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Saying Goodbye to a Loved Horse

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  • Saying Goodbye to a Loved Horse

    I know this is a more "depressing" post, but I would appreciate your thoughts:

    I got my first horse over 10 years ago I have been lucky enough to still have her today. Over the years she's become a permanent member of the family and she taught me a LOT and helped really spark my passion for riding and horses. I went through a lost of "firsts" with her.

    Now she's in her late 20s and happily retired. On my last visit to see her I noticed that she had aged quite a bit and no longer had the "spark" I had seen in her before.
    I had a hunch that last winter would be her last whether naturally or not.

    My family has started to have the difficult conversation about whether it's time to say goodbye (she's having increasing arthritis and has sometimes had trouble lying down) out of fairness to her. Needless to say I'm having a hard time with this. She's my first horse and she means the world to me.

    I have never gone through the process of saying goodbye to a horse or dealt with the loss of a horse and I'm wondering how others have dealt with this. How do you move forward? How do you say goodbye? How have you dealt with the emotions?

    I know this is a part of life, but any thoughts, suggestions or ideas would be greatly appreciated.

  • #2
    I have been through this once, with a horse that gave me his heart, although he was not mine. He shattered his pastern in his stall one night. My trainer called me the next day, after the vet had been called, and I was half way to the barn before I realized that what she had said meant that this was the end for him.

    In the time it took for the vet to arrive, this horse got all the treats he could eat, was lovingly groomed one last time and I stayed right outside his stall.

    The vet came, we got him out of his stall, and then he was tranqed. I stood holding his lead and rubbing his head.

    When the time came for the pink stuff, the vet asked me to move so I would not get hurt when he went down. The vet ended up between me and the horse's head - he could no longer see me. As out of it as he was, his head came up and I could see his eyes searching. I immediately got where he could see me and I was the last thing he saw when he went down.

    At the time, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but there was no choice not to be there. This horse, abandoned by his owner, put in lessons by my BO, was also somewhat accident prone and I took care of him when he was hurt. In return, as I said, he gave me his heart and I owed it to him to be there through the end.

    I sobbed on his head, I cried with my friends. One of the nicest moments was the next day. I found myself at the barn alone and walked out toward the gelding pasture to the gate. Every single gelding came up to the gate to see me, not one was molesting for treats, they just stood with me and we mourned the loss of our friend. He lives on in my heart.

    Good luck to you in this. There is no tried and true way to help you through it, you have to allow yourself to mourn, cry, rage and feel all that goes with it. But know, when you do make the decision, it's the right thing to do for your horse.
    And nothing bad happened!


    • #3
      I don't have any advice, really, I just wanted to say how sorry I am that you have to go through this. Unfortunately, it is a situation most of us on this board have faced or will face sooner or later.

      We lost a 25 year old mare in the spring; she started going downhill quickly and the vet thought it was either a tumor or heart failure. Since it was Saturday night by this time, we loaded her up on painkillers and she spent a very happy last night in the pasture, grazing with her best friends. The vet came early Sunday morning and we took her to a grassy spot. She went peacefully. It was very sad, but there was no option. Once they stop wanting to lay down to rest, or when it gets hard for them to do so, I think the quality of their life decreases.

      I think everyone deals with grief in their own way; you need to surround yourself with supportive people who understand how much she meant to you and let you have the time you need to mourn her loss. There is really no easy way to get through it.

      One last thing...don't feel like you HAVE to be there for the final moments. If it is something you cannot do, have a family member or friend step in for you. There is absolutely no shame in doing this. I am not sure if I am going to be able to be there when it is time to put my first horse down; I think my own grief will just upset him and make things worse. The important thing is that they are loved and cared for in life and given a dignified end.

      Best of luck to you.


      • #4
        I am sorry you have to go through this. Many of us have been there and are here to listen.

        I am not sure what advice to offer, as I thought I had prepared myself and yet it hurt just as much. I would just spend as much time with your horse as you can, and cherish every moment.

        In loving memory of Chutney (1977 - 2008)


        • #5
          I found it was helpful to have a conversation with my vet, it helped me get clearer in my mind with a plan for my old horse. I'd recommend it, veterinarians have been through this many many times and have a good perspective on things.

          I will say that I set up the appt etc and when the time came she said "I don't think you are ready to do this" and so we decided to give him a bit more time. Luckily for him the winter was mild; I ended up putting him down the next fall, when it was much clearer to me that this was the right thing and the right time.
          Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/peonyvodka/


          • #6
            I'm saying good bye to my mare Monday morning. I have no idea what to do next. BUT I have a great support system and a vet that I would trust with my own life.

            This past spring, when things started to change for her, I had the vet out to do a full exam and status update. We decided then to change a few things and try a few things, but ultimately, there isn't anything we can do to improve her quality of life, so we made the choice.

            Best of luck and know that COTH is great for shoulders to cry on when it comes to this stuff.
            Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.


            • #7
              My BO has an old horse. He still has a job toteing little ones around. He still has a spark but hes also got a growing tumor the size of a volleyball. Cant operate again or wont. Hes starting to get ribby and its not yet cold. He will go when they can get someone to dig a hole but before winter. Maybe to soon but we might have a bad winter and not be able to.

              Its hard to now when the right time is. Well really its never the right time but you have to think of the horse.
              “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker


              • #8
                You try your best to enjoy being this horse's shepherd through life... even the end of it.

                IMO, it's a great honor to be able to be there at the end of someone's life, a horse no less than a person. I like that because then I can have.no.questions about whether or not I did the best I could for them.

                It doesn't matter how this goes-- whether or not you are there at the very end or how you make the decision so long as you really show up for your horse and put his/her needs above yours.

                I wish you the best possible experience.
                The armchair saddler
                Politically Pro-Cat


                • #9
                  I've had to do this 4 times now - it has been different with each one. One there was absolutely no choice. Another was the kindest thing to do and the other 2 were difficult. They usually tell you - either you get the "look" or they just quit fighting.
                  Just know you've done the best you can do - that's the saving grace.
                  Sorry you have to do this.

                  Originally posted by mvp View Post
                  You try your best to enjoy being this horse's shepherd through life... even the end of it.

                  IMO, it's a great honor to be able to be there at the end of someone's life, a horse no less than a person. I like that because then I can have.no.questions about whether or not I did the best I could for them.

                  It doesn't matter how this goes-- whether or not you are there at the very end or how you make the decision so long as you really show up for your horse and put his/her needs above yours.

                  I wish you the best possible experience.
                  The problem with political jokes is that they get elected.
                  H. Cate


                  • #10
                    Blupaint, I am very sorry that your mare is at this stage of her life, but she is very fortunate to have a caring owner and family like yours. I've been through this many times, as Mr. Chai and I have taken in a lot of older, unwanted horses and ponies through the years, and we always measure their quality of life first and foremost when making this difficult decision.

                    We count ourselves lucky to have caught so many of these wonderful horses before they fell through the cracks or wound up in the kill pen, but it means that we've been through euthanasia more than most people. It never, ever gets easy, but there is a saying, "Better an hour too soon than a minute too late," and it is the rule we have always tried to live by.

                    Helping a horse avoid unnecessary suffering in the end game is the final gift we can give to these wonderful creatures who have carried us on their backs and brought us such joy throughout their lives.

                    If you live in a region where winters can be tough and you are already seeing signs that the light is going out in her eye, please have a very frank discussion about your mare's condition with your veterinarian, including an honest assessment of her prognosis for surviving the winter. You don't ever want to find her down, unable to get up if she is too arthritic. If she is out with other horses, you risk a pasture injury if she is too feeble to get away from an aggressive pasture mate.

                    If euthanasia is done by a competent, caring veterinarian with a dose of tranq before the injection, it can be a relatively quick, painless way to go... with the taste of that final sugar cube in their mouth and a familiar whisper of thanks in their ear.

                    Please pm me if there is anything you want to know, or just want to 'talk' about your situation. I wish you all the best. It is the toughest part of being a good steward to our horses.