by Hope Holland
Over the years Maryland has been the home of several different equine-oriented organizations, all sterling organizations of their kinds and all of which do excellent work. Most of those were more for professional horse and pony breeders, although the non-professional was welcomed as well.
But now there is a new and very different equine organization, one which was needed – and it is a wonder this is only now being recognized as a necessity. Enter the Maryland Equine Transition Service (METS), and the list of services it provides for those with a horse in transition is long and varied.
A horse “in transition” is one whose owner has realized that the place in which their current life finds them has no place in it for a horse. A horse can find itself in transition, on average, seven times in its lifetime. Sadly, the unwanted horse can find itself on a downward track value-wise, putting it into a dangerous position. Many owners are unaware of the choices they have when they can no longer care for their horses. This is where METS can help both the often overwhelmed owner and the horse in transition.
In its first eight months of operation, METS has a healthy budget, a solid idea of how it can help and a mandate to help at least 500 horses in the next three years of its existence before it comes up for review and hopefully a renewal of its funding under the banner of the 501(c)(3) funding guidelines. Even more important for the owners of horses in transition, the staff of METS is open to working with many new and varied types of help for both the horse and the owner.
As it stands, METS offers help within (but not limited to) the following guidelines. The one mandatory statement is that the horses that need help must be within the Maryland state lines, but that is about the only hard and fast rule that Brittney Vallot, who joined the MHC as director of the Maryland Equine Transition Service in March 2018, adheres to. Vallot spent three years as a veterinary assistant at a local small animal vet’s office before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Maryland-College Park. After graduating, she worked her way through the ranks at Days End Farm Horse Rescue, most recently serving as their equine health director. She managed the care of hundreds of horses over the last decade, some coming from very dire circumstances.
Vallot’s experience with a number of horses and people in her work at DEFHR prepared her for her role in METS, where proper communication is key to providing advice and feedback to owners while still remaining compassionate. That combination of experience and sensitivity is exactly what she feels is the most important service that she can bring to this work.
It is necessary to say this is not a brokerage service, but an educational one that provides owners with the knowledge and tools they need to make the best decisions for their horse. METS will also facilitate the transition for owners who need the assistance.
The program focuses on rehoming horses that might be considered at-risk, and those having a market value less than $2,500. Therefore, if owners wish to sell their horse for more than that, they will not be eligible for METS assistance.
The equine assessment and presentation of transition options is free. Other services may require a fee depending on the owner’s financial circumstances and desire to surrender, donate or sell the horse. Financial assistance is available and no horse will be turned away because of the owner’s inability to pay.
The assessment will typically include a general health and soundness assessment, a behavioral assessment and a comprehensive verbal history provided by the owners. If applicable, a riding assessment will be made and a discussion of options based on preliminary results. If the horse is in good condition and groomed at the time of the visit, the assessment team will take photos and/or videos during the visit. If the horse is not in a suitable condition for photos, the team will offer the owner verbal and written instructions on how to take the appropriate photographs and the owners will be provided with an email address to which they can send them.
The staff will craft an advertisement based on the history provided by the owner and will post the photos and a written description on two online sites, including MDequinetransition.org, plus provide options for additional advertisements. After a suitable time the staff will follow up with the owners to find out if the horse was successfully rehomed.
At no time does METS take ownership of any of the horses it assists; however, any who want to give a horse a home must sign an agreement that no METS horse will be taken to auction or slaughter. They must meet or exceed the MHC’s Standards of Care.
METS also accepts inquiries and applications from private owners who wish to give a horse a home. If their application is approved and the potential for a match is there, METS will put them in touch with the horse owner to move forward.
Vallot said, “We do extensive background checks on all of those who wish to get horses through our program. We check with personal references, veterinary references, farriers and friends of the applicant. In short, we do everything we can to assure those persons who advertise their horses with us that the horses are going on to a good and safe home.”
Facilities are encouraged to be licensed through the Maryland Horse Industry Board or be a Thoroughbred farm in good standing with the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. In this way owners can feel secure in knowing that METS has put parameters in place to best ensure safe placement for their horses.
METS also works with a wide group of industry-based facilities and professionals, as well as private owners, to find transitional solutions for horses. The METS network includes associations, clubs, trainers, training facilities, riding stables, boarding facilities, rescues and therapeutic riding centers as well as veterinarians and other equine industry professionals. METS will also facilitate placement with private owners who submit an approved application.
Network members are notified when a horse is available through METS that may work for their business. When a network member is interested in a specific horse, METS will facilitate communication between the member and horse owner to further discuss placement.
In the event that the horse is very aged, in exceedingly poor health or has exhibited dangerous behavior issues, sometimes it is agreed between the METS team and the owner that the kindest action is euthanasia. But in general, this option is for horses suffering from a poor quality of life due to chronic illness, lameness or advanced age that is making management difficult. It is understood that even when owners know that euthanasia will relieve chronic pain and suffering, saying goodbye to a long-time partner or companion can be difficult. The METS staff can make the process easier by facilitating the arrangements. The METS staff can assist owners by either scheduling euthanasia on site, which is the most humane option because it avoids the unnecessary trauma of relocation, or coordinating transportation to one of several approved sites. Procedures will be performed by a veterinarian in the METS network at a reduced rate, or can be performed by the owner’s veterinarian. Financial assistance may be available for owners who cannot afford the associated costs. Owners make the final decision on which option, if any, they choose to select.
Given the diversity of choices, it can be seen that METS is a statewide equine safety net that provides alternatives for horses needing homes by helping owners identify and select the best transition options.
For those horse owners whose lives have been changed by unexpected events, this service can be a gift of emotional health as well as a comfort in the certainty they have done the best they could do for their equine companion.