Making Comebacks Bigger than Setbacks: A Q&A Session with Elite Equine CO

Making Comebacks Bigger than Setbacks: A Q&A Session with Elite Equine CO

This blog post was written by Liesl Ross, one of Elite Equine CO’s trainers, with photos provided by Wendy Collison with Spotlight Sports Photography and Gina Hluska.

Gina Hluska grew up riding, competing, and training horses from a very young age. She started working at the racetrack as a veterinary assistant with a track veterinarian while also working as an assistant trainer exercising, ponying, treating, and training Thoroughbreds. She went on to become a veterinary technician in a prestigious performance horse practice working alongside some of the industry’s top veterinarians. While assisting in treating injured performance horses, both in the field and in-hospital settings, she realized the importance of rehabilitative and supportive veterinary care, so she went back to school and obtained the credentials and additional experience required to operate an equine rehab facility, first calledElite Equine Rehab. After a short time, she recognized the need for a sanctuary that offered in-house supportive veterinary care and rehabilitation for the performance horses that would otherwise be displaced or discarded; it is here that Elite Equine CO was born. Both Elite Equine Rehab and Elite Equine CO are based in Colorado Springs, CO.

Liesl Ross: What first got you interested in providing a non-profit angle to your business?

Gina Hluska: Honestly, I think it was some kind of divine intervention. Recognizing the need for performance horse rehabilitation while working as a vet tech, I wanted to provide a more non-invasive approach to equine healing and wellness. When I started Elite Equine CO, I never imagined the overwhelming need for rehabilitation for injured performance horses that were being dumped or passed along because either the client couldn’t afford to pay for the expense of rehab or simply weren’t willing to pay the costs of rehabilitation, especially considering the time lost performing or competing.

I refer to it as the “drive-thru” mentality. It was easier, more convenient and overall less expensive than paying for the long road to recovery. Upon realizing this need, I would offer the horse solace and in-house non-invasive modalities during their rehabilitation at my facility. After doing this a few times, word spread and I was taking in more horses than pay clientele. This is when the need for Elite Equine Rescue was realized and by the Spring of 2018 we were officially recognized by the IRS as an accredited 501c3 Non-profit organization.

Liesl Ross: Can you tell us about one of your most rewarding rehab cases?

Gina Hluska: Gosh, that’s hard. There are so many that it makes it difficult to name just one because they all have a story, some are just more profound than others!

I think one that really stands out in my mind is a successful 1.49m jumper Zangersheide gelding that developed lameness in the right front that progressively worsened. The owner had imaging that included radiographs and ultrasounds from the shoulder to the hoof; the results were unremarkable and deemed inconclusive. Their vet then recommended MRI imaging of the hoof capsule but due to the fact that there was no “smoking gun” on preliminary imaging and that the horse was already seventeen years old, the owner declined further work-up and decided to surrender him to us. He was grade-4 lame upon arrival.

After spending time evaluating his movement and behavior while being turned out, I felt that the lameness had nothing to do with his foot and was located elsewhere. He acted depressed and “ouchy” overall, not just a hoof lameness. I consulted with our veterinarian, and she concurred. She performed further exams and found displacement in his c-spine which she suspected may have been causing the pain, inflammation, and possible nerve impingement.

We began treating the c-spine with PEMF, laser and kinesiology. We also added our proprietary blend herbal anti-inflammatory supplement to his grain. After month-one, he was exhibiting a normal gait and was revealing more of his personality. He was coming back to life. We started him back with a change in shoes and lunging in the Equicore system to rebuild muscle and strengthen his core. After another sixty days he was ready to start training under-saddle again. He spent three weeks working on the flat, and before I knew it, he started hunting the jumps on his own in the middle of the arena. Honestly, I was a little hesitant to proceed with anything vertical, but he said he was ready, so we did a couple of cross-rail lines and he never looked back.

He only progressed from there. He never showed regression or any degree of lameness. While training one day, a family watching their daughter in a lesson and saw this big guy and expressed interest. After her daughter completed her lesson, I offered to have the daughter try him. It was a serendipitous encounter. The 14 year old daughter hopped on and fell in love with him. They were beautiful together! They decided they wanted him right then and there and we made the re-homing official the following week and have since gone on to successfully compete together. I look forward to following their continued success.

Liesl Ross: For folks who go into the profit side of the rehab facility, are their payments for your services tax deductible since they support the non-profit side?

Gina Hluska: Unfortunately, no. In order for the "donation" to be a donation, there has to be something called "donative intent,” which is essentially the intention to give something without getting or expecting anything in return. If services are provided in exchange for payment, then that is a purchase of services rather than a donation , then the payment is not deductible as a charitable contribution.
However, under tax law, it is possible for a payment to be considered partially a donation and partially for a payment for goods or services. This occurs when a person intends to pay, and actually pays more than the fair market value of goods or services received in return for payment. Since there is donative intent with respect to the amount paid above fair market value, that amount is tax deductible.

*The specific information in the text above regards to the rule found in Section 1.170A-1(h) of the Treasury Regulations.

Liesl Ross: How do you take in the non-profit cases, do you find horses at various auctions or facilities, or do owners contact you and say they need financial assistance in rehabbing their horse? Does someone need to donate their horse to get assistance?

Gina Hluska: The horses we get in on surrender basis typically are referred through word of mouth. We don't participate in auctions or like facility pulls. Instead, we try to intervene by offering our services here and get those horses in need before they take their ill-fated trailer ride to the auctions or kill sales.

Liesl Ross: What happens to the horses when they are ready to be rehomed? Can you find them available for adoption on your website?

Gina Hluska: Once the horses have completed the rehab process, we then place them into our assessment and retraining program. Most of the rescue horses we get in come right out of the career field that they were performing or competing in. It is our job to assess them to learn their skill, training and handling level. Then, we place them in our training program to instill proper foundation and additional skill sets to ensure their success after rehoming. Upon completion, we then offer these horses for adoption to qualified buyers. We do list available horses on our website, yes. We also list the available horses on our social media platforms as well.

Liesl Ross: What do you want the equestrian community to know about the performance horses that you rehome?

Gina Hluska: We often get horses that have been discarded due to a misdiagnosis or because the previous owner was unwilling or unable to take the time to rehab the injury incurred. I have had horses from every discipline and breed. I’ve had a $10,000 barrel horse to a $250,000 Grand Prix jumper. When those horses are treated with proper treatments, supportive care and the ability to heal at their rate they often come back to be even better than they were prior to the injury they sustained… making their comeback bigger than their setback. Given the proper care, they not only heal the injury, but also achieve both a systemic and emotional reset.

In other cases, we make comebacks a reality in restarting pedigreed Thoroughbred racehorses with slumping racing careers for new careers in disciplines such as Hunter Jumpers in our retraining program. Where some see failure in their previous career, we see a bright future in a new career and work to set them up for success. With the proper foundation in their new skill, the dream of competing at the highest levels can quickly become a reality.

These horses are all gems! They come in with years of experience and training and others are so eager to start a new career, but all deserve the best care and chance of success in the future. They come back with a new appreciation for people and are looking for their “person” to bond and share the rest of their lives with. Those who aren’t willing to even entertain the idea of a rescue have no idea what they’re missing. Together, we can make comebacks bigger than setbacks changing the lives of these equine athletes as well.