How can we protect our horses in cases like this?

Many of you are aware of a recent case of 12 well breed dressage horses in Oregon being removed from the care of a woman that many of us knew. Everything from mares in foal, foals, yearlings, and aged horses were found in varying states of starvation and neglect.

The horses were signed over by the owner to a rescue group as part of a plea bargain. By the time the original breeders of these horses learned of this, the horses had already been placed in a matter of a few days. All of these horses are registered and most were microchipped.

The rescue claims it’s under no obligation to contact the breeders of these animals and put them first in line to adopt. Almost all the breeders and former owners would have stepped right up to retrieve these horses and pay any outstanding bills on them had they been given the opportunity. This has caused an uproar in the breeding community about the protocol utilized to place these horses. Many people are very upset. I understand the urgent need to get them in stable situations and get them immediate help, but foster homes could have been utilized until the breeders could be contacted.

As breeders, most of us are deeply concerned about the welfare of the horses we produce, many of us follow them for life. Many of us are having a hard time understanding why the breeders were not contacted and given the chance to adopt first. After all, we know these horses best, we cherish their hertigage, and many of us still own the mothers and grandmothers of these animals.

We microchip for identification and safety reasons, are rescues under no obligation to scan for a chip like the humane society does upon intake?

How can we better protect our horses in the future to prevent something like this from happening? Some people even had clear language in their sales agreements about the horse’s safe return in the event the owner could not properly care for them. I am told this is not enforceable.

I know that feedlots will often call on branded horses or TB’s with tattoos. Why are breeders not given a higher priority in these unfortunate circumstances? I feel there should be a better intake and adoption protocol in place to prioritize the homes that have the greatest interest and connection to these animals.

Let’s discuss.


The reality is that when the TB breeders are called, it’s often because the rescue is unable to afford to take the horse otherwise/feels they will be unable to place it.

Once you’ve sold or transferred ownership your rights as owner are generally over. Even if something is specifically protected by the contract and the contract is enforceable, that contract is between you and the original buyer. You’re not entitled in any way to be given the first chance to adopt the horse just because you bred it.

All you can do is do as much due diligence as you can before selling and then make it as easy to contact you as possible once you’ve sold it. I’ve seen TB breeders/owners/trainers put stickers with their contact information and a promise to always take the horse back on every piece of paperwork they send with the horse. Even that only works if the paperwork stays with the horse and if someone wants to contact you.


I don’t think the rescue has the obligation to send the horses back to the breeders. They are obligated to find good homes, and to act fast so they’re ready for the next case. Foster homes are hard to come by.

The angst should be 100% aimed at the neglectful owner of the horses. It’s being misdirected at the rescue who stepped up.


I agree, any anger at the rescue is unwarranted if the horses were well placed in safe homes.

Rescues are only capable of the resources they have. Sending a lot of horses to foster homes that aren’t even available, to sit and use costly resources while breeders are contacted is usually not a luxury most rescues have. There is also no guarantee that the breeder will take them back or be a home the rescue would approve.

I get frustration on the breeder’s part - I’d be devastated if a horse I bred turned up in a bad situation. But I also realize that a contract is not limitless and that rescues are under no obligation to enforce a breeder’s contract. Their obligation is to place the horse ASAP in a safe home.

What you can do to help is to foster rescue horses and support reputable non-profit animal rescues so they can further their resources.


If the horses are in good homes, I am wondering why the breeders are mad.

I can’t imagine it’s because they wanted to double dip - get the horse back in good condition and then sell again for $$.

Is it because they don’t want their breeding program associated with a rescue case? For example, the people who have the horse now to be able to say “Yeah, Pookie is from BigNameFarm by BigNameStallion, I got him as a rescue because he was starved.”? I kind of get that part, but in reality the breeders should be tickled pink their horses are out of a crappy situation and back into a good one. I’d be begging for contact information so I could help the new owners get paperwork on their new horse, and send baby pics, pics of sire and dam, and whatever else I could do to help guarantee this horse doesn’t end up down the same path.


I worked in shelter medicine for many years. I also am an expert witness/investigator for animal cruelty and neglect cases (instructor for training of the same). As a result, I know and have worked with many rescues of all types of animals including horses. Placing in foster is no easy task. Fosters come at a premium and ‘placing one’ even temporarily uses up resources that could be put towards someone or something else especially if you have those readily willing to permanently adopt and are considered qualified for the situation. I also was a breeder for many years and continue to follow those who I put on the ground, also willing to take any one back if need be; so, I do get both sides. I agree with others that the focus should be on the fact that the horses have been helped and are in better situations than what they were.

Until all shelters, ASPCA’s, humane societies and rescues are regulated by either state or federal law, requirements of scanning for microchips and what is done with the information can and never will be enforceable. Many of these laws that currently exist which apply to municipal shelters/humane societies have only recently hit the books and carry some teeth if they aren’t followed. Few jurisdictions have the resources to pursue beyond that.


It’s very frustrating to learn that the plea deal enabled her to only be placed on probation. She is not to have horses for a year. That is not even a slap on the wrist.

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The short answer here is that once you as breeder sell the horse you really have no legal right to be first in line to get it back. I understand the feelings and reasoning behind wanting that, but it’s just not how things work in most cases. The feedlots (usually it’s actually an outside group marketing these horses) that you see contacting previous owners are doing so because it’s sometimes an easy way to get money, a home, or more information that will help find a home. A lot of those groups seem more focused on “clearing the pen” at any cost than on purposely reuniting breeders and their past horses or even finding good, appropriate homes.

I think the only solution to this would be to maintain a small percentage of ownership in every horse you breed and sell… but most buyers are not going to go for that

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You can’t.
You lose ownership and all rights when you sell. No contracts would hold up.
Buyer failed to care for them. Breeders failed to check in regularly and offer to buy them back. That’s the only thing that could of changed things.
Rescue legally obtained them. They can then do what they please with them.
End of story.


20yr shelter employee here. We scan for chips but if the new owner registered the horse then that wouldn’t matter. I imagine the only reason everybody is so interested is because these are still all usable healthy horses. Being close to Wellington we have had horses come through here from some of the biggest name barns in country and when contacted about possibly redeeming the now 20+yr old lame former show horse. Crickets…Horses are very expensive to house so for us getting them in and out is of utmost importance not feeding them for weeks while the previous owner/breeder hims and haws about wanting them back.


The American Morgan Horse Association has a program called “Full Circle,” where anyone can enroll a horse they’ve bred, owned, etc. as an offer to help that horse, including taking that horse back, if it falls onto hard times. But it’s not a requirement that a current or future owner pursue the person on the Full Circle enrollment or give the horse to that person. Just there as a safety net. And of course the papers would need to follow the horse so it could be looked up in the registry by its registered name, and then a person in possession of a horse would have to be able to contact the person connected with the Full Circle enrollment. So, far from foolproof, but still, I am glad that such a program exists.

I took on a mare this spring that had been part of a law enforcement seizure of a small Morgan herd that was roaming loose because of declining cognitive health of the owner. While all the legal steps were followed, and she was legally awarded to the rescue that in turn adopted her out to me, and her registration with AMHA is now in my name- I still have fears that someone from her previous owner’s past is going to find out I have her and somehow come after her. It’s a tricky thing to get involved with animals that were seized against someone’s will, even when it’s best for the animals.

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We had a local shelter that got in 3 full Lippitt Morgans (very rare) and refused to let anyone who breeds horses have them. That includes a gelding BTW! They basically got those horses adopted out as quickly as possible under new identities, so no one could trace them - specifically so the 2 mares will never be bred (they’re not spayed, so nothing can really stop them from being bred, but they won’t have registerable Morgan foals.) I have a good friend who volunteers there, and he said a recent change in leadership meant that “no breeding” would be strictly enforced.

This is not a place that normally wants horses who come in gone ASAP, and they have a good network of fosters.

I read this OP as “how can we prevent horses from going through rescues and NOT being placed with their breeders?” versus “how can we protect horses from people like Dr Christy Horton?”.

Shame on these breeders for castigating the rescue. Their anger should be pointed at Dr Christy Horton and, to an extent, themselves. They failed the horses too, by not following them in their new career and ensuring they were still in safe landings.


I agree @beowulf. This seems like a bizarre case of misplaced anger.

I understand breeders being annoyed no one reached out, but I don’t understand the idea that rescues should be obligated to give breeders the first right. You unfortunately lose that control when you sell the horse. :woman_shrugging:

It sucks. But you know what else sucks? Being tapped to rescue a bunch of neglected horses with expensive needs. The rescue has to stay sustainable, which may not afford them the luxury of skiptracing breeders.


Oregon is brand inspection state. This should not have happened this way and is illegal. The Brand Inspectors/Brand Board should have confiscated the animals and fostered them out, providing time to follow up in ownership and microchipping and tattoos. But rescues all over the west have figured out how to do an end run around the Brand Board and this is the result.
Another example of well meaning rescues that push law enforcement that don’t have a clue.


Doesn’t matter if you are the breeder or someone who has sold a horse. The only way you can be guaranteed the horse is safe is to keep it yourself.

No matter what you may put in writing or in a signed contract once that horse is no longer yours you have no say.


I really don’t know much about brand inspection because I have never done horse business in a brand inspection state. But if that is the case, wouldn’t rescues be “illegal?” How is the Brand Board supposed to solely manage all neglected or unwanted horses? Do other brand inspection state do it that way?

This is just me trying to understand.


I’m also interested in understanding how this works or applies for horses. A quick search on Oregon’s Department of Agriculture website brings up this page, which says that ownership inspection is not required for horses.

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Think of a Brand Inspection (and subsequent sales transfer) as going to the the DMV to change the title on a car that your buying from a private party. The DMV makes sure that someone is the legal owner and authorized to transfer title and that a new title paper is issued in the owners name. That is your proof of ownership.
In brand states a rescue cannot just go and rescue a horse with the aid of local police. The horse is technically stolen unless the horse is declared abandoned property, repossessed as part of a lien or title is transferred via gifting - and that is recorded by the brand inspector NOT police. The theft is a felony. Association and registration papers mean nothing for law enforcement purposes but microchips do. Proper process may have helped these animals get back to their original breeders. The brand inspectors are stockmen and understand a producers pride and many would have made a phone call.
The brand board is a police force in its own right (part of the state patrol,) and do-gooder rescues are getting their own states’s law enforcement cross wise with each other.
As far as Oregon not being a brand state, that’s new since I lived there and it varies by county in some states.

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This is all fine and well, but you aren’t going to get that car seized because it’s got too much rust and you haven’t done an oil change in 10k miles.

The rescue ended up with the horses because they were relinquished by the owner as part of a plea deal. The breeders are not the owners. The horses were not lost-n-found.

Nothing you stated applies.