About four years ago, an 11-year-old horse came off to the racetrack at Charles Town, his racing days done. I’d been following him for a while—six years–and the call finally came that his trainer thought he had had enough.
Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue graciously agreed to take him in; a bit obstreperous, at times downright hard to handle, he had a short, ineffectual career as a teaser pony at a nearby New York stud farm, but when the time came for him to be turned out at Akindale, it was also time for him to lose his testicles, even at his advanced age.
Enter One Horse at a Time, who approved a request for a gelding grant, enabling Tie Break to join a group of other geldings at Akindale, where he has lived, happy and spoiled, for the last several years.
One Horse at a Time unhesitatingly helped Akindale and me when we needed it, and now this Kentucky-based organization needs our help.
Found in 2007 by Penny Austin, One Horse at a Time was born of an on-line community that came together after reading about a nine-month colt that had essentially frozen to death in Minnesota.
“We all became so engrossed in the story, and that led to a general discussion of the plight of horses and issues involving them,” said Austin. “We decided that we could try to make a difference, even if it was for just one horse at a time.”
At first, the group raised money through yard sales and small, grassroots initiatives; their first project was sponsoring a horse at the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center in Kentucky. They began accepting and reviewing applications for grants for gelding, for medical procedures, for feed to get horse owners through tough financial times.
Their audience grew when the group joined Facebook, and the organization caught the attention of equine photographer and Thoroughbred Daily News staffer Sarah K. Andrew, who directed the proceeds of her 2013 calendar Horses and Hope, published in partnership with Hoofprints’ Gina Keesling, to the organization, an amount totaling $25,000.
“Sarah came to Kentucky to deliver the check, and I was out in the middle of a pasture here, with a horse that we’d pulled from Camelot,” Austin remembered, referring to the horse auction that takes place weekly in New Jersey and the source of the photos in Andrews’ calendar. “When I saw how much it was, I almost sat down in a pile of manure.”
“Then,” she added, “the horse tried to eat the check.”
With that money and the proceeds of subsequent calendars, One Horse at a Time was able to help more than 1,000 horses; the calendar promotion, which ended a couple of years ago, supplied the organization with generous contributions and brought attention to its work, the latter becoming, said Austin recently, something of a mixed blessing, because the volume of requests increased as the organization’s profile did.
“Now we’re struggling to keep up with the requests that come in,” she admitted.
“In the last week,” Austin posted on Facebook in February, “we’ve received applications for assistance in gelding EIGHT stallions/jacks. We are diligently working on all of those applications as I type. That is roughly $2,000 worth of grants that will be paid out shortly.
“In the same time period, we’ve received $86 from our fundraising efforts and $250 as a memorial gift from one of our board members.
“We don’t have barns to rebuild or build in the first place, we don’t have farms to purchase, or horses to pull from an auction.
“What we do have is a program that most definitely cuts down on unwanted horses. If you believe in us – please share who we are with your friends and ask them to make a small donation – say $10 each.”
Like many small non-profits, OHAAT is struggling with the changes in Facebook’s policies regarding the visibility of posts; though the group’s page is liked by more than 12,000 people, only a fraction of them see Austin’s posts unless she pays to promote them, and that’s not where she wants people’s donation dollars to go.
The group’s expenses are low: $300 a year for a website, $400 for insurance. There is no paid staff and little overhead, and Austin tries to cap donations to individual recipients–$250 for a gelding grant, $350 for feed and medicine grants. She doesn’t require tax statements from applicants, but she and about half a dozen volunteers check references and talk to applicants’ veterinarians and farriers, and they research online, checking social media and other posts. All funds are paid directly to the service providers such as vets and feed companies.
“We’re one of the few groups that gives grants to individuals and not just to rescue organizations,” Austin explained. “You don’t have to be a 503(c)3 to get help from us.”
She’s considered starting a crowd-sharing initiative to help raise money, observing the number of other organizations that have turned to GoFundMe and similar sites, but as she hesitates to pay Facebook to promote, she balks at using any service that will take administrative costs.
“Most folks who want to donate give the money to us directly,” she said. “Most of them are small donations, and they do add up, and they do make a difference. People trust us because our administrative costs are as minimal as they can possibly be.”
Austin has pondered whether OHAAT has “passed its time,” whether it has been supplanted by other organizations, whether needs are being met in other ways. But then she notes that she still gets multiple inquiries a week about assistance, most of which turn into applications.
“We feel good about what we’ve done and how we’ve done it,” she said. “We want to keep helping for as long as we can.”
One Horse at a Time is an IRS certified 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and your donation is 100% tax-deductible.