Special Opportunities for Senior Horses

May 22, 2019

Alex riding Kahlia

Alex riding Kahlia.

At last year’s ASPCA Help-A-Horse day event at RVR Horse Rescue in Riverview, Florida, Kahlia, a 19-year-old thoroughbred mare, emerged from her stall sporting a bright orange bow affixed to her halter. Nearby, Alex H., a 17-year-old RVR volunteer, looked on with mixed emotions. Alex had bonded with Kahlia the previous year while volunteering at RVR. She knew Kahlia was going to be adopted to a new owner that day but could hardly bear the thought.

Moments later, Alex’s grandmother, Debbie D., also an RVR volunteer, stepped up to deliver some exciting news

“Alex has kind of fallen in love with Kahlia,” Debbie told the crowd, as a videographer captured her comments. “So, we chose today to surprise HER with Kahlia’s adoption.”

Alex after learning that she adopted Kahlia

Alex is wide-eyed with surprise after learning Kahlia is her newly adopted horse.

As Alex’s eyes widened in shock and delight, the crowd of onlookers clapped.

“There were tears of joy,” recalls Kelly Ford, an RVR grant writer who is also on the organization’s Board of Directors. “Alex was very, very happy.”

In the video capturing the moment, Alex exclaims, “I had no idea!” When asked what she loved most about Kahlia, she could only say, “All of her!” 

In addition to Kahlia, eight other horses found homes that day, including Rayna, an American quarter horse paint whom Debbie adopted, and Bug, an Arabian adopted by Debbie’s daughter-in-law and Alex’s aunt, Kasee M. The trio of equine adoptions by one family made the day particularly special.

Alex and Kahlia

Alex and her adopted horse, Kahlia.

SOS for Equines

RVR, a non-profit horse rescue/rehab facility, is staffed solely by volunteers like Debbie and Alex, who have been there since 2017. 

Kahlia and Rayna were part of RVR’s Save Our Seniors (SOS) program, a collaborative and innovative effort to help vulnerable horses find new or temporary homes and healthy activities.

“Senior horses can be difficult to place,” explains Kelly. “Medical issues or age often make them less attractive to potential adopters.” 

The most unique aspect of SOS is how RVR engages the state’s human senior population on behalf of its equine seniors.

“Florida’s senior citizens are a large portion of our population,” Kelly says. “And like our elder horses, senior citizens still have much to contribute.”

RVR’s reach includes retirement communities, senior clubs, civic organizations and church congregations. Volunteers invite members of these groups to pool their resources to adopt a senior horse. Adopters take financial responsibility for the horse, who is boarded and cared for at an SOS facility. 

Kahlia—as well as Rayna and Bug—now live at an SOS boarding facility adjacent to RVR.

A trio of horses and their adopters: Left to right: Bug, Kasee, Rayna, Debbie, Kahlia, Alex

A trio of horses and their adopters: Left to right: Bug, Kasee, Rayna, Debbie, Kahlia, Alex

Each year, RVR takes in about seven senior horses, ages 18 and over, and has up to 40 horses available for adoption at any time. Launched in 2017, the SOS program has placed 14 senior horses over the last two years. The majority of horses that RVR saves and rehabilitates are cases of severe abuse and neglect.

“Some of our horses, based on how they’ve lived, look much older than they really are,” Kelly says.

From Adversity to Adoption

Like the unfortunate scenarios that lead many horses to RVR, Alex suffered her own tragedy when her parents were killed in a car accident 15 years ago. She was raised by Debbie with support from nearby aunts, uncles and cousins, but horses seemed to lift her spirits more than anything else. 

A former show horse, Kahlia was brought to RVR by a volunteer after her former owner couldn’t load her onto a trailer.

“Kahlia is a very sweet, motherly kind of horse,” says Kelly. “Alex rides her regularly, and for her age, she has a lot of spunk.”

Bringing Together Old and Young

Alex isn’t the only young person who has benefitted from working with older horses.

Kelly’s daughter Jillian—who along with her brother Conor was adopted from Kazakhstan, a place where horsemanship is celebrated—adopted a 16-year-old gelded bay mustang named Horace through the Right Horse Initiative, a collective of industry professionals and equine welfare advocates including the ASPCA.

Horace’s adoption event wove in aspects of Kazakh culture, with Jillian donning a replica of a national costume on that special day.

“I would not be where I am now—doing well in high school academics, sports and band—without Horace,” says Jillian.

“Senior horses have so much value,” adds her mother Kelly. “Beyond having a useful purpose, they appreciate that they have been rescued and make great pets just to love.”

A Constant Challenge

Though these stories represent the amazing connection between senior horses and people of all ages, most senior horses still wait for permanent safe and loving homes.

This is why Alex, her grandmother, and other RVR volunteers remain committed to their work for RVR’s senior horses, grooming, tacking and teaching other volunteers how special older horses are.

“There are so many great horses waiting to find their special person,” says Debbie. “I’m glad we found ours.” 

To help horses who need homes near you, check out the ASPCA’s Help a Horse HomeSM Challenge and find out how you can get involved today.