Equine Science course works to find homes for horses in transition

Video by Ty Betts

A quickly expanding course in the Equine Science program at Colorado State University works to train and rehabilitate rescue horses in an effort to find them purposeful roles at new homes.

As part of the national Right Horse Initiative, CSU has partnered with the Harmony Equine Center, Drifters Hearts of Hope and Colorado Horse Rescue who take in hundreds of horses-in-transition that have been abused, neglected or whose owners can no longer care for them. Horses with complicated backgrounds, behavioral problems, or that are having trouble finding new owners are the exact horses Kristen Martell and Kylie McGarity look for to include in the program.

The goal is to find these horses new owners where they can be put to positive use after a semester of hands-on training from students.

“We try and find horses that could possibly be equine-assisted activities and therapies prospects,” said McGarity, a graduate research assistant and student coordinator of the Right Horse Program. “We also look for horses that could be good for kids’ lesson programs and who seem like good horses to teach something with.”

The program is succeeding in this mission and scaling up. The first students to be part of the program in 2016 worked hand in hoof with only two horses. Then came six, 12, 15 and now up to 20 horses per semester. More horses also allow more students to be involved with the program.

This CSU course is unique in that no other university offers a program like this.

“There’s a lot of colt starting programs, there’s a lot of horse training programs, but none that are specific toward rescues,” said Martell, an instructor of the Right Horse Program.

A Fresh Start

Kristen Martell and horse

Instructor of the Right Horse Program Kristen Martell says there are a lot of horse training programs, but none specifically for rescues.  

At the beginning of each semester, the students must piece together what their assigned horse’s past may have looked like and what it means for determining how to fix any social afflictions they are facing.

“We don’t know where they’ve come from, what they’ve done, what’s happened to them,” said Martell. “So it’s a lot of interpretation.”

And just like teaching students, there isn’t one approach that works the same for every horse.

“They’re all unique, they’re all different, they all have their own personalities,” Martell said. “Every horse that I have come across in my lifetime has taught me something new and given me a new tool for my toolbox … in making me a better horseman.”

Parting Ways

When a semester of students and animals working and learning from each other approaches an end, it comes time to find a permanent home for the newly trained horses. Of course, if a horse is still struggling with something or isn’t quite ready to be adopted out, it still has a home at the CSU Equine Center with all the opportunity that comes with a new semester of students.

Those that are ready for a fresh start find new homes as equine-assisted activities and therapies horses, with private individuals, or as lesson horses, particularly with instructors certified through the Certified Horsemanship Association.

Martell, who owns a horseback riding lesson program in Loveland, Colorado, personally adopted a horse from this program.

“To see her go from being a horse that was in transition — a horse in a rescue facility — all the way to being loved by countless kids … is so wonderful and rewarding,” Martell said. “I am hoping to continue to create situations like that for all of the horses that we have come through here.”

“To see her go from being a horse that was in transition — a horse in a rescue facility — all the way to being loved by countless kids … is so wonderful and rewarding.”

— Kristen Martell, instructor of the Right Horse Program

The end of the semester can be an emotional time, and McGarity will never forget finding the perfect home for her friend, Boondock.

“He was a 15-year-old regular chestnut-quarter horse. He was amazing,” McGarity said, who could never figure out why he ended up at a rescue. “He took care of people. He was also really fancy. He was sound, he was handsome — he had everything going for him.”

Boondock ended up being adopted to a young girl. McGarity was there when Boondock met his child companion for the first time and boarded the trailer to be taken to his new home.

“I’m never going to forget that,” McGarity said. “You could just see from the look on his face that he was going to take care of her. It was just really special.”