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Harnessing Data To Help More Horses

by | Dec 2018 | Article

Harnessing Data to Help More Horses

“The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.”
-Carly Fiorina, Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard

If you have been involved with horse welfare or rescue in some capacity for any length of time, including as an adopter, think back to what motivated you to become involved in the first place. Was it a passion for horses? A desire to give back to a charitable effort? A specific horse in need that inspired you to join the cause? A combination of factors? Or perhaps a belief that there is an overarching challenge in the horse world related to at-risk horses in the US? While your journey may have begun with one horse, no doubt it quickly became clear that the issue of at-risk horses affects a significant population of equines and therefore people.

But exactly how big is the issue? How many horses fall at-risk every year, experience an inhumane transition, or are suffering neglect or abuse that a humane transition could prevent? Where are they now and where did they come from? What breed, age, and gender are they? What services do they need in order to safely move to a new home? We truly don’t know, exactly, and realize that this lack of understanding is a major barrier to affecting large-scale change and saving the lives of a huge number of horses. From this understanding, a collaborative effort to gather concrete and reliable data was born, and here we will explore how participating in this data collective movement benefits everyone involved in the horse welfare effort.

First off, understanding data of the problem we’re tackling enables us to advance the entire equine welfare effort. All we know now is that there aren’t currently enough resources to help all the horses that need assistance. We can’t know that improvement is happening if we don’t know where we started. I can only speak for The Right Horse Initiative’s mission – to increase adoption – but I believe all stakeholders in the horse welfare world hope to help MORE horses in whatever way they focus their efforts: more equines benefiting from safety net programs, being gelded, microchipped, receiving veterinary and farrier care, receiving disaster relief, receiving training, and finding new homes with a person who loves them. As an industry, we hope to learn from data research in the following areas:

  • What is the population of horses currently in rescue/adoption organizations?
    • From here we can analyze what kinds of help and resources these horses need.
  • What is the total capacity to care for horses at all the rescue/adoption centers combined? How many horses are at risk – and how different are these two numbers?
    • With this data we can determine how many could be helped annually and work to build capacity to help more horses.
  • Annually, how many horses are adopted – successfully transitioned back to health and private care – making room for another horse in need?
    • From here we have a baseline from which to measure progress towards increasing adoptions.

We’ve explored how data can help advance equine welfare efforts on a large scale. Now let’s look at how smart application of data can help individual organizations improve. Most non-profit organizations have a target population, region, or specific issue where they aim to make a difference. Let’s take the example of helping a certain state’s horse population. A few pieces of data an organization could benefit from are:

  • What is the horse population of my state overall, and the population of horses in rescues in my state?
    • From here one can understand the scope of the challenge locally and how to benchmark progress against the end goal of reducing risk for all horse in the state.
  • Why do horses most commonly end up at-risk or in rescues in my state?
    • From here one can identify target populations of owners and provide community resources, safety net and/or transition support to help horse most in need.
  • How many and what kinds of adoptable horses and adopters exist in neighboring states?
    • This can help an organization determine whether to pursue transportation partnerships to move horses closer to potential adopters or receive horses on transfer to satisfy local demand for adoptions.

This information is incredibly powerful not only for improving and creating programs, but for fundraising. Local and regional community support is critical to creating sustainability for non-profit organizations. Therefore, illustrating a local, statewide or regional need makes it significantly easier to propose solutions and raise funds to support. Donors like to know their dollars are going to support a cause important to them and frequently that means a cause right in their backyards. Having valid, reputable data in fundraising legitimizes the need for horse welfare work, provides context to the issues, and enables nonprofits to make convincing calls to action.

Taking it back to a big-picture view, when I talk to horse people who don’t work in welfare or rescue every day, many simply don’t realize how big the problem is and how many good horses are at risk. Being able to explain the issue with valid data is a powerful way to gain more supporters in our efforts to create positive, long-term solutions.

Sharing the goal to answer all these burning questions are members of the Equine Welfare Data Collective, a group formed to gather valid data around the questions discussed here, as a start. Funding that The Right Horse Initiative, along with other EWDC funders, provided supports staff and operations to objectively collect data with the end goal to benefit all rescues, adoption centers, sanctuaries, municipal centers, and other equine welfare stakeholders. The first round of data collection has begun, and the first step is getting big-picture, baseline numbers. The EWDC can’t do it alone and we join them in encouraging all equine welfare organizations to take part in this movement. Visit the EWDC website to see a copy of the survey annotated with explanations for why each question is asked and how the information will be used. Participating members of the collective will receive aggregate data to inform, improve and advance their own missions.

Information technology and data visualization expert Stephen Few said, “Numbers have an important story to tell. They rely on you to give them a clear and convincing voice.” I think we can all agree the same is true for horses. The better we can count and recognize every horse in transition in the United States, the better we can be their clear and convincing voices and enact life-saving solutions.

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Why Adoption Numbers Matter

When a horse lover adopts a horse from a rescue, it frees up the rescue to take more horses from owner relinquishments, before they end up at auction. Through adoptions, we can help these horses before they end up in horrible situations because we will have the space to do so.

Benjamin + Otis

I am just in awe with this horse. My life has gone in a positive direction since we adopted this guy. We are incredibly grateful for him and everyone involved in his rescue and re-purpose.

Aly + Bindi

At this point I had seen lots of great horses but none of them made me think “I cannot live without this horse”; that is until I met Bindi. Bindi was beautiful! She was more than anything I could have ever dreamed up in my head. I applied to adopt her.