Monday, May 2, 2011


This post is about horses but also about an elephant. The one in the room. It is the subject no one wants to consider when thinking about horses but is a serious and necessary issue. There comes a time in a horse's life, when that life comes to an end. As horrible as it is to think about, as morbid as it may seem, the question of what then to do with the horse's body comes about. Regardless of any religious beliefs about spirits, souls and the like, there still remains the shell of our beloved creatures.

With horses that have passed away at my farm, we are lucky enough to have been able to bury them. I have the space and there are no restrictions from my town. Others are not so equipped. When faced with the decision to euthanize a horse, there is the advantage of advance notice and preparations can be made. A horse may be shipped to a location where it can be buried, if not at home, or there may be a veterinary facility that offers cremation. These situations allow our horses the dignity of an organized, peaceful death. It's when a horse passes away unexpectedly that creates a more unpleasant situation.

One of my great fears is that one of my horses will expire while still in its stall. Moving the body can be at the least, ugly, involving dragging the horse's carcass to a burial location. Or it can be more destructive with having to remove barn walls in order to maneuver equipment or the body. Being a sentimental person, the thought of dragging my horse around disturbs me, even though, yes, he is technically gone. The visual image competes heavily with whatever practical sense I may try to conjure.

Having been with a horse (not one of my own) as it died, I am personally in favor of euthanasia when appropriate. The death of the horse was traumatic for him, and for me. We were both scared but he was in terrible physical pain, while mine was only emotional. At least, I had the fore-thought to get the horse out of his stall and into the yard. The vet had been called to come out, but the horse finally died as I saw the headlights on the vet's car coming down the driveway.

Now, years later, I have my own horses, and have been faced with making the elephantine decision. I have laid to rest, Ali, Pooh Bear and my cherished first horse, Ivy. Gretchen passed away on her own terms and thankfully she was outside at the time. It is never easy even when it is a very sure thing. Even when there is no possible way that the horse can recover from an injury or illness, even when the horse is dying anyway, even when the horse is experiencing pain which will not recede and only get worse, the decision to end the horse's life is convoluted.

We have the privilege of being able to help our horses to their final destination and all aspects must be considered. Will the horse continue to live in pain? Is the pain manageable? Will the horse enjoy the rest of his days? Am I keeping the horse alive because I want more time with him? Is he in danger of hurting himself further? Can I afford the treatment and care required to keep the horse alive? Do I have the time to adequately care for an ailing horse? Do I have a facility adequate for keeping the horse safe and comfortable through the rest of his life? These questions and more have to be contemplated.

As a pledge to my horses, I will keep them until the end. That means I am going to have to deal with many more deaths whether natural or planned. It is worth it. It is worth the pain of being part of their deaths to have been a part of their lives.

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