Horse Rescue Work


The Equine Rescue and Adoption Foundation (ERAF) of Palm City, Florida was a regular stop for me for many years. Originally I showed up to help my friend Daryl with a few horses that were particularly challenging. Things grew from there.

Rescue horses and those that carry the labels of difficult, remedial, or problematic are of special interest to me. It is from them that we have the greatest opportunity to learn from our collective mistakes, test training theories and help improve the lives of horses that otherwise have been given up on. While Mustangs may show us how horses live in the wild, rescue horses show us the responsibility of domestication.

I became deeply involved with ERAF, organizing the training programs for all the horses and the education of the volunteers working with them. I got to watch the groups of volunteers rehabilitate the rescue horses into calm, beautiful, healthy and functional horses. My involvement with rescue horses feeds my soul.

The volunteers come and go at horse rescues and the horses remain, coping with changing faces and abilities. This is very different than working with one owner – one horse through a normal course of training. Horse rescues can be a challenging environment for teaching and re-training horses. Some type of system was a requirement for success with the horses. And so, the program Training for Optimal Balance began to take shape.

Having a program provided a framework for new volunteers learning about rehabilitation but the program had to also be flexible enough to actually deal with the huge varieties involved with rehabilitation. The horses needed consistency in handling and adaptable variety in work. Because rescue horses can be extreme in their behavioral or physical challenges we also needed a process that was safe to both horse and human. Training for Optimal Balance was the program that developed to meet these needs.

When clients ask me if their old horse can still improve, if their problem horse can still turn around or if the horse can be restored from illness, lameness or injury, I just smile and think to myself, I really should have taken more pictures at ERAF.

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  1. Norma Miller

    Hi Kirsten! What a great job you do! I have read & enjoyed learning through your books: “Basic Handling” & “Ground Work.” I volunteer with rescue horses here in NC.
    Joanie Benson started the rescue organization in 1991 & it is her web site I have given you above. She has done a remarkable job and we currently have 45 horses which survive solely on donations & grants. Joanie spends most of her time raising $’s to keep the horses fed, vet, ferrier, dental and chiropractic care current. Under her direction we volunteers muck, feed (each horse is on a special diet), treat wounds & skin conditions, etc. As you can imagine it is a huge undertaking daily. All the horses are allowed to roam free in pastures (geldings separate from mares, etc), and all are barefoot. The only time they are in their stall is for feeding & treatments. I am one of only two people who is involved with training & riding. We have a huge problem of finding experienced riders under 145 lbs to help us with this part of the rehabilitation. We keep trying! The web site is quite comprehensive & when you can find the time you may like to review it. Some of the newsletters show before & after pictures. I have shared your great web site with many!

    • Kirsten

      Thanks Norma. Having skilled riders who can re-start horses at a rescue is always a problem. At ERAF we have come a long way with retraining the horses using groundwork. The groundwork is safe both for horse and human and develops the skills needed for riding by both. Kudos to you for being involved and helping at a horse rescue. Your skills and dedication are so very valuable and every horse you help will also become an amazing teacher!

  2. shannon

    hi my name is shannon i just got a ruse horse but she can ride but she is herd to cach and wont let me put her sometimes and i need to get her to leron barrels she all ways tjrow her hend at me when it comes tk ride ing what do i do

    • Kirsten

      Hi Shannon.
      If the horse is hard to catch then you have a bigger problem. The horse still thinks she is a prey animal and that you, and all people, are predators. This is the first thing to overcome.
      Spend time with her in an easy, non demanding way. You will need to take some time to develop calmness and attention on you until she becomes more willing to work with you.
      As you progress past catching she will also hive to learn how to be calm and attentive while being ridden.
      Because she is currently hard to catch, it may be a while before you can safely run barrels on her.

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