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Update: He’s Gone. 😞 When They Tell You It’s Time...

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    Update: He’s Gone. 😞 When They Tell You It’s Time...

    I’m trying to wrap my head around all of this. My 20yo gelding has declined significantly over the last couple of weeks. He’s been coping with heaves for years and a torn DDFT in the LF since May. At his recheck appointment a couple of weeks ago, we jogged him out to assess his readiness for small paddock turn out and walking under saddle. Turns out he’s now lame on the right front. We took x-rays and found that the pre-existing sidebone is now encroaching and causing the lameness.

    We tried corrective shoeing and put him back on Equioxx, but he’s still lame RF. His attitude had taken a turn for the worse, he dropped weight, he just seemed miserable. Vet decided to do a neuro exam based on his sudden deterioration. The findings were pretty concerning, so we pulled blood for EPM. It came back positive, with what the vet described as the highest titer values she’d ever seen in 20+ years of practice.

    Given his age and all of his other issues, the vets think that he is not a candidate for treatment. I’m inclined to agree with them. The DDFT injury’s healing has stalled, and the vet doesn’t think it’s anywhere near strong enough to handle normal turnout with buddies. The cold months tend to be much harder for him in terms of his heaves symptoms (back on round bales, barn closed up because of the weather). There are just too many battles for him to fight, and he’s telling us he’s had enough. So we’re going to spoil the hell out of him for the next few weeks and then let him go.

    So here are my questions: For those of you who have been in this situation - was there anything you wished you’d done with your horse in those last few weeks? What keepsakes (if any) did you make or buy? If you buried your horse on the property, what was that process like? Our local laws and such allow for burial on the property, and the farm owners have graciously agreed to let this be his final resting place since he’s been so happy here.

    Sorry this is so long-winded. I’ve been trying to process this and writing it out seemed helpful.

    Last edited by Amy3996; Aug. 28, 2020, 03:22 PM.


    Many of us have been in your shoes. It's not an easy decision, and you will second guess every step of the way.
    My .02:

    Its better a week too soon than a moment too late. - This statement kept me moving forward with my plan for my gelding.

    I opted for a piece of his tail cut and had a Tailspin bracelet made from it. I wore it for a very long time and retired it to my jewelry box. I have a shadow box we also made with his shoes, last ribbons and a braided piece of his tail.

    We had him put down on a sunny spring day. I opted to not be there when he was buried, I didn't want to remember our last moments being pushed into his grave. I had my best friend stay for the entire burial. The farm was also so very helpful and gracious to allow him to be buried there.

    Stay strong and lean on your horse friends. This is the hardest part of having horses.
    Esmarelda, "Ezzie" 1999 Swedish Warmblood

    "The world is best viewed through the ears of a horse."


      So sorry, OP. Enjoy him, love him, feed him any treats he wants. If you want, have the vet come block his foot so he can enjoy a sound day.

      Remember to be careful though. Neurological horses pose risks to you and them when they lose control or don't know where their parts are, and can take a turn for the worse quickly.


        I am so sorry you are having to face the loss of a friend. I agree that better a week 'too soon' that a day too late.

        We have two horses buried here on the farm. I kept their tails and a couple sections of mane and had some jewelry made. Braiding them just before the vet arrives gives you a great reason to share some quiet time and a pocket full of treats.

        The burial process itself will depend your circumstance. In our case, a friend has the backhoe and we had had him come dig the hole first so the horse could be buried quickly. I was present for the euth itself and stayed to watch the body being moved and buried. Whether you chose to do all that is something you need to decide for yourself.

        The final act of love is taking their pain and making it our own. Godspeed to your horse and may you find peace in knowing you did everything you could for him.
        There is no joy equal to that found on the back of a horse.


          You are giving your friend the best gift. Do give him the tastiest snack. Give the vet the lead. Walk 200 feet away. Remember what a present he was.


            Hugs to you... your boy is very lucky to have someone like you. I don't have anything else to add other than I found this topic to be very helpful. Folding them makes them so much easier to move around and they look peaceful, like they are asleep.

            Boyle Heights Kid 1998 16.1h OTTB Dark Bay Gelding
            Quiet Miracle 2010 16.1h OTTB Bay Gelding
            "Once you go off track, you never go back!"


              So sorry you are facing this. For my old horse, I took a piece of his tail and had it used to make a horsehair pot. His end was quick (colic) but if I had time, I would ask the vet to give you medication to make him as comfortable as possible. I was there for the end, but I left immediately after. I found remembering the end difficult enough and knew I didnt want to see and remember the body being moved. I was fortunate the the barn owners took care of that.

              Of course you will have regrets and second thoughts even though they are not reasonable. We just want it not to be what it was. Your brain knows but allow your heart time to come to terms with the sad reality.


                It sucks. It's never easy but... when you know it's time, DON'T do what I did the first time: schedule it days/weeks out. I scheduled Star's day for 2 weeks after I knew she was done. Worst 2 weeks of my life. I should have done it the next day.

                Absolutely get some tail and mane hair. So many wonderful, crafty people out there who can make it into a lovely keepsake. Get a carrot cake and every yummy known to mankind for him to enjoy that day.

                Have 1 super close horsie friend to hold you.

                (((((( many understanding hugs ))))))
                <>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.


                  I also saved tail hair from my first horse, who'd been a beloved member of the family for so many years.

                  A local company which did excavating work sent out the perfect person with the heavy equipment -- the operator was from a horse-owning family, had performed this task before, and was so respectful and competent. He had thought to bring a blanket to cover my horse, picked him up as gently as possible with the back hoe, and asked us which way we wanted him faced (we choose east, which was the direction in which my horse liked to gaze when standing under a favorite tree).

                  The operator carefully placed him in the excavation, and we (including other family members who had driven hundreds of miles to be there) sang hymns, and scattered flowers over the blanket. It was the passing of an era, as he'd seen me through from childhood to middle age. My sister, who was present, commented at the time that he "was a one-woman horse, and Jarpur was the woman," which was so true.

                  I don't think there's anything more that we would wish we'd done; he knew he was cherished.

                  I'm sorry about your boy's struggles, and hope that his last days are as comfortable as possible. Just love on him.

                  To second the poster above, please take care if he exhibits neurological signs. At another time, my husband and I were supporting a friend who was saying good-bye to an older horse with neurological issues. While the horse was being led towards the excavation, it suddenly fell over, trapping the person who was leading. My husband, and the attending veterinarian, managed to grab the horse's flailing legs, while I pulled the trapped person out from under (took me a couple tries to get her to safety; she was quick-thinking enough to protect her head as best she could). We realized afterwards how dangerous the situation had been, as any one of us could have easily suffered a very serious injury.

                  ETA: for another horse, who died unexpectedly far too young (embolism), his saved tail hair was used as part of a ceramic pot made by a friend (fired into the surface). It's a nice momento.


                    I'm so sorry you have to go through this OP. I can't really add to the good advice you have already received. Definitely keep a lot of tail hair, there are so many items, especially jewelry, that can be made into beautiful mementos of your time together.


                      I'm sorry you have to make this decision, but as someone else mentioned, taking their pain on ourselves is the greatest gift we can ever give them. In addition to saving tail hair off my horses when they're put down, I also pull their shoes (if not barefoot) and keep them. Had a friend once who had to put one of her horses down due to a catastrophic injury and just couldn't bear to be there with the vet or when the guy came to bury her horse. I stood in for both, and since we used the same farrier at the time, I called him and asked him to come pull the shoes. I got them all cleaned up and treated with Nevr-Dull before giving them to her. She was extremely grateful for the added touch of the shoes. I hope everything goes well with your guy.


                        I took my horse out to graze often and took lots of pictures and shot videos of him grazing, and drinking. For the week after I had to watch the two minutes of grazing before I could sleep.

                        I saved his tail. Some went off to become part of a pottery bust, the rest will go in a shadow box with his halter and a couple of other things. When I finally get around to doing it.

                        I made a little scrapbook of my favorite pictures of him combined with little anecdotes and paragraphs telling who he was; the things that made him that specific individual.

                        I did make the appointment about a month in advance.
                        - I was able to get the BOs to close the barn to other boarders for that morning.
                        - I was able to have the appointment on the quietest morning of the week.
                        - The vet gave me the first appointment of the day (bumped later by an emergency) and did not share that with anyone else at the barn.
                        - The dead stock pick up was arranged for late morning (in case the vet got delayed).
                        - I could take every opportunity to spend extra time with my horse even if it meant neglecting the other horses a bit.
                        - I was able to let his human friends know and give them the chance to come and say goodbye.
                        - I was able to arrange for a friend to drive me home afterwards.
                        - I was able to arrange time off work.
                        - I was able to deal with much of his stuff before.

                        It wasn't necessary for my horse but if there is a known date you can max out meds without concern for longer term effects.

                        ​​​​I think it might be kinder to the vet to let them know in advance. Doing it early in the day lets them go on to successfully help many other animals for the rest of the day.


                          I put a heart horse down several years ago. He had a couple issues, and was clearly declining. Decision was made on a Friday, and scheduled for the following Monday. Everyone is different - I went in his stall probably 1/2 dozen times with scissors and could NOT bring myself to cut his tail. Nor could I do it after he was euthanized. I did not stay to see him be buried, and others I know have also been encouraged to leave rather than watch that.


                            I'm sorry. None of mine have been planned...I'm honestly not sure which is easier (anticipating the time or the guilt/agony of the unexpected deaths due to colic, injury, old age's catastrophic failures). But it does seem that even with the anticipation factored in for me, I would have give a great deal for it to have been a gentle death for them. I'd also shorten the time as much as possible, having made the decision I would want to do it within the next few days.


                              I just went through this in April. I had a 24 year old that had been foundered twice before I got him permanently (he belonged to my ex-husband and I got him when my ex-husband went to prison). He did not come through winter well, and was getting more sore, even with being on Previcox. He was becoming grumpy and cranky, and he never had been before. I spoke with the vet about his quality of life when we did spring shots, and then made the decision to put him down a couple weeks later.

                              I had a neighbor dig the hole for me a couple days ahead of time. When the vet got here, we walked the horse up next to the hole and he was then sedated. The vet than gave him two more shots, and he went down fairly easily. I held the lead and his halter as I felt it was my responsibility, and regretfully I have had some experience with horse euthanasias. (I’m the friend you call when your horse is down.) He lay down next to the hole without any struggle and passed there.

                              After the vet left, my husband used the front end loader on our tractor to pick the horse up and basically roll him into the hole. I had to position his legs to get him into the bucket of the loader. I was surprised when he landed in the hole because he landed looking line he had just laid down in the pasture with his head curled to his side and his legs underneath him. Very, very peaceful.

                              I am not big on memorial items, I already had videos from his show carrier, as well as pictures and his papers. I do have friends who have taken pieces of mane and tail, and had jewelry made from them, and some who have kept shoes.

                              While it is a tough thing to go through, know that you are doing what is best for the horse. It is one of the toughest things about horse ownership, but it is also one of the biggest responsibilities.
                              "You can't fix stupid"- Ron White


                                Originally posted by Amy3996 View Post
                                His attitude had taken a turn for the worse, he dropped weight, he just seemed miserable. Vet decided to do a neuro exam based on his sudden deterioration. The findings were pretty concerning, so we pulled blood for EPM. It came back positive, with what the vet described as the highest titer values she’d ever seen in 20+ years of practice.
                                I've personally never met someone who said they let them go too early but countless who said they waited too long. If a horse I loved was neurological, lame, seemed miserable, and was dropping weight, I wouldn't ask them to stay around for weeks. Personally, I'd schedule an appointment for that week, cut a huge hunk of tail hair to do something with at a later point, and spend some extra time hand grazing. I don't think there is any ritual or set of activities that make this suck any less and it really really sucks. I'm sorry you are going through this but thank you for putting him first. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give is to let them go. They dont understand the concept of tomorrow.


                                  Original Poster

                                  Originally posted by GraceLikeRain View Post

                                  I've personally never met someone who said they let them go too early but countless who said they waited too long. If a horse I loved was neurological, lame, seemed miserable, and was dropping weight, I wouldn't ask them to stay around for weeks. Personally, I'd schedule an appointment for that week, cut a huge hunk of tail hair to do something with at a later point, and spend some extra time hand grazing. I don't think there is any ritual or set of activities that make this suck any less and it really really sucks. I'm sorry you are going through this but thank you for putting him first. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give is to let them go. They dont understand the concept of tomorrow.
                                  I know. My vets have assured me that he’s stable. We’ve upped his pain meds, increased his food, and created a small grazing area for him so he can get outside. I didn’t want his last days to be spent on the same stall rest he’s endured for the last four months with the DDFT injury, but the vet was adamant that if I turned him out in a pasture between now and then, he’d try to run or play and completely blow the tendon. That would take the decision out of our hands.

                                  He seems much happier and more comfortable in the last couple of days. Selfishly, I want my family to be able to say their goodbyes. This goofy chestnut creature really is part of the family, and he means as much to them as he does to me. They can’t get here any sooner than a couple weeks. If there’s any inclination that he’s worsening, even slightly, the vets are on standby for him and we’ll do it sooner.


                                    I had to have my beloved horse put down a few years ago and as hard as it was, it went as well as could possibly be hoped. I miss her, but I'm completely at peace with her euthanasia.

                                    Her attitude was still good and she was sound and seemed generally comfortable, but she started drastically dropping weight despite eating fairly well. I decided on a Sunday that it was time, and I discussed it with the barn owner who kindly offered to bury her on the farm. I planned to call the vet on Monday to schedule the euthanasia for the following Monday.

                                    She colicked mildly that evening and the barn owner not only stayed up with her to handle her care, but because a hurricane was coming and the barn owners really wanted her buried on the farm, they had the hole dug that night so that it would be done before we were flooded out by the hurricane. The barn owner was worried that if we had to put her down immediately and we didn't have the hole ready, we wouldn't be able to keep her on the farm. Fortunately, my mare recovered from the colic and had a good last week being spoiled rotten.

                                    The barn owners had the hole dug in such a way that I could lead her into the hole and have her put down there, rather than dragging her afterwards (caveat - horses may leap/thrash/fall unpredictably when euthanized and there's little space to get out of the way so use great caution if doing it this way). While we all knew it was totally unnecessary for her but comforting for us, the barn owners bedded down the hole with a bale of straw and we bundled her into her blanket. The barn owner took a clipping of her mane and she was put down. Hard to do but it was the right thing to do. She was comfortable, happy, and had a stress-free passing.

                                    If my horse was in the same situation yours is in now - reasonably comfortable and set up to minimize risks, I'd probably make the same decision to wait. I'm very much of the "better a day to soon than a minute too late" mindset, but you and the vets are on alert and ready to act as quickly as possible if needed.

                                    Sorry you're facing this with your horse now. IMO, horses are totally worth the pain, but it sucks to lose one no matter how it happens.


                                      I have had to make the decision to euthanize several horses over my lifetime. Each decision was difficult. Each horse was a piece of my soul. I have been with each one, because I felt that I needed to be - both because of my love and respect for them, and because I knew that if I was there, they knew everything would be all right. There is nothing easy about this. Just make the best decisions you can.


                                        Honestly, none of mine were really planned - the only one was my oldest mare. She was in pain and that morning had just looked at me and said, "It's time." I called, and the vet came the next day.

                                        I can hold that lead rope, but I can't see them taken away. can bury my pets - my cats and dogs - but they're wrapped up in a blanket, not being moved by a tractor across a field. My dad can take them away, but can't be there for the euthanasia. Since none were really planned, we had to dig the grave and move the body that same day. They're all buried in the back of the pasture. Think now about whether you want to be there for any of it, or if any family members think they want to be. Or not. There's no right or wrong.

                                        I keep a clipping of hair, enough for a memory pot or bracelet one day. I try to do the tail, but with Scrappy, his defining feature was that goofy, mohawk-ish forelock of his - that short, bristly Appaloosa hair. So I clipped some of it to keep instead.