With Four Newly Adopted Horses, an Equine Sanctuary Is Off and Running

May 22, 2024


For Shawn S. and her husband, Craig B., providing a home for non-rideable, companion horses has been a labor of love and a dream for 30 years. Their dream became a reality when they opened Resting Horse Ranch, a sanctuary for retired horses situated on 40 acres in southern Arizona in December 2023.

The property, equipped with several pastures and a 6,000-square-foot facility, welcomed its first four horses, adopted from Colorado Horse Rescue (CHR), an ASPCA Right Horse Adoption Partner.

Shawn, a realtor, and Craig, an attorney, toured CHR several years ago after Shawn’s daughter, Alex, a long-time CHR volunteer, adopted a horse there.

“We were looking at three horses, but one had a buddy he couldn’t live without,” Shawn explains. “I thought, ‘We might as well fill the trailer.’”

Helping Horses Get Home

“This is a special story for many reasons,” says Cailin Caldwell, director of the ASPCA’s Right Horse Program. “Traditionally, many adoption groups have found companion horses—those who aren’t rideable—to be harder to place. Some people also face logistical hurdles when they want to adopt horses from long distances.”

In response to these challenges, the ASPCA developed a transport system for these at-risk horses called the Horse Adoption Express (HAE).

The ASPCA offers a transport-to-adopter stipend of up to $500 to haul horses directly to their adopters if the horses are non-ridable or if their adopters live more than 250 miles away from the adoption site. The route from Longmont, Colorado, where CHR is located, to Resting Horse Ranch stretches almost 1,000 miles, and these four horses met both criteria.

Cody with a Companion Connection volunteer at Colorado Horse Rescue.

Joanna Magee, the ASPCA’s Manager of Equine Welfare, oversees the HAE program, which was piloted in 2022 and has since moved almost 50 equines for 24 ASPCA Right Horse Adoption Partners and Warm-Up Ring organizations.

“If the stipend were not available, our Adoption Partners say it’s unlikely that their adoptions would occur in more than 60% of those cases,” says Joanna. “We want to reduce barriers to equine adoption like distance and non-rideability. Hauling is expensive, but overcoming that one-time barrier can mean horses are adopted and allow the rescue to take in the next horse in need. We want to support adopters and equines regardless of where they are located.”

Companion Connection

Grace Degnan serves as manager of CHR’s Companion Connection program, established in 2022, which finds homes for horses who are no longer rideable.

Grace with her horse, Bandit, who helped inspire the Companion Connection program.

“We recognize the urgency for horses in need of retirement to find a safe place to land,” says Grace, whose 26-year-old American Paint Horse gelding, Bandit, helped inspire her passion for the Companion Connection program. “This is the most vulnerable demographic of horses we care for, with the least amount of demand, but at times they represent more than 50% of our herd.”

CHR places an average of 65 horses a year from its Companion Connection and Riding Horse adoption programs.

From left: Clover and Frosty with Companion Connection volunteers.

“In 2021, we placed 13 non-riding horses, and in 2022 and 2023, we placed 27 each year,” Grace says. “Overall, the program has helped a lot more retirees find loving homes.”

The Fab Four

“Taking on one horse is a lot, but taking on four is a whole lot,” Grace says. “Our goal was to find the right grouping.”

Clover, a 17-year-old Appaloosa and CHR’s longest-adoptable resident, was acquired by CHR three years ago. Because Clover has navicular disease, also known as caudal heel pain, CHR decided it would be best if she weren’t under saddle and paired her with Maverick, 19, a non-riding American Quarter Horse sourced from another rescue group.

Maverick, left, and Clover.

“Clover loves to play in water and is the boss of the quartet,” says Shawn. “She is Mav’s girlfriend and he's very protective of her.

“Maverick won't leave you alone if you're in the stall with him,” Shawn adds. “He lays his head on your shoulder and begs for attention.”

Frosty, left, and Clover.

Cody, 20, and Frosty, 14, both American Quarter Horses retired from a dude ranch in New Mexico, are a bonded pair who also suffer from navicular disease. Shawn says Cody is “super easygoing and loves pats right in the middle of his forehead. 

“He waits for those pats when you take his halter off, and he won't leave until you rub his head for a minute,” she says. “Frosty has tons of personality, always shaking his head at us and whinnying.”

Frosty, left, and Cody.

Grace introduced all four horses to ensure the group dynamic would work.

After making the adoptions official, Shawn arranged transport with a professional shipper, and the ASPCA’s Horse Adoption Express provided a $375 stipend for each horse toward the transport fee, for a total of $1,500.

Maverick loves to roll on his back.

“Big, Beautiful Pets”

Once home, a routine soon unfolded.

“We feed by 7 a.m., and put the horses to pasture by 9,” Shawn says. “We take them in at 6 or 6:30 in the evening, medicate and feed, and start all over the next day.

“I still can’t believe it’s happening,” adds Shawn, who has been involved with horses most of her life and has ridden for 35 years. “Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Why do I have to go back to work?’ I’d rather spend my days in the barn.”

Shawn and Craig are taking on a fifth horse, Howdy, an owner relinquishment in his early 20s whom she says is an “absolute sweetheart” with enlarged knees, so he can’t be ridden any longer.

Shawn and Craig realize their horses are in their sunset years, which is why they opened their sanctuary. “They’re our big, beautiful pets,” Shawn says.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled for all of them,” says Grace. “They’re living the life I would have dreamed.”

Cody, left, and Frosty.

Feeling inspired and ready to adopt a horse of your own? Visit myrighthorse.org to browse hundreds of adoptable horses nationwide by breed, gender or discipline.