Matt’s Blog: Helping At-Risk Horses Means Changing Minds and Taking Action

February 2, 2024

Back in 2019, an Oklahoma horse owner named Robin had few options when her horse, Diamond, suffered from a sudden debilitating illness, and Robin didn’t have enough funds to help her. Like many horses in that predicament, Diamond faced an uncertain fate even though she had a treatable condition.

Fortunately, the ASPCA had just established the Regional Support Center, a precursor to what is now the Equine Transition and Adoption Center (ETAC) in El Reno, Oklahoma. ETAC provides statewide equine safety net services, and Robin reached out after seeing a flyer about the center at her local feed store.

At the Support Center, Diamond received free, expert diagnosis, treatment and support from our equine veterinarian and fully recovered. She and Robin then returned to the happy lives that so many horse owners experience with their beloved equines.

The Impact of ETAC

Since that case, ETAC has helped hundreds of horses—over 150 horses in 2023 alone—with subsidized veterinary care, rehoming support and humane euthanasia services that are redefining the prospects for at-risk equines. 


Last October, I visited ETAC to witness their work firsthand. The expertise, dedication and determination I saw from ETAC’s staff and partners was inspiring, reflecting the many passionate equine rescuers, advocates and enthusiasts we encounter in this work.

On film and television, we often see horses in idyllic circumstances, with one owner caring for them for the entirety of their lives. But in reality, many horses experience multiple homes and careers throughout their lives, and those transition periods can introduce life-threatening risks—especially for owners whose lives or financial situations have changed.

When these vulnerable horses are brought to ETAC, veterinary, behavior and training specialists evaluate them and provide necessary treatment. The animals are then cared for at home by their owners or safely relinquished to ETAC to receive training and eventual placement in new homes. Some are humanely euthanized as a compassionate option to prevent suffering.

Rehoming Horses

While ETAC operates in Oklahoma, the ASPCA Right Horse program amplifies that mission nationwide, collaborating with nearly 100 partners to find homes for horses. At our adoption website,, hundreds of horses are made available by partner organizations, giving horses like Gramps, FondtasticTatum and Cherry second chances to thrive in a loving home.

When distance becomes a challenge, the ASPCA Horse Adoption Express moves at-risk horses long distances to support their safe rehoming. In 2023, the program relocated more than 85 horses, with dozens benefiting from an ASPCA stipend for non-riding horses and for horses more than 250 miles away from their adopters.

In 2023, ASPCA Right Horse Partner organizations placed 3,000 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules in adoptive homes and generated more than 4,000 adoption inquiries through

Horses with Special Needs

Horses who can’t be ridden—typically called companion or non-riding horses—are worthy of extra attention because they’ve traditionally been considered more challenging to place and tend to experience longer stays at rescues. The majority of ETAC’s population falls in this category, and the program is continuously exploring new ways to connect these special horses to loving homes and sharing those learnings and tactics with shelters and rescues around the country.

Our work at ETAC and with ASPCA Right Horse Partners nationwide is also busting the myth that adopters aren’t interested in owning this type of horse. With the right support and a welcoming approach to adopters, these horses are finding new homes as beloved friends, companions and partners in unmounted activities and sports like liberty and obstacle work

Dr. Sisk, Westyn, and Gramps

Saving Gramps

Gramps' story is a standout case that demonstrates the impact of both veterinary and rehoming assistance, as well as the importance of eliminating age bias and other preconceptions that may threaten their lives.

When Gramps was relinquished to ETAC last May, he was 33 years old, underweight and missing most of his teeth. Considering all options for care, the ETAC staff ultimately determined Gramps’s health could be improved while preserving his quality of life, which included implementing a successful refeeding diet.

In July, Gramps was adopted by Dr. Katie Sisk, an equine veterinarian from Missouri who had been looking to adopt a pony for her young nieces and found Gramps’ adoption profile on social media. Today, Dr. Sisk’s three-year-old niece, Westyn, rides Gramps regularly.

Encouraging Results

These rehoming efforts have resulted in ETAC horses finding adoptive homes quickly, with the majority spending under eight weeks in the shelter and some finding loving homes in just 15 days. This is great news for horses because the best outcome isn’t equines coming to ETAC for care—it’s ETAC improving their health, helping them find safe homes and making room for the next horse in need.

One of our biggest hopes is that this collaborative work will popularize equine adoption across the country. Just imagine how many equine lives can be saved when people consider horse adoption with the same understanding, appreciation and enthusiasm they apply to dog and cat adoption!

How You Can Help

You can play a part in securing healthy and joyous futures for horses like Diamond and Gramps—and their future adopters—by telling friends, family and co-workers about and showcasing profiles of local adoptable horses on your networks using the #AdoptAHorse and #RightHorse hashtags. You may be surprised how many people in your networks can adopt a horse. Research shows that there could be at least 1.2 million households—approximately 2.3 million adults—in the United States with both the resources and desire to adopt equines in need.

You can also support and volunteer at local equine adoption organizations that often require little or no experience to help.

Working in collaboration with dozens of partners, we’re doing all we can to help at-risk equines, and whether you own a horse, have room for a horse or simply have compassion for horses, I hope you join the effort to ensure they get the humane care, safe homes and happy lives they need and deserve.