On occasion, we get a question why we have adoption fees at all or why they are high (they typically range $1000-5000 with a few going higher). We try to emphasize that the horses that we get mostly come from known backgrounds with knowledgeable horsemen with fantastic care and management. They are not rescues. We do occasionally get some horses that are rescues, but they are not the norm. That being said, our adoptable horses have real value in the horse market as good riding horses. The adoptables also play a large roll in raising the funds to care for the horses in retirement. Plus, horses simply cost a lot to feed and maintain. We are not in the profit business with CRR but simply the taking care of horses in need business.
So, what goes into our adoption fees? We look at every horse that we get and decide how much down time we think is in the horse's best interest. This can range wildly from none at all to well over a year. We make decisions based on soundness history, physical and mental maturity, how they respond to life off of the track (turnout, decreased work load, metabolic changes due to diet changes, and general behavior), and response to riding evaluations. Some horses might need extended time to work on hoof angle or sole depth, recover from injuries, or general body soreness. Others feel great off of the track and transition straight into work. The key is that we take the time that it takes.
Let down is critical both for the horse's overall soundness and well being, but we sometimes do not see issues until the horse is no longer racing fit. For example, we had a war horse that raced well over 60 times. He never had soundness issues at the track and transitioned straight into riding work. He felt great under saddle, balanced, supple and sound. As time went on and he lost racing fitness, he started to feel off and eventually painful. The vet found severe back pain. We did injections, acupuncture, classical work to encourage him to support his spine, turnout, stall rest, everything we could try. His pain levels increased despite everything, eventually necessitating euthanasia. In the necropsy, it was discovered that he had instability in his spine causing the vertebrae to rub on his spinal cord. The assumption is that racing fitness caused enough stability along his spinal column that he remained reasonably comfortable. When that fitness declined, his spinal instability became significantly worse and caused significant pain.
In short, sometimes fitness conceals some issues.
Sometimes the racehorses have massive metabolic changes, too. It is not common at all, but some of these horses lose massive amounts of weight as they transition onto a non-racing diet. Whether they lose weight or not, they all seem to go through metabolic changes as their exercise demands change and diet changes. We try to transition all of the horses onto a forage only diet, unless they are one of the ones that lose massive amounts and truly need the calories or minerals. We find that letting them go through metabolic changes eventually leads to them being easy keepers with good feet. Some transition to forage only without an issue while others take a year or so to get there.
Another example is a mare that we got who had always been an easy keeper at the track. She was for us, too, on a forage only diet until the depth of winter hit. Her hair coat became rough and she no longer carried weight well. She never acted poor and her blood work looked fine. She was by no means thin, but she had a drawn, rough look to her. She shed out in a patchy ugly way then never looked back. This winter, even as bad as it has been, she is full and shiny, and prefers to skip the hay for the dry, old prairie grass. She's not the only one that has had a seemingly large metabolic change and now prefers the dry stuff to the lush grass/alfalfa. If we let them go through this process, their feet, their bodies, minds, and guts seem happier. Our colic rate has also dropped precipitously since we quit using grain other than the outlier horses.
If we look beyond let down, which tells us what is actually there as far as soundness and health, we turn toward training. We take a slow, methodical approach. Some of the horses only receive evaluation rides simply because we find homes before we get to dive into their training. The ones that stay long enough start with in-hand work. We teach them how to stretch and relax with the bit. They start with basic 20 meter circles and work down the long side and eventually progress toward all of the dressage school figures at a walk. The idea is to rebuild their muscle, at least to a degree, before introducing a rider on a regular basis. It also teaches the horse the new expectations without the physical or mental stress of a rider. Once under saddle, we begin from the beginning again with 20 meter circles and increase the difficulty of the figures at a walk then eventually a trot and canter.
We prefer to treat each horse like they will be staying with us for the remainder of their life, because they will if the right home doesn't come along or if we find issues.
From an administrative point of view, we are available for the life of the horse. We provide a sixty day trial, which means the horse can come back for any reason and be replaced by a different one. This is to ensure that the horse transitions to their new home without issues. Because a horse behaves a certain way with us or has a certain level of health or soundness here, doesn't mean that they will carry it all into a new environment. The only way to know how they will do in a new home is to live there, thus the sixty days.
We try to provide as much of a guarantee as possible. Beyond the sixty days, we will help rehome or take horses back into CRR, as well. We are available to answer questions, retire the horses down the road, and basically provide a safety net for the owner and for the horse.
So, in summary, the adoption fees provide as much reassurance that the horse will be as good a fit as possible. We do our best to keep the adoption fees reasonable while still being realistic to the financial requirements of the organization.