilitation/rehoming process?

Because the majority of the horses that come to us are evidence in an ongoing court case, we must maintain them as such. They get immediate veterinary care as soon as picked up from the property. Depending on their overall condition some may have to say for an extended amount of time at the veterinary hospital. Each animal is weighed and has a coggins test drawn to rule out a positive test. A fecal count is done to get a better idea on their parasite load so we will know how to treat them. They are examined and all the records become a part of their court file. Each animal is given their own chart and all documentation is kept pertaining to them throughout the whole court process. Depending on their body condition they are started on a re-feeding program designed for their needs depending on body score, age, medical condition. If an animal has a very low body score we will request bloodwork to be drawn to rule out any possible causes for the condition of the animals other than lack of food. Farrier work and other aspects of their care depend on each individual animal and their needs. In the event there is a dead animal onsite during the confiscation we usually have to load and transport the animal so a necropsy can be performed to see what the animal died from. 99% of these cases are usually from starvation.

During the court process all the animals will be charted for weight gain and cared for by our volunteer staff. The District Attorney for the county will be kept up to date as the court process unfolds. We have held horses for as long as 2 1⁄2 years while they went through the court process. Keep in mind we do not charge the counties for our services. Once the animals are released by the court we are then able to rehome them if not ordered to be returned to the owners.

Re-homing process is a multiple step process. Because we cannot evaluate the animals for riding ability while maintaining them as evidence we must wait until their release.

  • So the first step is to list them as being available for adoption. A suggested adoption donation is posted. This suggested donation may go up or down once the animal starts being evaluated for their potential. (Side note: On the average the past three years we have calculated we spend a average $550 per horse while in our care and only recoup $107 of this in adoption donations.) They are then evaluated for their training level.
  • Once an application is received on an animal a “meet and greet” appointment is set up with the potential adopter. If the adopter and equine manager feel they are a good fit next comes the site inspection. (Sometimes an animal they see on the internet isn’t a good fit for what they are looking for and the right horse is found during their visit.)
  • A site inspection is performed by one of our adoption councilors who comes out and inspects where the animal will be housed. We want to ensure the animal is going to a safe place and not ending up back in the same situation they came from. We look for type and condition of fencing, shelter, condition of other animals on the property and how much room and resources they can provide.
  • Once site visit is approved the final adoption contract is signed and arrangements are made to pick up or have the animal delivered.
  • Adopted horses are checked upon throughout the year to insure all is going well with the horse.
  • Adopters have the option to file for full ownership after 12 months if they like.
  • Those that get full ownership agree to do what is in the best interest of the animal in the event they have to rehome it.
Do you have volunteers?

We have a GREAT Volunteer crew! We have 95+ volunteers on our roaster. They work two shifts a day with approximately three hours per shift. Most work one shift a week while others may work more. Some work ones or twice a month.

How can people help HHT?

Because HHT has no actual “income” we rely on donations. We do not get our supplies, medical or other expenses for free. We do sometimes get a discount on some medical bills and farrier work but it in no way covers our major expenses. In 2013 we paid the following for the top items we used throughout the year:

Hay/grain — $56,500

Farrier — $8,400

Veterinary/medical — $27,000

This is only a small portion of our full expenses during the year.

Financial support is the best. We pride ourselves at being good stewards of our donor’s donations. Our Admin costs fall around 11% with the rest going to the needs of the horses.

We are always looking for retirement homes for our hard to place horses. This allows us to open up room for when the next call comes in from a county, and we know it will.

We can always us donated items like Purina Strategy Feed, mineral salt bricks and blocks, de-wormer, horse quality hay (round and square), lead ropes, etc.

We would love to find some local corporate sponsors for our yearly fundraising events or to help us get into a facility of our own.

They can sign up to support HHT when they shop online through Amazon Smile, GoodShop, shop at Krogers, sell on Ebay, donate a vehicle, join our $5 a month club or sponsor a stall. This and much more found on our website at

Donations can be made online or through the mail at HHT – P.O. Box 22841 / Knoxville, TN 37933.


We applaud Horse Haven of Tennnessee for the great work they do and encourage Horse Nation readers to visit their Facebook page and website for more information.

Go Riding.

Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. 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.

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