Volunteers to the Rescue – How to Develop and Keep Your Volunteer Base

People volunteer to help at horse and dog/cat rescue operations for a variety of reasons. The benefits of volunteer work is a two way street and benefits both the giver and receiver of the time and energy an individual puts into the activity.

Volunteer work can help address issues of the human condition such as loneliness and feelings of low self-esteem, it can build camaraderie and help folks to meet and make new friends with common interests.

group of people

Volunteers often participate in the care and nurture of animals to address their mental illnesses or provide physical activity to keep them on the move while providing a worthwhile lending hand.

Contributing to the realm of community spirit adds purpose to life. The volunteer base is the foundation of the operation for the horse, canine or other rescue organization. Keep reading to learn how to attract and retain volunteers!

How To Attract Volunteers

Hapless circumstances sometimes create opportunities that commandeer the attention of a volunteer and provide an open door to their hearts and potentially their help in some form. Some examples: The loss of a beloved pet may leave behind an emotional void for an animal lover; the replacement of a four-legged family member due to its demise may induce visits by a potential volunteer to a rescue where an affordable and life-sustaining action of adoption can provide a solution; forced retirement due to illness or injury or simple economics can leave free time for people used to active lives who seek to expand their horizons.

Whatever the reason people volunteer, everyone is grateful that they do. Selfless acts of kindness are few and far between, and as an organization depending on volunteer staff, attracting the right type of volunteer for a particular task can be tough.

Some folks offer their time and energy to help without seeking any reward at all, while others require more than just a quick Hello and off-hand pat on the back. A person may be great for one task at the rescue, but quite hopeless at another. Regardless of who the volunteer is at hand, treat them with respect and kindness. We all have our life journey and not everyone reveals their trials and tribulations openly.

Actively seeking volunteer help can be tricky, but there are some tried and tested methods.

A key method to attract any volunteer is to provide a safe, secure, and well-organized environment that is clean and comfortable. Figuring out where an individual best fits jobwise can come later. The prime concern is to bring them to the facility and establish a good working relationship from the beginning.

person with dogs

For example, a modern commercial style kennel with hot and cold running water, plenty of indoor storage space for food and supplies, that offers heat/AC and safe, well designed kennel boxes with runs will make the daily care chores of the space easy to complete than an old-fashioned concrete kennel with low ceilings that is dark and uninviting.

Similarly, a horse rescue with broken down pasture fencing and bent gates with muddy entrances to paddocks and rutted dirt stall floors will not be either as safe or as enjoyable to work at daily as a facility with well-maintained paddocks, matted stalls, and a tidy yard.

Be Open. Be Honest.

Open House Days and fundraising events are a great place to start the hunt for help. Broadcasting news of your good works by encouraging the local press and even national press via social media to attend such events is a must. Provide as many opportunities as you can for folks to learn about your rescue via podcasts, You Tube videos and similar media. Don’t overlook the useful reach of your local newspapers and radio stations. These resources often offer free public service announcements (P.S.A.’s) to verified charity organizations.

Invite school administrators to bring their students to attend on site events and lay on hands-on critter petting activities, silent auctions, and other interest features such as showcases of professionals that are part of your team such as a vet doing a check up on a resident animal or a dog trainer putting basic commands into a puppy, to encourage a learning environment for all that attend. Make the day fun and as interactive as possible.

If you can attract a celebrity to any event, it is a boon to attendance. Given of course, that you spread word of their attendance widely beforehand.

You can also advertise for volunteer help needed but try and offer some incentive such as a free riding lesson at a horse rescue, or a discounted adoption price for volunteer workers. Social media platforms are the obvious choice of venue for ads to garner the most attention but make sure any sponsored ads are carefully placed for your immediate commutable region.

It is important to be open and honest upfront about your needs and requirements of the job you’d like the volunteer to do as well as the schedule and timeframe. Know which areas you have flexibility and which areas you cannot manage without a permanent solution.

people working with horse

Some examples: If you run a horse rescue and can take on volunteers that require the time needed to train them to handle horses and safely work around them that is fine, but if you need experienced horse folks then that is obviously different. It’s no good attracting an enthusiastic volunteer to work at your dog shelter if the noise of persistent barking from caged dogs’ winds them up.

On the other hand, if you need help at 7 a.m. on every weekend morning and the volunteer can only come on on/off weekends, then you may be able to work with the schedule by adding another volunteer.

How To Keep Volunteers

Providing appropriate and well-functioning tools, equipment, and supplies to complete the task at hand with the allowance of sufficient time to execute a chore or assignment are factors that empower folks to do a good job.

Convenient location of necessary services such as hot/cold water, easy snap fittings on hoses, good lighting and a heated/cooled space for work breaks are all essential aspects of good business management practices. Add in a secure safe place to park and a location where personal items/valuables can be secured during the workday for extra bonus points. A worker that is constantly worried about their ‘stuff’ and their personal safety is not a happy worker.

Keep the brief on the work to be completed clear and concise to avoid misunderstandings and mistakes. Outlining the job at hand without adding endless ‘buts’ and contingencies at the beginning can always be followed up with a more detailed review later once the volunteer has mastered the basics.

people hugging

Many volunteers value not just handing out their nurturing skills and free hand to manual labor but also the education they can garner during the process. Teachable moments don’t just apply to children. Use opportunities that present themselves to help people learn skill sets they didn’t have before or know they possessed. This type of life enrichment and fulfillment may take more effort on your part to manage but will result in a loyal following.

Always set a good example with your own behavior. Show up on time, conduct yourself with grace and calm and be kind.

Is Managing a Volunteer Staff Really Different than Running a Staff on Payroll?

Rewarding your volunteer base on a regular basis is a ‘must do’ but these rewards do not have to be expensive or fancy undertakings such as throwing big parties or dishing out gifts. A rescue organization’s budget is tight enough to begin with and most volunteers would not wish to take any form of financial payment for their efforts. They would rather the funds go to help the animals in need.

Being flexible and understanding of a volunteer’s schedule and showing respect for the efforts the individual makes to complete a task is a good start to keeping the volunteer happy. Unlike a paid staff member, a volunteer obviously does not have to show up or be there on point, and as with any staff member showing appreciation for their work without undue criticism is a good jumping off point to building a great relationship.

It should go without saying that you should never berate a staff member of either type, paid or volunteer. Anger has no place in personnel management, and certainly any ‘talks’ should be done one on one in private, never in front of other staff or other people.

But in reality, there are not many differences in the best practices to manage a staff of either type. Regardless of whether the person gets a pay check or a pat on the back, the management skills to hire the right person for the job, engage them to reach their best potential and encourage loyalty to you and your business are much the same.

Interested in learning more about how to attract and retain volunteers? There are lots of resources at APSCA pro –  https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/best-ideas-attract-keep-and-grow-volunteers

Plan for the Aging Up Of Horse and Human in Barn Design – Vintage Riders and Vintage Horses

As most folks know, barn design should always incorporate fit and function as well as aesthetic appeal. But a factor that is often overlooked is that of how details of design can be mapped out to make life easier on both aging horse and human.

woman with horse

The passion for horses often lasts a lifetime, both yours and that of your equine partner. Old age creeps up on all of us – well at least those of us lucky enough. It certainly beats the alternative.

But along with growing older comes an almost inevitable plethora of challenges. Health and financial are two key arenas where the horse owner finds themselves increasingly mindful. For the horse age-related issues might not include the bank account, but health care of the vintage horse often requires special needs such as limited turn-out, dry lots and the like.

Here are some tips to help horse owners plan their barn designs for their senior lifestyle and that of their beloved equine family.

Stay Grounded

Groundwork takes on a different meaning as you grow older and complete tasks around the horse yard. When it comes time for heavy lifting of hay or other essential supplies to the barn loft or access to overhead storage areas, the wall ladder may become increasingly difficult to navigate.

Bending and lifting the hay hatches in the loft floor may be too strenuous a task to contemplate, and tack room cabinet handles and step ladders needed to clean windows may be too high to comfortably reach.

In the barn building plans consider the provision of a staircase with steps that are not too steep but meet regular building code requirements. The stairs need to be wide enough that if a vintage horse rider slips when descending the staircase their legs do not become entrapped in the railings or banister. A sturdy build with a hand railing on each side can add an additional layer of safety. Hay hatches may be fitted with hydraulic hardware to aid in lifting.

stairs in horse barn

The initial barn design could include storage locations at ground level in extra stall spaces with a separate building located nearby for delivery and storage of the bulk of the hay supply rather than in a loft space.

The allotted space can be periodically resupplied with hay by others or movement/distribution of hay from a separate storage building can be made by vehicular means such a UTV or side-by-side unit.

The cabinets above counters in tack rooms can be placed to the lowest allowed location by building code, and hardware can be mounted across the base of the cabinets to allow easier reach.

Windows should be easy to operate from the ground without the need for a step ladder.

A caregiver that stays ‘grounded’ is less likely to be hurt or injured completing daily horse care tasks.

Gnarly Nifty Hacks

As we age, we generally become physically weaker and along with less strength conditions such as arthritis may haunt us too.

Barn doors that you once found slid open easily may now feel cumbersome. Latches on tack room cabinets or stable doors may be difficult to open due to arthritis.

When you build your barn consider the weight of the doors as well as how smoothly they open. For example: Instead of wood doors the use of metal doors may lighten the load.

barn door

Ensure the hardware throughout the barn including stall doors is large and well-finished enough to be simple to operate without the need for strength to combat spring loaded actions or the need to fiddle or grip tightly.

Minimize Maintenance and Maximize Access

The use of ladders to clear gutters or make rooftop repairs are just one of the hazards that increase in risk as we age up and almost inevitably our balance and strength is not what it once was – climbing ladders and clambering over roofs should not be on our ‘to do’ lists. Neither should heavy snow lifting by hand with shovels, putting together and utilizing scaffolding to reach chandeliers that need dusting in the aisle or siding that needs repainting or repair.

When designing the horse barn choose low maintenance on brand products with good warranties that are proven to minimize maintenance in the future.

Pathways from parking or house to the barn should be finished for the use of easy mechanical plowing methods such as snow throwers, and access areas to pastures and driveways kept free of obstacles and large enough that a snowplow can be brought in to remove snow if necessary.

Expensive options such as radiant heated exterior pathways and interior floors or heated tack rooms and office spaces, or fully heated barns and the like are all possibilities if the budget allows. 

Temperature Swings 

As age increases both horse and human find extreme temperature swings more difficult to cope with due to the physical challenges that heat and cold present.

horse nose with frost

This is for several reasons: Older aging horses and humans generally have less fat layer beneath their skin to keep them warm; metabolic rates decreases with age; chronic health issues make management of temperature fluctuations harder to manage such as heart conditions that are stressed by the need to pump more blood to the skin surface to cool the body.

In terms of barn design the addition of an insulated roof and walls, installation of commercial grade fans for cooling need, passive and mechanical ventilation such as cupolas and electric fans in cupolas are all areas where forethought can help mitigate issues with temperature control during extreme temperatures or errant temperature fluctuations.

Tasks Take Longer

Completing mucking out, watering, and grooming tasks may take longer as we age. Our safety while executing them may depend on how steady we are on our feet and how much time we can allow to take frequent breaks for a brief respite.

The inclusion of automatic watering systems can eliminate the need for lifting heavy buckets filled with water, but the mucking out task will always be part of the daily horse-keeping chores where stalls are provided.

Consider the benefits of the Dutch door on the exterior wall of each stall with an overhang for added shelter for the resident equine, with a center aisle barn design where the caregiver can stay out of the sun and rain the entire time horsekeeping duties are being completed.

If each stall is designed with an adjacent outside paddock or dry lot area, the stabled horse can easily be let out each day or have free in/out access most of the time, allowing the caregiver maximum flexibility in feed times and mucking out routines. Hay might be provided in an equine feeder (a great way to save on hay wastage and hence hay expenses which is especially important for those on a fixed income).

This timeline flexibility is valuable for the horse owner who may then choose to complete barn work during the cooler or warmer periods of the day according to their preference. As we grow older, we all feel temperature extremes more acutely.

An added safety bonus of the exterior door set up, is that horses can be locked outside the barn while mucking out tasks are completed without their presence. Horses access to stalls can also be limited to minimize both the expenses of bedding and the amount of labor required to muck them out.

Stalls fitted with front stall wall hatches for hay and grain feeding can save the need to open a stall door at times when the horse is likely excited and negates the associated risk that a pushy equine takes advantage of the moment the door is opened to escape its confines.

The use of Dutch doors can also limit the amount of time and risks associated with handling horses for turnout. For the older vintage horse rider and equine caregiver, the necessity to bring horses in and out of pastures especially where snow or ice conditions exist is a high-risk event. And for the older horses that are not as lithe and limber as they were in their youth, the need to navigate long distances with poor footing can be minimized.

Consider The Horse Of Course

Just as people develop diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and other metabolic disorders, nerve diseases, sight, or hearing loss etc. horses are also likely to suffer the consequences of illness and infirmity of the aging process.

Freedom of movement with in/out stable access can mitigate arthritis issues and a dry lot or limited pasture arrangement can help with issues such as PPID/Insulin Resistance and Cushing’s disease.

The installation of rubber mats in stalls can also improve the comfort for horses with laminitis prone feet or arthritic joints and save costs on bedding.

A separate ‘Jenny Craig’ dry paddock that is well fenced and readily available for special use during any laminitis flare up or weight management need is a useful space on any horse property. Placing it close to the barn can help keep the horse quieter and allow it to feel more secure, while also limiting the distance that the horse and handler are required to navigate to go to and from the barn. It can also be used as a quarantine space in times of need.

horse barn with pasture

Keeping a horse suffering loss of sight in a smaller area without a change of location can help it cope with its condition.

Site Your Barn In Sight

While it is important to visit and check horses out in person daily there are times when the caregiver is temporally less mobile due to minor injury, recovery from surgery or rehabilitation from strokes or other issues.

Placement of the barn within sight of the house with its exterior stall doors facing house windows can ease the stress of the horse owner that is forced to leave the daily horse care tasks to others.

The ability to be able to see the horses happily engaged following their routines and standing on all four feet behaving normally from the house, can also relieve stress for the equine owner and release them from the urgent need to go out to the barn to check on their charges.

Add Layers Of Security

Implementing driveway alarms, video monitoring devices and motion detecting security lights can help any horse owner maintain better security of their horse farm and monitor the comings and goings on the property.

barn interior with security camera

A multi-pronged approach with a mix of hardwired, solar powered units and remote systems is a good way to maximize coverage, with some units clearly evident and some hidden.

Security is particularly important for the elderly as they are more at risk due to the infirmities of old age that may include hearing loss. Devices that vibrate or work on batteries that can be placed close by the individual when ensconced in the house watching TV so they can be heard, can help reduce stress associated with unexpected company and put people with nefarious intent off visiting the property.

Extra Fire Safe Farm Practices You Shouldn’t Overlook

No horse farm owner wants to play around with fire. Sadly, every year horses and humans die in fires, and property and equipment is damaged or destroyed. A farm is a high-risk environment for fires, but simple routines and proactive measures can mitigate that risk. Many times devastating fire events could have been avoided.

barn fire

Advice on fire safety practices on the horse farm will often encompass areas of common concern such as moisture content of hay and its storage, provision of evacuation plans and emergency services contact numbers, 24/7 illuminated exit signs, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, removal of cobwebs from light fixtures, no smoking signs, keeping the barn aisle free of obstacles and all wiring protected from vermin and the reach of inquisitive equine noses.

While putting all the above advice into action is a must, there are other fire ‘starters’ that are often overlooked. For example, did you know that arcing of batteries in equipment such as tractors is a leading cause of farm fires? Electrical arcs can reach 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Why are buildings in the farm environment are generally considered at higher risk of fire than a residence?

This is because where animals are houses the humidity is generally high and there are certain gases present in the atmosphere such as ammonia and hydrogen sulphate that are corrosive. When electric current is applied in a barn, either on a piece of equipment or through the electric wiring circuit servicing the building’s needs, they are thus subject to the negative corrosive forces of this environment. Extra safety steps can make all the difference in mitigating the level of fire risk.

Here are some helpful farm safety practices and protocols that you may want to add to your fire prevention list.

  • Remove batteries from equipment when storing it for long periods of time. Especially tractors and larger vehicles. Store batteries in a warm, dry location away from cold temperatures to extend battery life.
  • Empty the hay baler of all hay before putting it away in a building. Hay that sweats up in the baler not only causes paint damage and rust to the machine it also presents a fire hazard.
  • Avoid plugging motorized equipment into outlets in the barn or hay storage area. Some examples: electric charged golf carts, diesel engines that require block heaters to be plugged in for cold winter starts.
  • Be careful where holiday decorations are placed to avoid locations of a flammable nature such hay storage areas, dry wood walls, or areas of likely cobwebs and insect/vermin issues. Ensure that the quality of the wires is UL graded for exterior use. A barn may be thought of as an interior space but usually the humidity caused by the livestock housed within combined with the fact most barns are unheated spaces creates condensation and moisture and is considered an exterior environment from the electrical standpoint.
  • Unplug small appliances such as coffee makers, microwave ovens and toasters when not in use. Horse equipment such as plug in hay steamers should always be carefully monitored to ensure they are not dry of water as a fire may result. Ideally these units should not be left plugged in without supervision.
  • Ensure all outlets are fitted with GFCI for additional protection of users of electrical circuits. Install AFCI where recommended by a licensed electrician. Although annoyingly sensitive to electric current fluctuations AFCI installation can readily detect issues in the circuit before a fire ensues.
  • Ensure all breakers and circuits are up to electrical code requirements and breaker box is easily accessible and do not overload circuits. A breaker switching off automatically is your warning that the circuit is not functioning safely.

warning triangleA quick Electric 101 course:
As mentioned above barns and farm buildings are at higher risk of fire than homes due to the housing of livestock and humidity and corrosive gases produced by the presence of animals. Corrosion of copper and brass in wire can produce a localized heat that may eventually result in spontaneous ignition of surrounding materials. Corrosion and rodent damage can also leave wires exposed that may cause arcing/ sparking when an electrical current is applied, setting on fire flammable components nearby.

  • Extension wires that service tank water heaters and electric fences should be protected from damage from snow plowing equipment and heavy tractor tires. Avoid placing electrical extension wires anywhere a shod horse’s foot could impact it or trip over it. Cover of temporary use extension wires with rubber mats to avoid the tripping hazard is common, but these should be periodically checked to ensure there is no damage or wear to the wire beneath and this method should not be considered a permanent solution to an electrical outlet need closer to the area of use. Consider solar powered options for power where possible e.g. fence chargers.
  • Steel fire doors versus wood, should be installed in offices/bathrooms/tack rooms etc. The addition of automatic door closures can provide another layer of protection for areas at high risk for fire such as feed rooms and barn kitchens/offices. The automatic door closer will help prevent vermin from finding their way inside these spaces and save the need for opening and closing doors by hand when often your hands are full of buckets or tack and equipment.
  • Never use any open flame in a building. This may seem obvious but sadly rocket heaters stuck at the end of an aisleway, or kerosene heaters in feed rooms and the use of generators in the interior of a building are all too often utilized by farm owners resulting in fire.
  • Lightning is more likely to strike a taller building than a diminutive neighbor, and farm structures are often much taller than other buildings on the property. It is a myth that metal buildings are more likely to be struck by lightning than wood buildings, but it is a good idea to seek professional advice regarding grounding rods and lighting protection for tall buildings in exposed locations. Removal of large trees that may be struck by lightning and fall on the roof of a farm building should be considered as an additional preventative measure.
  • Transformers atop telegraph poles that transfer power from one circuit to another on the street should not be located close to structures on the property as they are at more risk of being struck by lightning than poles without transformers. Consult your electric power company for advice. Requests for transformers be moved and sited distant from the barn if they are currently close by are usually honored without cost to the property owner.
  • In regions at high fire risk the common cause of fire is hot embers igniting roofs and surrounding brush or shrubs around the perimeter of the buildings. Choosing a fire-resistant roof material when building the barn can help mitigate the fire risk. Removing shrubs and debris, trees, and other flammable materials from the immediate area of the horse barn can help alleviate the fire risk further. If viable add a high-power water source nearby the building that can be utilized in case of the need to wash down the structure during a fire event to help defray the ember ignition risk. A swimming pool can make a handy water source option if the right attachments are installed at the pump in case of need.
  • Ensure that your property is well lit and easy to find during nighttime hours. Driveway lights at gates and clear and illuminated signage detailing your street number and farm name can save valuable time for the fire department if called out to your property in an emergency.

While accidents can happen taking safety precautions seriously is a solution to minimize the risk of fire. Don’t forget to keep your driveway and access to the barn clear of snow and easily accessible for emergency equipment too and your street address well signed at the roadside to ensure your property is easy to locate.

One of your best resources for advice is your local fire department. Invite their staff over to inspect your premises and offer suggestions for improving your fire safety practices. Perhaps at the same time offer their team a lesson in safe handling of horses, and don’t forget the monetary donation if they are a volunteer unit.


If you are in the planning stages of constructing a new barn, it is prudent to address the fire risk concerns during the initial phases to make daily use of the structure as safe as possible. While every contingency cannot be covered as future needs may not be known, adding extra exterior and interior properly installed outlets and designing special storage areas for flammable equipment and supplies is something you’ll never regret.

Such measures can also save you money on insurance costs each year. For example, fiberglass shingles on a roof rate better than asphalt in fire safety so premiums may be lower for the former, while metal roofs may be rated lower than shingle roofs from an insurance perspective.