During the holidays we sometimes feel generous, willing to give a little extra to those in need. The economy has been in a bit of a slump, and people have had limited resources for the charities. Sadly, it is frequently the animal-oriented charities that suffer the most.

If you are looking for an equine charity, there are many worthy organizations; there are schools? riding programs and college research programs, rescue programs and shelters, and therapeutic programs. With schools and colleges, giving is set up through pretty straightforward channels, but with some of the other organizations, you may worry; you may wonder if an organization is legitimate? You may wonder how much of your donation actually goes to help horses, or just to line pockets? Where is the accountability? Who regulates these organizations?

The Equiery is bombarded with horror stories every day from readers who feel they have been rooked. The legitimacy of self-claimed charities has become a serious issue.

Equine Rescue Facilities & Shelters Facilities which actually care for horses perhaps raise the most concern from readers. No doubt most people only have the best of intentions when starting a rescue facility. But because such facilities are not regulated (although the Maryland Department of Agriculture is considering introducing legislation to do so in the future), the door is open for unscrupulous operators to take advantage of their equestrians, as well as other animal lovers. Equestrians do want to help legitimate facilities, but how do we, as members of the community, discern between who is legitimate and who is not?

For starters, although MDA does not currently regulate rescue facilities, many such facilities do register themselves as stables and are thus licensed under the state stable licensing program, so it is always informative to find out if they are licensed. If they are licensed, they must display their license. If they are not licensed, ask them why not. If they say they are, but cannot show proof, contact the MDA to verify the license. In the meantime, MDA is monitoring reports of shelters and does appreciate alerts from the community.

At this point, however, the best thing we, as a community can do, is to monitor such facilities ourselves. Go see them for ourselves. Ask questions. Legitimate organizations will be happy to answer questions and to provide references.

Some equine welfare organizations do not actually ‘rescue’ horses, or have hands on care for animals. As a donor, you must decide if you want your donation to go to physical care for animals, or if an educational group with long range goals is more what you had in mind for your support.

If you decide that you want your money to go towards the actual care for horses, then you need to decide if you want the money to help local animals, or if a national organization is where you want to place your financial backing. Do you want your Maryland dollars to go towards helping horses in New Mexico? There is no shortage of hands-on rescue organizations here in Maryland.

Research any organization that you want to support with a financial contribution. Make sure that the organization’s overall philosophy is in keeping with yours. Don’t just donate to a specific issue if the organization deals with more that one “issue.” Just because you agree with an organization on one topic, doesn’t mean that you will agree with everything that the charity supports or espouses. Do you really want to donate to an organization that has as its ultimate goal the “liberation” of all animals from their enslavement, just because you agree with their position on the transportation of horses to slaughter?

What You Need To Know If You Donate to a Rescue? What is their federal tax-exempt number? Are they a 501(c)(3) (a status which allows them to accept tax-deductible donations)? Are they a non-profit, a not-for-profit, or a corporation? If you don’t know what these terms mean, educate yourself before donating.

Despite people’s good intentions, there are many rescue groups out there that are either not
legitimate, or are careless with their money. Here are some key attributes that every ligitimate
rescue organization or facility should have:
• Corporate structure as a 501(c)(3), which allows the organization to accept tax-deductible donations,
and a federal tax-exempt I.D. number
• Registration with the Maryland Office of the Secretary of State’s Charitable Organizations Division
(Effective Oct. 1, 2006 all new charitable registrations MUST be in full compliance and receive a registration letter from the Secretary of State’s office before soliciting)
• Financial records, auditor’s report, and/or tax returns provided upon request
• Membership in regional and national rescue organizations
• A board of directors featuring respected members of the community
• Open access to visitors and supporters who want to monitor animal care
• Nationally certified principals and/or primary caregivers
• Training program for volunteers
• Well defined quarantine areas
• Established criteria for deciding between euthanasia and rehabilitation
• An established adoption program with post-adoption monitoring
• A good relationship with the local animal control office
• A willingness to participate in the Maryland Stable Licensing Program

In addition, representatives of legitimate equine rescue organizations should be able to answer the following questions:
• Who are the organization’s advising and practicing veterinarians?
• Who are the advising and practicing farriers?
• Does the organization actually find homes for the animals? Will references be provided?
• Does the organization conform to the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ guidelines for equine rescue and retirement facilities? For more information, visit www.aaep.orgThe time and expense to operate an equine shelter are prohibitive. Many start up with heartfelt intentions; few have the savvy to survive. Nonetheless, some do. These legitimate organizations not only provide shelter and care for neglected, abandoned and even the occasionally abused horse, they rehabilitate them and find them good adoptive homes. Often, they also provide instruction or clinics on basic horse care, which helps to break the cycle of neglect due to ignorance.

Therapeutic Riding Programs
Although many people consider riding to be a hobby, for others riding is literally a lifeline to independence. Many horses are becoming therapists for people with special needs, helping those with a variety of physical and mental disabilities to improve motor skills, develop and strengthen muscles, achieve independence and, most importantly, develop self-reliance and self confidence. Equine therapy is, however, expensive. Not only are the costs high for the equine maintenance, and to obtain the often custom made equipment necessary, but it is also expensive to train the human therapists specializing in riding. For the thousands of people who have been helped by therapeutic riding in Maryland, the benefits are well worth the expense. And most centers provide for their students without regard to their ability to pay. Please keep in mind that it is not a requirement for a therapeutic program to be a non-profit or charity.

Schools & Colleges
Maryland has several schools with equestrian programs. In addition, the University of Maryland, the first land grant and agricultural school in the United States, has equine studies, animal husbandry, and, of course, the veterinarian college. Educational institutions are always in need of additional support and donations.

Give Wisely
In short, before you make a contribution to a charity, ask for its Federal Tax I.D. Number and charity status, and when in doubt, check with the Secretary of State’s Charitable Organizations Division. If you want to know how much money a charity actually spends directly on animals or education, request such information from the Public Information Officer. Before making any donations, request a copy of the brochure, Giving Wisely, and become an informed donor.

Other Donation Options:

Maryland Fund for Horses
An organization tasked (among other things) to improve the lives of Maryland’s equines by providing education and outreach to the general public about responsible equine ownership, equine welfare issues and the value of equines to the State and to their own lives.

Maryland Hay Bank
The Maryland Hay Bank assists private horse owners who are experiencing a financial hardship or a personal crisis by providing free hay for their horses for thirty (30) days up to a maximum of 100 total bales. The Maryland Hay Bank is donation driven, and hay is provided at absolutely no cost to qualified recipients.

Maryland Network for Injured Equestrians
was established in 2005 by the family and friends of Peggy Ingles after Peggy suffered a spinal cord injury in 2004 while training a horse. Any resident of Maryland who sustains a Traumatic Brain Injury or Spinal Cord Injury in a horse-related accident is eligible to apply for financial assistance for medical, equipment, therapeutic, care and other expenses.

If you know of a worthy Maryland-based charity not included on this list, please contact The Equiery at 800-244-9580. or info@equiery.com