The EQUUS Foundation, a name that has become widely known in the equine community, is recognized in the industry as one of the most influential equestrian charities in the country. Their mission is to protect America’s horses from peril and strengthen the bond between horses and people. As founder and president, Lynn Coakley has created a non-profit network that has saved countless horses’ lives and aided in helping them find new roles and loving homes. She is a determined woman who has had a unique influence in the equestrian world. Lynn grew up riding at the Fairfield County Hunt Club, (FCHC) in Westport, Connecticut, as did her mother, and eventually, her two daughters. As her daughters began to show an interest in riding, Lynn moved to a house that backed directly up to the hunt club. The two young girls had an enviable childhood: getting off the school bus and tacking up horses in their backyard barn to walk over for lessons with legendary hunter pony trainer Emerson Burr. Together they enjoyed taking care of the horses, and they both went on to have successful competitive riding careers. It was after Lynn’s daughters headed off to college that the EQUUS Foundation became a vision.
Lynn asked herself, “My kids are gone; what do I do with the horses next?” and began researching options. Lynn learned that tens of thousands of horses are sent to auctions where owners are led to believe that their horses could find good homes. But many horses risk being purchased by a kill buyer to be sent across borders to slaughter. This reality was unacceptable to Lynn and jump-started her journey into finding alternative careers and homes for horses. In response, she wanted to raise funds to allocate for organizations giving horses careers outside of competition.
The EQUUS Foundation began in 2003. Lynn explains, “When my children started riding, and I also got back into riding, I accepted the volunteer chairmanship of the Fairfield June Benefit Horse Show. Under my leadership and with the support of the FCHC board, Emerson Burr, and Billy Glass (the show manager at the time), we established the first Fairfield Grand Prix and arranged to have a luncheon in association with the event that could benefit a charity,” adds Lynn. There were several different charities involved in the first few years, and recognizing that there was the potential of raising a significant amount of funds, the EQUUS Foundation was established to be able to receive the donations and disburse grants to multiple charities instead of just one. “We completed our first year of operation and awarded our first grants in August 2003 to the ASPCA Lucky Fund, which later became the ASPCA Equine Fund, the Bridgeport Police Mounted Unit, Green Chimneys Children’s Services & School, High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, The Hole in the Wall Gang Fund, H.O.R.S.E. of Connecticut, Pegasus Therapeutic Riding, and US Equestrian Federation Emerson Burr Horsemanship Award,” says Lynn.
For the first years of the foundation, they localized their awareness and giving to Fairfield and Westchester counties. “The FCHC played a pivotal role in the EQUUS Foundation,” Lynn states. But Lynn’s vision grew and her sights were set broader. There were equine organizations across the nation that needed funding and horses needing a new life after sport. Lynn remarked that she learned that horses are work animals by watching her horses in the backyard. “Our horses liked having jobs and would get bored if they couldn’t do them,” she says. The time had come to take the EQUUS Foundation to Wellington, Florida. The foundation put on two major fundraising events. The Fete Cheval brought top show jumpers like McLain Ward, Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden, and others to the International Ring at WEF to compete in gymkhana games using horses from local rescues and lesson programs. Another major event was Equestrian Idol, where riders could showcase their other talents in front of crowds, and a panel of champion show-jumping athletes served as the judges. These events cultivated an opportunity for the top riders across the country, and the local Wellingto