Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding: Safe Harbor Equine & Livestock Sanctuary

Each Friday Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse world. Today, we’re recognizing Safe Harbor Equine & Livestock Sanctuary of Tennessee.

Photo by Shannon Kreiger.

Photo by Shannon Kreiger.

Safe Harbor Equine & Livestock Sanctuary is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit equine rescue based in Cottontown, Tennessee. The mission of Safe Harbor is to assist equines in need, extending to all livestock animals within the rescue’s capacity. We spoke with founder and executive director Sariah Hopkins to learn more.

What’s the story of how Safe Harbor Equine & Livestock Sanctuary was formed?

I had worked primarily in golden retriever rescue for years — truthfully, the concept of equine neglect never even crossed my mind. I was working with a real estate agent looking at properties and while looking at a farm she mentioned “horse rescue.” Intrigued, I started working with a local horse rescue and realized the need.

While volunteering with this rescue, I saw a few issues with management or the way this particular rescue handled certain things — they were doing good work, but I saw things in a different way. Eventually, a group of individuals and myself started Safe Harbor.

At this point, we’re working with 128 volunteers, 13 of whom are volunteer professional trainers — we have a Volunteer Training Director to help us to that end. We have many volunteers who are not at a professional level but are passionate and very capable of working with horses as well. We also welcome with open arms adults and youth with special needs to come and work with the horses.

How do horses make their way to Safe Harbor?

Our number-one priority is local cruelty and neglect cases. We work with law enforcement and animal control to take in those horses. We do also have a small branch working to purchase horses from auction in danger of going to slaughter, but specifically we are focused on off-track horses — both Standardbred and Thoroughbred. We also take in a few owner surrenders — we call those “pre-neglect” situations, in which we’re taking animals to prevent them from falling into a true neglect situation when an owner perhaps is sick or has lost their job or is otherwise unable to care for their horses.

Photo by Shannon Kreiger.

Photo by Shannon Kreiger.

How many horses do you estimate you’re caring for at one time? What kind of facility do you have?

Our capacity is for about 70 horses at a time, but we typically average around 55. We adopt out about 125 a year, so we can turn over stalls and rescue more.

I own our main facility in Cottonwood; it’s leased to Safe Harbor. That barn has 12 stalls, an indoor and 22 acres; it’s a training facility. So I have four of my own horses there in training, as well as four retirees — any horse that comes to us over age 30 stays with us for the rest of its life — and four rescue horses rehabilitating, training and waiting to be adopted.

We use foster farms for the majority of horses: we work with roughly 30 farms, though not all are in use at all times. We try to rotate through farms to give our fosters a break when we can. An average foster farm cares for one or two horses at a time — this puts the horses right into a farm routine, where they get good individualized care and plenty of attention in a home situation.

Can you describe your adoption process for us?

Adoption is easy — we have adoption, volunteer and foster forms available on our website and all you have to do is apply online. Our adoption team will respond to you within 24 hours. We require veterinarian and farrier references, and if you are a first-time horse owner and don’t have a veterinarian or farrier yet then our volunteers will visit your farm and help walk you through the process.

We do prefer to work with local applicants, but we’ve adopted out of the area as well. Our contract is lifelong — if a horse needs to, he can always come back to Safe Harbor for life. If you need to find the horse a new home and have worked something out with a friend, for example, the same contract will bind the new owner; the other option is that the horse returns to us. All of our horses are microchipped and we do an annual post-adoption follow up.

Buttercup, an adoptable Saddlebred Cross mare. Photo by Mandy Howe.

Buttercup, an adoptable Saddlebred Cross mare. Photo by Mandy Howe.

How are you funded?

Mostly through donations! Legally, 36% or more of our funding must be through donors. The rest of our funding comes through our adoption fees and grants. We’ve received grants from the Ian Somerhalder Foundation as an example; the ASPCA is our largest grantwriter.

On October 23, we’re hosting our third annual Paradise Ranch Trail Ride and obstacle challenge — that’s held in Springfield, Tennessee and that’s been lots of fun in the past. All are welcome!

Last question: if there was any one thing you wish people knew about the work you were doing, what would it be?

Behind the scenes of the horse rescue, we are doing really great work with special needs adults and with children in the foster system. We’ve witnessed lives change because individuals get to work with the horses — there’s so much progress from a therapeutic standpoint. Especially when foster children work with a foster horse, there’s a lot of healing that can happen. We work with the Papillon Center for fetal alcohol syndrome as well as Omni Visions foster and adoption center.

OTTB Cool Bu Moon who is in our race horse aftercare and retraining program. Photo courtesy of Sariah Hopkins.

OTTB Cool Bu Moon who is in our race horse aftercare and retraining program. Photo courtesy of Sariah Hopkins.


To learn more about Safe Harbor Equine & Livestock Sanctuary, please visit the rescue’s website and follow them on Facebook for more updates.

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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