Camdyn W. was hoping to adopt a horse for her twelfth birthday when she came across Tatum, an American Saddlebred gelding in his 20s, on the ASPCA’s adoptable horse listing site, My Right Horse (MRH).
“I looked at several horses, but when I saw Tatum, I knew he was the one,” says Camdyn. “My other horse, Huckleberry, doesn’t enjoy being ridden, and I wanted a second horse ready to ride. Tatum seemed perfect.”
Tatum lived just down the street at the ASPCA Equine Transition and Adoption Center (ETAC), an Oklahoma-based pilot program that provides a safe place for horse owners to relinquish horses for adoption into new homes and offers access to basic veterinary services and humane euthanasia for suffering horses, mules and donkeys.
Camdyn’s family submitted an inquiry on the MRH website on June 3, 2022. Within an hour, they were contacted.
“We were able to get them in the door the same day to meet Tatum,” says Kylie McGarity, Equine Training and Behavior Specialist at ETAC. “Then we set up a second meeting a week later, where Camdyn brought her saddle and rode Tatum.”
Camdyn admits she was “a little nervous at first because Tatum’s a big horse.”
But as she rode Tatum, she gained confidence.
“I could see how Tatum was taking care of Camdyn and reassuring her,” Kylie says. “It’s been that way ever since.”
On June 13, Camdyn’s parents signed the papers to adopt Tatum the week after Camdyn turned 12.
Setting Horses Up for Success
At ETAC, Kylie uses humane training and behavior modification methods to teach horses skills that enhance their adoptability. She also identifies behavioral and medical challenges that can delay horses from being adopted.
“We want to set these horses up for success,” Kylie says. “We’ll practice liberty training—working without physical restraints like a halter, bridle or ropes—and do in-hand trail work or agility work to increase their confidence.”
Kylie teaches the adoptable horses basic skills—such as catching in a pasture, haltering and leading; getting horses used to veterinary and farrier work; and—if the horses are willing and able—getting them under saddle so they can become ridable.
Since launching an earlier version of the pilot in 2019, ETAC has helped more than 400 horses in need. Many of those horses stayed in their homes because ETAC offers fully subsidized veterinary care.
Tatum Settles In
To convince her parents to adopt Tatum, Camdyn presented a slideshow including pictures and reasons why adopting him was “essential.”
Camdyn’s father, James, was familiar with ETAC’s work and liked the benefits of adopting a horse.
“They’re a reputable non-profit and would take Tatum back if it didn’t work out,” says James. “Kylie answered all our questions. She was very supportive.”
“The ASPCA wants their horses to find the right home and for us to find the right horse, but they didn’t expect us to be horse experts already,” says Melanie. “They were willing to let Camdyn ride and work with him until we got comfortable deciding if he was a good fit for our family.”
Camdyn explains how at first, Tatum didn’t like his face to be touched or trust her to put on a halter.
“Now he loves face pets and will let anyone put on a halter,” she says. “He listens to commands and is well-behaved. He trusts me a lot.”
Camdyn’s friends also ride Tatum. And although her sister, Heaven, doesn’t ride, “she gives the horses all the love and grooming they can stand,” Melanie says.
“Tatum is in a secure place, and Camdyn knows she is safe with him,” says Kylie. “He gives her confidence, and they’re learning to thrive as a team.”
An unexpected benefit of Tatum’s adoption is that Huckleberry—the resident horse who came with the house when Camdyn and her family moved in—is best friends with Tatum.
“Camdyn wanted a good riding horse and, as an added benefit, got a new best friend for Huckleberry,” Kylie says.
“Huck is definitely happier now,” says Camdyn.
After adopting Tatum, Camdyn’s family received post-adoption support to encourage their partnership and strengthen Camdyn’s skills.
“Camdyn and Tatum needed some basic lessons in horsemanship and equine management to set them in the right direction together,” says Kylie. “Camdyn learned to groom, saddle, bridle and ride properly. She had a good foundation and a natural talent for picking up these skills, so she learned quickly.
“We want adopters to know we’re a lifelong resource for them and their adopted equine,” Kylie adds. “If they face future challenges or need support, they can always contact us. Post-adoption support helps us grow professional relationships with adopters and ensure the well-being of each adopted horse.”
In addition to helping horses directly, ETAC shares its learnings with ASPCA Right Horse Adoption Partners, a network of equine shelters and rescues across the country, who use that insight to support their equines, according to Christie Schulte-Kappert, Senior Director of Equine Welfare for the ASPCA.
“There are so many horses in this country who need adoptive homes,” she says, “They need a little help with their manners and finding their skill set, and that’s why we’re here—to help them thrive. They have so much potential and so much to give.”
A New Routine
Tatum waits in his stall every morning for Camdyn, who pets him, puts on a saddle and rides a few laps in a round pen before moving on to barrels or precision training.
She feeds him, administers his thyroid medication and sprays him for flies in the summer.
“He’s pretty easy to take care of,” Camdyn says. “He loves baths and being brushed.”
Camdyn describes Tatum’s personality as “funny and a little stubborn.”
“When he’s out in the field, and you try to halter him, he runs in circles; he thinks it’s a game,” she says. “He enjoys it when I ride bareback, but when we’re in the field, he wants to go wherever Huck is.
Since adopting Tatum, Camdyn says having another horse has flip-flopped her schedule—and her life.
“I wouldn’t change that for the world,” she says. “He’s the best thing ever.”
Camdyn recommends horse adoption “because it opens a whole new world,” she says. And Tatum’s impact on her life goes well beyond the “essential” case she made in her slideshow.
“When we adopted Tatum, I got a horse to help me do something I love—ride—and I also got a best friend,” she says.
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