Yesterday turned into one of those days that every horseman dreads: deciding that it is time to put a sound, healthy horse down. I'd like some input if anyone has other solutions to offer, but after lengthy discussion with my DSO (who comes with me daily to the barn and is my "cheerleader" for my love of horses) and my BO, we each feel that this is the best decision for my gelding.
I do self-care at a fairly private farm; I have a small barn with a few acres of turnout and one small additional paddock. My BO does morning turnout for me, and we go nightly to do stalls and mess with our boys.
We have three OTTB geldings. We lost our oldest gelding a few days before Christmas, and though we had decided to stay at two horses, a horse who truly needed a home came into our lives a month ago - he is lovely, kind and sweet. We did QT for a month on a separate property - it wasn't cheap, but we felt it was necessary as he had been in the kill pen.
We brought him home on Sunday, and put him into our stall that has the small paddock attached. This shares a common fenceline with the rest of our turnout. Our other two other geldings seemed delighted to have a new friend. My 14yo (who this is about) especially seemed happy. All three are able to make nose contact through the top half of their stalls, and settled in quietly. For the first day, the other two got familiar with the new boy on the shared fence line. There were the requisite squeals and prancing, and everybody settled in quickly.
The next day, same thing....everybody was happy and quiet with the fence separating them. Oldest gelding and new boy even lay down in the sun together and slept in the sun. Middle gelding hung out near them.
MOnday night, we turned the new boy out individually with each of the other geldings - again, requisite minor squeals, a bit of trotting, and everybody was quiet and happy. We put out all three together afterwards, and everybody just wandered around as if they had been lifetime friends. New boy settled in quietly at the round balewhile the other two begged for supper while we did chores.
Yesterday, we decided to continue the positive experience and put them out together again while we did chores. For the first ten minutes, same thing...everybody hanging out, munching hay or wandering around.
Oldest gelding started asserting his authority with the new guy, who did everything right...showed submission, moved away, and so on. Oldest gelding started getting more into it - moving up the speed and aggression of his actions. Youngest gelding kept on trying to be a good citizen and not retaliating. He got to the point where he was sprinting to stay out of the way - older gelding would keep up the pursuit. It got to the point where oldest gelding tried to put him through the fence three times, got him cornered and biting him HARD several times, and driving him and holding onto his back with his teeth at a full gallop. As things escalated, younger horse fired a few warning shots where he could have connected, and finally nailed him once in self-defense. This was at the level that I would term savaging - ears pinned, jaws wide, holding onto any part he could get his teeth into.
I've had oldest gelding for 8 years....I got him under the impression that he was a quiet, bombproof ride, and he is anything but. He needs a strong, confident rider with a skill set that I don't have, as I find him reactive and difficult. He is beautiful, athletic, and is also missing one eye. He is normally EXTREMELEY social with others - we've had him in situations with other horses at different farms, and although he has been in-your-face, he has never offered to be nasty before.
Yesterday became dangerous....the ONLY reason he stopped was that he got tired. I caught him and handed him to DSO who went to bring him in....he went into the barn quietly and then bolted backwards dragging DSO facedown until he let go (DSO is a big guy and realized I was about to get flattened while bringing in middle gelding). Caught him again and he was quiet.
New gelding is torn to ribbons along is back and hindquarters - he has one bite on his hip that looks like someone took an xacto knife to him, about 8 inches long. We cleaned him up and gave him some bute, but he was already swelling up nicely to where he probably wont be able to have a saddle on for the next week.
Older gelding has one role...to be a companion horse. I have always made a promise of lifetime homes for my boys. We (various combinations of myself, DSO and BO) have discussed various scenarios to see if we can fnd a solution. Individual turnout for him does not seem to be an option because he constantly tests fences (fence replacement is planned for late summer), and will scream and fret if he is in separate turnout. Living like that would be unfair to him....and if I move barns one day - finding an appropriate boarding situation would be challenging to say the least. Giving him away - I don't feel would be responsible for either him or a future owner. I would have NO control over where he went after he left - and there are far nicer horses than him going for meat in my area. After yesterday's events, him being a companion horse is off the books. I don't even want to think what would have happened had we not all been tere yesterday. I asked my BO for her honest opinion - she said that he would have been on a truck today.
We have agreed that putting him down is the best solution...it sounds cold, and calculated and heartless, but when I try to find any other options I come back to the same conclusion over and over. I can't take the gamble that yesterday was a one-off and that he'll never do it again, or risk that he will hurt someone even unintentionally while going after another horse. I am making one call to a rescue a couple of hours away to see if they have any other suggestions...if any of you have them I'd be glad to hear them. Please don't slam me for my decision....DSO and I have shed a lot of tears over this.
I won't tell you what to do with your horse although I agree that if a companion role won't work you need to do something with him, even if it means him being PTS. How hard is he to ride? Is leasing him out not an option?
But the real reason I am responding is... In the future, let a horse EARN his retirement with you. What I mean is just because you bought a horse (from an auction, wherever) doesn't mean you need to be tied to it for the rest of its life (provided it is sound to ride/can be rehomed, I don't think you should dump horses either obviously). That is a lot of pressure and a lot of stress to pay board on something you don't enjoy for up to 20 years potentially. I understand, I did it for six years with a gelding I felt sorry for at an auction. I kept him until his last day however he was not sound to ride, mentally at first then physically. It honestly felt like quite the burden and I really never bonded with him completely.
Now I have my own property but I don't keep every single horse that doesn't work out for me, I find them great homes and they can always come back. Just because they don't work for you doesn't mean they won't or can't with someone else. They could be missing out on a great partnership because you felt obligated to keep them.
Hugs to you, not an easy choice no matter what. I am sure you will make the right one.
Ditto what Magicteetango wrote. I'm so sorry you are having to make this decision. At another point in my life, I was quick to try and salvage whatever came my way...now that I'm in a better position to be able to do it, I don't.
A companion horse should not be what you describe...I'm sorry, others will disagree...but life is too short, resources too few.
There are many things worse than a peaceful passing under the watchful eye of someone like you. Don't beat yourself up over it.
My first thought is that it is a little "unfair" to put down your older gelding, and not the new one. But surely, as long as you give him a quick and humane death, he will be totally ignorant of the whole thing. It all boils down to how YOU feel. If you can live with your decision, you have made no harm to anyone.
My advise to you is that you should not analyse or struggle too much once the initial decision is made. If it feels bareable, then go ahead with it. It only becomes tougher with time!
I don't think it is "unfair" at all to put the older gelding down. What a horrible thing this must have been to witness. I don't have any other suggestions, just wanted to express my support for you. It's a hard decision but I totally agree that you can't just send him on to somewhere else knowing that this might happen again. And the dragging of your DSO just puts the icing on the cake. Hugs.
What's wrong with you?? Your cheese done slid off its cracker?!?!
This is a tough one, because it sounds like he's a bad match for you and your herd. Not sure what I would do though - probably isolate him first, but..... I've had a viscious, difficult horse who had to be isolated - I literally ached over what to do with her (I've never sold or placed a horse of my own) but then she kicked at another horse through the fence and shattered her leg. I felt so guilty that the planets aligned and made the decision for me. I also put a ottb gelding down because I knew the prospects for him were gloomy - he had physical and mental scars that couldn't be healed. This one was the hardest for me to date, but I don't regret it. I still cry about it at times, but he's finally at peace.
There's another thread on this topic that is very recent. There may be some insight there for you too.
Thanks for the input so far, folks. It's really hard to be at work and pretend to be all professional and clear-thinking when this is swirling in my head.
Am trying to be clear-thinking and objective, and will answer a couple of questions from above.
re: putting him down vs. the new one...the new one is a lovely horse, and despite everything yesterday, maintained a cool head and allowed us to treat his injuries quietly after. Older gelding is now a liability - what happens if he goes after another horse and injures it? Can I justify that to myself or anyone else? My BO did not directly say he HAS to go, but the undercurrent is there...that a dangerous horse cannot stay. She is not a newbie owner...she does some things differently than others, but is still an experienced horsewoman who has stood breeding stallions in the past.
Re: leasing...I willl take ownership for that. When I realized that he and I were a poor fit in a horse / rider combination, I made the decision to turn him into a companion horse. He was a successful racehorse; I had a good friend evaluate him four years off the track, and she felt that he was more like a horse who had only just come off the track, and that he was a difficult ride for someone who was not a more advanced rider than I am. I had taken him off the track after being told that he was dead broke and anybody could ride him....I learned to my regret that was not the truth. I felt comfortable with the decision of having him as a turnout buddy instead, and giving him a good life.
Hundredacres, your post is really where I am right now. How can I keep him on solo turnout, where he will be miserable, and take the risk that he gets into a position where yesterday happens again?
Hormones are an interesting thought, though he can be in turnout with a mare in heat and be completely uninterested.
For my two cents, trying to put myself in your place, if he were mine, he'd be PTS. I think the guy is hurting somewhere and it's manifesting in the agression. I put a horse down last December who was showing almost the exact things you wrote. Only I and his previous owner knew he was hurting from all the vet bills he accumulated. After a while it became obvious he had to go because nothing was going to change things on this plane. He was getting miserable-er by the day and taking it out on my other horse AND getting to where he didn't want to be handled that much by me (such as dragging your DSO [I don't know what that stands for]).
So, I made the decision to put him down shortly after noon and by 4pm, he was gone. If this helps any, you're not in the boat alone.
DeThbd, something that helped me through the time when I put my ottb down, was that he couldn't have a job (he was unpredictable and not sound), but he needed one. Some horses are like that - they are miserable in retirment. It may be the same for your gelding.
When I realized that even with all of the money in the world, I could not make my horse 100% safe or sound enough for other people to handle, I made my decision. It sucked, but it was better for everyone.
We made this decision with a dog my daughter rescued. And basically for the same type of behavior except that it was random and unexpected. Rather than send the problem down the road or continue to have the other dogs look like they came out of a crime scene, she was tenderly put to sleep at the vet's office.
As Hundred Acres says, it sucked but was better for everyone; including the dog.
So, does he get along with other horses or just your new horse? Sometimes...there is just something, and a combination doesn't work. Three is always hard anyway.
But, horses are way too expensive to have more than one as a pet, IMO...and if that pet is dangerous, well, it might just be time to PTS. With only one eye, needing an experienced rider, I really don't see that you have another alternative.
Last edited by LauraKY; Apr. 24, 2013 at 10:58 AM.
Reason: spelling...lack of caffeine
please do not feel bad. if you do not euthanize him, he could go to a home where he is mistreated, starved, etc..putting a horse to sleep is not the worst thing in the world. good luck to you. I agree this horse is a liability.
You've gotten some great advice here. I don't have anything of substance to add except a cyber-hug for you and your herd. For what it's worth, you sound like a compassionate, fair owner and I wish you the best with whatever you ultimately decide.
I have a 20 something companion horse (appendix, mare) to my one horse (gaited, mare, coming 7 yrs). My other horse died last summer, so I got a totally lucked out and got very nice companion horse. There is no fighting, no fence running, no crying when I take my horse out to ride. The older mare is super nice when I ride my horse in the pasture, she just hangs around quietly and grazes. It is a perfect marriage between the three of us. I have one horse (now) to ride. If my riding horse gets hurt by the other horse, I have no horse to ride. I got the companion, free lease/loan whatever you want to call it, but the horse absolutely had to get along with my one horse - that was the #1 thing that was a must. And, the owner of the horse knew it, we all know that about horses, they all have to get along or something is gonna happen. You just never know. The 2 mares get along like peas and carrots. I can handle, and pretty much do anything with the companion horse. I do not plan to ride her ever, she is alleged to buck. Ok, fine. I do not want to ride her. Her job is to eat grass, and keep my 7 yr old company. And she is perfect for that. She is my farrier's horse, and she gets free shoes, trims when he comes. How nice is that? I can fly spray her, worm her, fly mask her, feed her, love on her, everything. She just loves the attention. Good. I like that. I can give the current companion horse back to the owner at any time. And get a different one he has who is retired. But she is working out really well.
If she didn't work out, or started to have issues, I would move her out right away. One good well placed kick or bite, well you can only just imagine what could happen, nothing or something. The #1 job of a companion horse is to get along, keep others company and happy. IMO if the companion horse doesn't do his/her job, then they need to move along. I want no pasture boss, or aggressive horse. That is scary for ALL.
A companion horse is worth their weight in titanium. To me I do not take a companion horse lightly. They really must be up to snuff. I also do not want a companion horse to teach my horse any bad habits. If they are not up to snuff and getting along, then it is time for them to be on their way. Where that way is (euth'ing for your horse ??), depends on your situation.
When a horse exhibits an unsafe level of aggression when there has been no provocation - that animal is a liability to others. It is dangerous and unpredictable. You can put a lot of effort in trying to find the perfect re-home, but the bottom line is the danger - and kicking it down the road is a very problematic recourse.
You are asking the question, so you might already know the answer, and the BO also has made a sound assessment. It is one of the hardest decisions anyone can face. The aggression and safety factor is the real issue to focus on. Serious injury and loss of life to others is a non-negotiable for most people.
I am so sorry that this gelding has these issues, but as you outlined, he has exhibited the problem in a variety of ways over the years. Best wishes.
I am so sorry to ask this in the middle of a serious thread..but what is PTS?
DeeThbd, my heart is heavy for you. I had the same situation with a dog. It was only a matter of time until someone was seriously hurt. I ended up having her put down...it was awful but I know I did the right thing.
Is this his first episode of that kind of aggression?
I had a gelding who could be that bad. I did find that if a new horse were kept on the other side of the fence for a couple of weeks up to a month he would relax and let the new horse into the pasture with him. He would spend a couple of hours when the new horse was put next to him running at the fence with ears pinned and mouth wide open. Fortunately he was very, very respectful of fences and never so much as touched the fence. Once the extended acclimation process was over he was definitely the boss of the small group but he wasn't ever nasty like that. He would do things like herd everyone into the run in during bad weather. I always thought he might have had some testosterone circulating. Definitely stallion behavior.
My daughter's dressage schoolmaster gelding cannot be turned out with other horses at all because he can be very studdish. Either he or the other horse(s) or both would be injured if turned out together. He does better in a boarding barn than a small barn because of more turn out options/locations. Other than that he is very manageable and wonderful under saddle.
I guess that my thoughts are that there is someone for almost any horse. The unfortunate thing is that it can be too hard or take too long to find the right match. I do not think that euthanasia is a bad choice for this horse; sad but not terrible. These difficult horses are far less likely to find their perfect home and more likely to end up in terrible circumstances. Maybe you could check with some of the OTTB people to see if someone in that group might want him and be able to accommodate his turn out issues.
"The captive bolt is not a proper tool for slaughter of equids they regain consciousness 30 seconds after being struck fully aware they are being vivisected." Dr Friedlander DVM & frmr Chief USDA Insp
Ptown, this is the first time he has EVER shown behaviour like this...he has always been active in herd dynamics, but never aggressive beyond a chomp on the butt leaving teethmarks. He has been turned out in mixed herds as well as gelding-only herds. He's had an in-heat mare offer him a good time, and his reaction was "meh".
That is why we were so stunned yesterday...he is always in everybody's business, but not in a nasty way.
One of my friends attributed it to spring weather kicking in, but the absolute aggression and relentnessness in him yesterday turned him into a horse I had never seen before.
Having been to the regional horse sale a month ago, I CANNOT take the risk that he ends up there. I have a message in to a respected rescue for their opinion, and will see what they say as advice. The LAST thing I want to do is see him go down the road knowing that he would end up getting passed down the line...I owe him more than that.