Starting a New Equine Welfare Organisation

The work of equine welfare charities usually falls into three categories:

1. Sanctuaries or Homes of Rest
Horses, ponies and donkeys stay in the care of one organisation for the rest of their lives. They are often old, may be unsound and need appropriate care in a peaceful environment.

2. Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-home
These are centres where horses are provided a second lease of life after trauma. After veterinary clearance, they are re-schooled and prepared for a new start in an approved loan home whilst remaining the property of the organisation for the rest of their lives.

3. Emergency Centres

Some centres take very vulnerable horses for intensive nursing care/ veterinary treatment. Alternatively, they provide emergency accommodation/care whilst a prosecution is pending. Decisions have to be made about the future of these animals when the emergency is over.

A core question to consider: Is there truly a need for a new organisation? 

Anyone contemplating starting an equine welfare organisation should think long and hard whether there is really a need for such an organisation. Is setting up a new organisation really the best way to advance the cause of equine welfare? Might you be able to have a greater, more effective contribution in another way - for example, if you are skilled at fundraising, by assisting an existing organisation to raise funds, or if you are good at rehabilitation, by helping in this capacity? 

The NEWC ‘our member’ area will provide you with information on members and their specific work.  Make contact with these organisations, visit them and establish if more facilities of this kind are actually needed. In some cases it may be better to support an existing organisation rather than setting up a new one.

If you do decide to go ahead: 

1. Decide how many horses can be properly and safely looked after in a manner commensurate with good welfare, and do not exceed this limit. ‘Welfare cases’ deserve just as good welfare as any other equines, and have the same protection under the Animal Welfare Act (2006). ‘Animal Hoarding’, where the desire to rescue as many equines as possible overrides consideration of the welfare of each individual, is unacceptable.  

2. Ensure you have adequate short-term emergency accommodation. Use isolation precautions to ensure the welfare of equines already on the premises is not compromised.

3. Consider the staff you will require and do not overestimate what they will be able to cope with. It is important to be realistic, because if too much is taken on by one person there will be no time to reflect on the effectiveness of care, resulting in suffering. If the rehabilitation of animals with behaviour problems is undertaken (usually a long-term exercise requiring extra funding and many months of commitment) specially skilled and experienced staff will be required. Remember that nursing and feeding very sick animals is expensive and mentally and physically exhausting. Some cases may require 24 hour nursing care. 

4. You may consider providing facilities and staff for emergency care of animals taken in by the police or a prosecuting agency. Consider the staff and cost implications of providing such a service carefully. Appropriate transport and a competent driver plus an assistant must be able to go out at any time of the day or night. Suitably competent staff must live on site to attend to the animals’ requirements. Comprehensive and detailed records of the health and management of animals involved in prosecution cases must be kept, and staff must be able and willing to stand up in court and give evidence when required. Failure in either respect may result in the failure of a prosecution. You will have to be prepared to liaise closely with RSPCA and local authorities in the management of such animals. Note that prosecution cases can take years to come to a conclusion, resulting in the animals being resident in your facility over the long term.

5. When animals are signed over to a sanctuary or home of rest they are committed to your care for the rest of their natural lives. Old animals can be very demanding. Many can become profoundly unhappy when denied the one-to-one human contact they have been accustomed to. Some suffer when moved to new surroundings with new companions, and may not thrive. Many will require special nutritional, farriery and veterinary treatment. Veterinary advice must be sought to set defined criteria for the euthanasia of injured, sick, elderly and infirm animals. You are not only responsible for the welfare of equines on your facility for their lifetimes, but also for their welfare at the end of their lives.

6. Some feel that it is desirable that healthy animals should go to knowledgeable loan homes where they can be usefully employed. The legal, financial and staff implications of such rehoming activities must be addressed with care. Furthermore, it is important to remember that an adoption or loan can fail at any time and that it may be necessary to provide immediate accommodation for the animal concerned.

7. Some further points to consider:

  • If the premises and facilities to be used are rented ensure that a long term lease is obtained.
  • Ensure there is sufficient funding in place to cover at least 12 months of the rental and running costs of the establishment before commencing operation, and maintain adequate financial reserves.
  • Agree criteria and procedures for admission of horses.
  • If permanent re-homing or loaning of horses is to be undertaken, agree procedures and documentation to safeguard the future welfare of the animals. This includes assessment of the suitability of the new carer and their premises and establishment of procedures for future welfare checks.
  • Consider the status most suited to the proposed organisation; Charity, Not for Profit organisation, or Community Interest Company.
  • Be fully appraised and familiar with relevant legislation and codes of practice, e.g. the Animal Welfare Act (2006), the Equine Industry Welfare Guidelines Compendium (available from NEWC here), Health and Safety legislation, Employee rights, insurance requirements and fundraising regulations. 


Great care should be taken in the selection of Trustees for the new organisation. They should have knowledge of equine management, veterinary care, business organisation, investment management and charity law. The combined bank of knowledge represented by the Trustees can have a very significant effect on the overall success of the organisation. Trustees should be prepared to take an active part in attempting to identify potential problems and managing future expansion. Experience has shown that difficulties can occur when a strongly motivated individual who starts a welfare organisation later succumbs to ill health or other distracting circumstances. For this reason, there should be a minimum of at least four competent organisers available to take over the duties of the founder individual and render assistance to the Trustees should such circumstances arise.

Duties of Trustees

  • It is the duty of those undertaking Trusteeship to ensure that, if the organisation is a registered charity, it complies with Charity Commission requirements. Anyone being asked to undertake the role of Trusteeship should contact the Charity Commission and ascertain the roles, responsibilities and liabilities that Trusteeship brings with it.
  • It is the organisation’s responsibility to make its Trustees aware of their legal responsibilities and to protect them from any possible financial liability. It may therefore be necessary to take out insurance against financial liability or to incorporate the charity as a Limited Liability Company. Specialist advice must be sought.
  • If the organisation is not a registered charity, those responsible for its management must ensure that it is being run in an ethical, reputable and honest way.


It is very important that sufficient funds are available to maintain and sustain the organisation. Fundraising is a very time consuming task and is best undertaken by people other than those actually caring for the animals on a daily basis. Remember that disasters can happen to every organisation and sufficient funds must be in place for emergencies.

Business Plan 

If, after all these considerations, you still decide to go ahead with establishing your new organisation, you must first establish a sound business plan. This should include allowance for wages, feed, veterinary fees, farriery, special equipment, transport, buildings, fencing, repairs and pasture management as well as an emergency fund. It is important that a new organisation starts small, initially taking only the animals it can care for effectively within its current capabilities. It should only grow as funds increase.

What is a Business Plan?

A Business Plan has been described as a document giving clear answers to all those questions you hoped would never be asked. Once it can address all questions rationally, the business plan is ready.  Advice can also be sought from high street banks and other financial institutions.

The Charity Commission 

The Charity Commission provides useful information about starting a charity and the responsibilities of Trustees on their website.

The Commission will also answer your questions and provide advice and guidance. You may contact them via their enquiry telephone number: 0300 066 9197.

The aims and objectives of an organisation usually form the basis of its Governing Document or, if it is not a registered charity, the guidelines under which it works. It is advisable to consult a charity solicitor when drawing up such documents, but the Charity Commission will also advise and help you to draw up the relevant forms.

The National Equine Welfare Council will of course be pleased to advise on the setting up of equine welfare organisations.

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