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Knowing When To Say Goodbye And God Bless


September 17, 2015



Facing up to the prospect of having your horse put to sleep is something that you never want to think about. However, by being prepared and planning for the inevitable, you can save both you and your horse unnecessary stress and anxiety when the time comes.

Ultimately the final decision lies with you the horse owner. We have a duty of care to our animals and want to avoid them unnecessary suffering by letting them go on too long. Making that final decision is your duty as a horse owner and by facing up to that responsibility you will ensure that you show him one final compassionate act of kindness.

You may want to give some thought to euthanasia if you are caring for an elderly equine whose quality of life has deteriorated. It may not be kind to let him go through another winter and it is best to plan for an old horse nearing its end before the situation becomes critical. Your three year old may suddenly be struck down with a debilitating illness and you find yourself faced with having to make a heartbreaking decision. Knowing the basic facts will help you decide when and where – you may want to choose to have euthanised at home in familiar surroundings, causing him the least stress possible. Elderly horses in particular do not cope well with being moved. Old infirm animals have lost their natural flight instinct making them vulnerable and an elderly horse would no doubt be in a state of panic if it were moved from a safe environment that they know and trust. All of these things need to be considered whilst your old boy is still reasonably fit and well. Being prepared will make the process much easier to cope with when the time comes.

In the wild old horses are cast out and ostracized from the herd, which prevents them from grazing on the best pasture. This ensures the survival of the fittest and only the strong ones are bred from. The horse never loses its natural instinct and domesticated horses today still display this kind of behaviour. As nature intended an old horse could be run ragged in a field full of younger animals so consider this if your horse shares a field with a younger and fitter herd. Yet an old ailing horse will benefit from access to turnout to meet his arthritic needs. This is not always possible if you don’t have the facilities to accommodate him but he will still need a companion. All of these factors must be considered when your horse is facing old age. The most important thing to remember is the welfare of your horse.

Things to look for:

Old Age or Infirm – severe weight loss – loss of teeth – constantly getting cast in box or pasture unable to rise without assistance.

In the event of an emergency always call out a veterinary surgeon immediately.

Severe Lameness – not alleviated by painkillers or not responding to treatment.

Severe Colic – obstruction


Collapsed Tendons – in front or hind legs.

Case Study

Banjo ~ aged donkey gelding returned to our Rescue Centre after spending several happy years in a loving caring Loan Home. He arrived back at the Centre absolutely exhausted, he was old and infirm and the staff were shocked and upset that he had endured the journey back. He should most certainly have been put to sleep in the safety of his home environment and was caused unnecessary distress by complete ignorance and we feel that his case has highlighted the fact that euthanasia must be addressed by our Borrowers.

Rosalinda 14.2hh TB x ~ 31yrs, same home since a 4yr old, enjoyed an active life bringing delight to all that were privileged to ride her. She never ailed throughout her life and was a shining example of a true competition pony. Ridden by mother and then going on to teach both children the ropes. She was lucky to have had the same home all her life, she was pampered and treasured and in turn gave back 110%. A good doer, sound in wind and limb. Every year above 26 was a bonus and each day she would greet you with a welcoming whinny; the day she didn’t was the one that was dreaded. That day arrived and she was sick; off her food, her weight dropped considerably within the week and not even rich lush grass could tempt her. She was sullen, her heart was telling she’d had enough and a promise was made not to let her suffer an agonising death. Arrangements were made for Monday morning and that weekend was spent shedding lots of tears saying goodbyes. Part of her had already gone and she was a shadow of her former self. She died with dignity and the minute she laid down all her pain was gone and that magnificent animal had gone to her final resting place. She will remain in our hearts forever.

Yonkers  16.3hh Dutch Warmblood Gelding~ imported from Holland as an unbroken 4yr old backed and ridden to top competition level proving to be a talented horse in his given sphere. A super temperament and a true gentleman in every way with a pure heart of gold. Diagnosed with Navicular Syndrome, a progressive disease early in his career; he was managed on painkillers and remedial shoeing, undergoing extensive surgery in a bid to manage his pain levels. A prisoner in his stable and unable to express natural behaviour. Sadly at the age of 8yrs a decision was made to release him from this life and let him go to the big stable in the sky. A big brave lionhearted horse that will never be forgotten.

Methods of Euthanasia

Lethal Injection administered by a Veterinary Surgeon a cocktail of barbiturates which are injected direct into a vein; usually the horse is given a sedative first.

Pistol bullet this can be done by an end of life services professional.

Both methods are humane, instant and completely painless.

Discuss these options with your Veterinary Surgeon not forgetting that you will need to plan the disposal of the body afterwards. A domesticated horse is classed as a pet and can be buried on your own land; however Government legislation may prevent you from burying at a particular site so it is advisable to check with your local authority. There are regulations that will have to be adhered to with regards to depth, natural watercourse and drainage etc.

You may want to consider having your horse cremated; this will cost around £600 -£900 on top of euthanasia fees; again this is a personal choice.

Being prepared in advance will give you the courage to take responsibility making the difficult decision to do the right thing for all the right reasons.

HAPPA provides a service offering emotional support guiding you through should the difficult time arise. If you wish, an Equine Inspector to come and literally hold your hand, we are only a phone call away, do not hesitate to ask.