Equine rescue organizations are widely known for the rehabilitation and rehoming of horses that have been saved from neglect or abuse.

However, helping an individual transition their horse to a new owner when they can no longer care for the animal is a lesser-known but equally important service that few, if any, organizations around the United States can help facilitate.

In February 2022, Woodbine, Maryland-based Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR), a 501(c)(3) equine welfare organization and national leader in equine rescue, rehabilitation, and education, absorbed the Maryland Equine Transition Service (METS), a Maryland-based equine safety-net initiative for horses in need of transition.

Previously run by the Maryland Horse Council (MHC) Foundation, METS—now called the Owner 2 Owner Assistance (O2O) Program—helps horse owners identify and select the best transition options for their horses, ensuring that safe alternatives for horses needing homes and end-of-life support are available and accessible to all Maryland-based owners.

Horses that qualify for services offered by DEFHR’s O2O Program are horses that are at risk of becoming subjected to cruelty, neglect, or the international meat industry.

Given DEFHR’s expertise in equine intervention and education, the absorption of the O2O Program’s unique service offering was a natural extension of DEFHR’s life-saving work. For DEFHR, it was also an opportunity to provide education to more people about horses in transition and ensure better long-term outcomes for equines. DEFHR believes that by providing this service, it can safeguard more horses before abuse and neglect take place.

It’s worth noting that, on average, a horse will find itself in transition seven times in its life. While transitions aren’t always detrimental, this rate of change makes it challenging to keep track of a horse and to understand when a horse is at risk.

In addition, because many owners are unaware of all the options available when they can no longer care for their horse, the likelihood that the horse ends up in a neglectful or perilous situation increases.

DEFHR’s O2O Program gives horse owners better, safer transition options by offering several services. The initial step is a comprehensive health, behavioral, and soundness assessment. From there, the program offers transition counseling, marketing assistance, placement coordination and facilitation, and support for end-of-life options so horses do not end up in neglectful or abusive situations, or worse, headed to slaughter.

Since its inception in February 2018 under the Maryland Horse Council, the O2O Program has assessed 352 horses and successfully rehomed 168 horses to date.

DEFHR’s Operations Director, Brittney Vallot, oversees the O2O Program. Vallot spoke with us about the program and how it helps bridge a critical resource gap for horse owners in Maryland.

Tell me about your involvement with METS, now O2O.

Vallot: I started at DEFHR in 2006 as Assistant Farm Manager. Over the years, I served in several roles. At the end of 2017, when I was Equine Health Director, DEFHR was approached by the MHC and asked to assist in the development and fiscal sponsorship of an innovative pilot program.

Throughout the development of the program, it was determined that it required an experienced staff member to take the lead. DEFHR and MHC felt I was a fit and offered me the position of director for the newly greenlit program called METS. I accepted the offer and began that role in early 2018.

At that point, it was mostly a concept outlined in a grant proposal and not much more. I spent the first half of the year developing the policies and procedures, protocols, and documents for the program, as well as traveling around the state presenting the program to various groups and handling phone consultations with owners.

We officially started offering assessments and listings for horses in August 2018. I returned to DEFHR in 2020 and remained a program consultant until early 2021. When DEFHR absorbed the program in February 2022, it made sense to have it fall under my oversight.

How has O2O made a significant impact on the lives of horses who may need to transition to a new home (and an impact on the lives of their owners)?

Vallot: Before O2O, owners of horses needing a transition had few options for rehoming. They would often call upon rescues to take their horses. Not surprisingly, those rescues were at or over capacity and owners would typically be referred to another rescue.

This led to owners being cycled around from rescue to rescue, ultimately not finding the assistance they needed for their horses. Now, when equine rescue organizations are at capacity, horse owners can be directed to O2O. I’ve also found that O2O is becoming well known within the community and owners are now reaching out directly to us for support.

Additionally, I believe that O2O has helped to lighten the burden placed on peer rescues in terms of time and resources. It has also alleviated an emotional burden placed on equine rescue staff because it can be hard to say no to horses in need.

What has been most rewarding for you in overseeing O2O?

Vallot: It’s most rewarding to witness the number of horses that have found new, loving homes thanks to the program. The owners’ gratitude for the assistance we provide is also extremely rewarding. I’ve observed how relieved owners are to receive our support and guidance during what is often a very heartbreaking and scary decision-making process. I’m happy that we’ve been able to provide that kind of help to horse owners.

Tell me about a typical assessment visit. What are you looking for?

Vallot: Prior to an assessment visit, I’ve already received basic information about the horse regarding their general care, management, and behavior. When I go on an assessment visit, my goal is to verify that basic information, as well as gather more details and nuances about the horse’s temperament, behavior, physical needs, abilities, and potential so I can better promote and list them as accurately and thoroughly as possible.

I do this through casual conversation with the owner as I observe and document their interaction with their horse. I ask owners to leave their horses in their usual routine so I can observe them from start to finish.

Once an owner has led and groomed the horse, and I’ve had a chance to gauge the horse’s behavior throughout that interaction, I provide a hands-on assessment of the horse, looking for things you can’t identify through visual observation alone, such as melanomas in the tail, cataracts in the eyes, and limited flexion in a knee, for example.

After I’ve completed the hands-on evaluation, we take glamour photos for their listing. If the horse can be ridden, they’re then observed being tacked up and I tell the owner to show off their horse and what they can do. Throughout the entire process with the horse, I’m taking photos and videos to use in their listing.

Once we’ve completed the horse’s assessment, I talk further with the owner regarding rehoming, as well as other options they may want or need to consider such as euthanasia. By the end of my visit, my hope is that we’ve come to an agreement about the best next steps for their horse. From there, the owner signs the appropriate paperwork and I begin the process of listing the horse in the program.  

What do you want people to know about the program? Are there any common misconceptions?

Vallot: O2O is here to support the horses and the humans equally. We are not here to judge or point fingers. We want to support, counsel, guide, educate, and encourage owners to make responsible decisions for their horses. So, if an owner is hesitant about reaching out for help because they’re worried about the response they’ll receive, there’s no need. If you want what’s best for your horse, reach out and we’ll do all we can to help.

I also want people to know that the services we provide are at minimal cost to no cost to owners. Any horse being rehomed at a sale price of less than $750 receives all of our assistance, start to finish, free of charge. We do ask for a $40 donation for any horses being rehomed for between $751 and $2,000. With this in mind, we rely on and truly appreciate any and all donations to DEFHR to help ensure this service can continue for years to come.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about O2O or would like to inquire about a horse listed through the program, who should they contact?

Vallot: They can learn more about DEFHR’s Owner 2 Owner Assistance Program by visiting our website at DEFHR.org/owner-assistance or emailing METS@defhr.org.