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The Making of a High Hopes Horse: Part 2

Follow this multi-part series to get a glimpse into how High Hopes chooses it’s horses that work in it’s Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (“EAAT”) programs.

Making of a High Hopes Horse

Part 2: Prospective new High Hopes’ horses, the stats and next steps.

If you are curious about what qualities make for a happy and valuable High Hopes herd member, read Part I of this series here.

Once we understand what qualities make for the best High Hopes herd members, we can start to select and screen the horses who are offered to us for donation. Here’s a glimpse into that process.

First, to give some perspective on the number of horses we evaluate for a spot in our program, we’ll give you an example of an average year’s inquiries. In the 2016 calendar year, the staff fielded 128 calls, emails or website inquiries for horses whose owners thought, or wondered, if their horse would be a good fit for us.

As you know from the criteria outline in Part I, the various statistical requirements, as well as the temperament and physical qualities we seek are extensive and a bit particular. This means that a fair number of the horses offered to us are not evaluated further for a chance to join our herd. While these decisions can be a bit subjective at times, generally if a horse is turned away at this early point, it is because something about them or their situation is concerning, not manageable on our farm or for our budget or they simply are not the right type of horse that we need at that point.

The main reasons for disqualification at this point of evaluation- the initial screening:

  • Significant issues with soundness of gaits. If the horse has any kind of disease or condition that causes them to be uncomfortable in any of their limbs (called ‘lameness’), those issues will only be magnified when they are carrying the weight of a rider and typically will deteriorate over time. This is not humane for the horse and could potential pose a safety risk for the rider or driver.
  • Medical conditions requiring too much upkeep. If a horse has a chronic medical condition that requires expensive medications or lengthy or frequent treatments by staff to maintain them in good health, we cannot consider them for our program due to the strain that those things would put on our budget or staff resource.
  • Over the age limit. Horses have a limited life span for riding or driving. They may live comfortably into their 30’s but often their work careers are more likely to end in their mid-20’s.  It is worth noting here that we prefer horses who are closer to 10 than 2, so that they have some life experience to reference when they are working with us. Too young is often more challenging to manage than too old when it comes to wisdom and patience.
  • Too large, too small. Since many of our riders need the physical support of volunteers, we limit the height of our horses to 16.2 hands high. This allows us to reach and assist riders on even our tallest horses. Meanwhile, very small or short horses would be limited in the number of riders they could serve since they’d have a lower weight carrying limit.
  • Insufficient or incomplete training. Along the same lines of the challenges of having very young horses in our program (Truer words were never spoken: With Age comes Wisdom!), having horses who are not thoroughly trained for saddle riding, carriage driving or even ‘softer skills’ like leading with a halter or having their hooves cleaned is a challenge that we do not have the time to address. We need our horses to come in ready to work with the majority of their skills already in place.
  • Behavior or temperament is not appropriate. Grumpy, reactive, dramatic, difficult…horses are just as likely to have these temperament traits as people are. But in our arenas, we prefer the happy, eager, friendly types. Who wouldn’t? Truth be told, horses who tend to lean to the sunny side of the road are better suited to the work of the therapy horse. Their resilience and positivity translates directly to our participants.
  • Not comfortable with requirements of therapeutic programs (leader, sidewalker, toys)
  • No available space at our facility compatible with owner’s timeframe. Sometimes, the owner simply cannot wait a month or more for use to have a space for their horse to come in for trial. This is understandable, but usually means they will move on to looking for other placements for their horses.
  • Owner will not allow for trial period. We require a 90 day trial for all prospective horses but this can bring up concerns regarding liability, insurance, and loss of use if the horse were to become sick or injured while they are in High Hopes’ care.

After the horse has satisfactorily met the prescreening evaluation that is completed between the owner and High Hopes staff, the next step is for staff to head out to the farm where the horse lives to further evaluate them in person!

At these farm visits, we are looking to confirm the things the owner had told us to be true previously and to get an in-person impression of the horse. We watch the horse being brought into the barn, groomed and tacked, ridden at all three gaits by an independent rider and finally we perform a mock therapeutic riding session complete with leader, sidewalker and games and toys similar to what you’d see in our arenas.

If we find the horse to be all that we expected, the next step is to schedule the horse to come live at High Hopes for a trial period for further immersed evaluation.

More on that in the next installment of this series! Stay tuned!

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