WHAT I’VE LEARNED SINCE YESTERDAY’S POST, “Should you be there when your horse has to be put to sleep?” And, the exact details of why I wasn’t there during the last moment.

So many of you commented regarding your experiences with putting horses down – and I wanted to relay these valuable insights to you.

First, I should have titled yesterday’s post, “When it is time to put your horse down.”  Because that would have been more correct.  The article was not really about ‘should you be there’, but more about what to expect should you be faced with putting your horse to sleep.


I think what I really wanted to convey is that it is important to go over the scenario with your vet before any immediate action is needed so that you can make informed decisions.

Basically, don’t put it off.  Knowledge helps the fear of it all.  It won’t help the pain, but it helps the fear.

Make sure you and your vet are on the same wavelength.  Ask the vet how he/she performs the last act and make sure you are OK with those methods.  Perhaps you might need to know which specific vet to call for this specific task.  (I heard from some readers that there are vets who don’t sedate first… and there are vets who administer the final fluids in an IV and some administer the shot directly into the heart… some who are loving and some who are not.)

For me, it was very helpful to understand the process and know what would happen and how it would happen and that my vets would do their best to accommodate both the needs of my mare and myself.

Also, make sure you know how you are going to deal with the body of your loved one.  And, let the other horses witness the body, if they wish.

Lastly, if possible, think about and prepare where your horse should be located during this final act in order to make the removal of the body a non-issue.

A BIT MORE EXPLANATION ABOUT MAMA TESS (some sad and maybe gruesome details that might help some of you)

In my case, many of you called me a ‘coward’ for not staying until her body fell.

That is fine.  However, I would like to add the extenuating circumstances that helped me make my decision, which might be too much for some of you to hear, but it might also be helpful.

You see, Tess was down in the barn.  There was no way a rendering truck (or any tractor) would have been able to get in there without taking down the walls, chaining her up and dragging her, or removing some of her limbs.

Since I had spoken to my vet beforehand about this possibility, he assured me that he could block her feet (inhibit pain in the feet) and we could walk her to her final resting place.

HOWEVER, if he did block her feet, she would not know where her lower legs were, and when she did finally lay down, she could crumple and break her legs, crack her cheekbones, pop out an eye….  My vet offered that I stay through her very heavy sedation – after which she would have little cognition anymore – and then leave for her falling.

I chose to block her feet and have her painlessly walk out of the barn.  And she did.  Almost regally.

She looked very resigned, relieved and ready.

But, for me, I didn’t want to risk hearing/seeing her break her legs as she fell, so I left after I felt that she was no longer really inside herself anymore.

Perhaps that was cowardly, but this was between me and Tess, and I am sure Tess never considered me a coward.


A reader brought up a great point.  It is helpful to let stablemates or paddock mates witness (if they want) the process. This does help.  As I wrote after MT passed, our barn was almost magical.  That’s the only word I have for it… the air was more light, the colors more crisp and the animals could almost speak to me with their eyes.   I will never forget that gift.

So, if you can, let the other horses see…

And, if you can, plan for a new buddy or stable mate (goat, chicken…), should one horse be left alone.


–Is your regular vet the best vet to do this for you?  Ask and discuss it with him/her.  What are the circumstances of the illness and will this effect how the task?  How will the procedure happen?  What is his/her method?

–What will you do with the remains?  Is it legal in your County to bury the remains?  Do you have a backhoe available and at the ready?  Do you know the schedule of the renderer, if needed?  Think about making this payment easy for you –  as it is a tough moment.

–It is nice to let the other horses witness (if they choose) the process and the remains.

–Take the time… take the time with your horse and take the time with your decisions.  It is a gift to have the time to prepare.

No regrets needed in this situation.  It is hard enough.

My girl… taking one of her last strolls around the property.


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14 comments have been posted...

  1. dawndi Post author

    Having such a loving life together will make it all easier … trust. You will be fine.
    So wonderful you have this experience… many never get the chance to know a horse like this.

  2. Kris

    It won’t be long until I have to let my 4 legged soul mate go… She & I have been together thru thick n’ thin for 25 yrs. She was 15 months when we first met. Now, she’s 27 and has arthritis something awful. As long as I can keep her comfortable, we will stay at status quo. When she goes down and we can no longer help her get up, I’ll do the most brave thing I have ever done and that’s to let her move on. There have been many equine losses in my life but this one mare is going to end my career w/ Percherons’
    and I shall just keep my draft pony to drive…. thanks for a great article about a very tough decision.

  3. Vicki

    I think you were very brave in all that you did for Mama Tess! I have seen the worst and the best. The worst is awful, and I wish I had been prepared. Key word-Prepared!

  4. dawndi Post author

    Thank you. Yes… I have a friend who says that if they ever have to dig a grave for Charley (her mule),she says to “make it bigger” and put her in too.

  5. Robynne Catheron

    Dawn, I would never consider anyone a coward who couldn’t stay, no matter their reason. Personally, I thought you were a hero. I don’t believe many people could (or would) handle what you and MT went through together. It’s a shame you had to explain yourself to anyone, but maybe you helped them be a little less judgmental.

    I think this information is a Godsend for those who don’t or can’t do their own research, especially on such difficult and painful subjects. I shared it on my “The Healthier Horse” FB page.

    Thank you.

  6. Rebecca M.

    OMG, Dawn…I cannot believe people would call you a coward for not being there! How incredibly insensitive. We all must navigate this journey in the way that’s best for each of us as individuals and what’s in the best interest of each horse. I’m fortunate that I have wonderful vets, and the times I wasn’t with my horse, I took comfort knowing that my caring and compassionate veterinary professionals were easing my horse’s transition. I was able to be with my pony as she passed but she was already laying down for the initial sedation and it was very peaceful. In contrast, I wasn’t with my big horse (1,450 lbs.) because he was in a 12′ x 12′ stall and could not be moved; my vet advised me not to be with him as it would have been too dangerous for all of us and she was uncertain how he’d fall. Your vet also might not want you near your horse as s/he falls for safety and liability reasons. Plus, do you really want the last image of your beautiful friend to potentially be a gruesome one? I don’t and I don’t care if anyone calls me selfish or a coward for that!!

    I think your suggestion to consult your vet long before the time comes is very valid advice. It really helps to understand their policies and procedures and to make other arrangements if their process doesn’t fit your personal needs.

    Thanks for the post. I hope people take it in the spirit for which it was intended.

  7. Deb Carlino

    Oh Dawn, I’m so sorry some called you coward for not being there when MT “fell”. Clearly they were not regular followers of your story because how you treated Tess for her final years was anything but cowardly. It was the most Brave you could be. You gave your all to her and MT knew it. Thank you sharing your experience with this most difficult decision we face with any animal that is part of the family.

  8. Sue Tyrkus

    I was crying halfway through this follow up to your original article. I’ve been there for the deaths and/or euthanization of too many horses. I followed my vet to his truck after we put down my friend’s horse, and he was sitting there, crying. This had been the his 13th horse that day. You are so right, Dawn…it is unlike putting our dogs and cats down, and certainly not for the faint of heart.
    I have lain in the mud holding heads, waiting for the vet, and had an elderly Arabian stallion drop dead in his tracks in the middle of the road. I’ve walked horses to stand beside the grave they were to be buried in, with the vet at my side, for owners who just can’t handle it…and I don’t judge them. It gets harder every time. I choose to disappear before the chaining up, lifting, dragging and burying part, now.
    I’m fortunate to have two great vets, who are both horse owners and rescuers.
    I always try to make sure the other horses are able to say goodbye, when it’s over. They’re so solemn…so respectful.
    The best we can do is the best we can do, and you shouldn’t have to defend yourself in the aftermath of what was so obviously a crushing loss. I’ve always said that when it comes time to put Leo, my soul-horse, down, the vet might as well put me down, too.

  9. Jan Hoole

    No one has the right to call you a coward Dawn. It is entirely your right to decide at what point to leave your horse. You have to live with whatever memories you take away, and you can’t un-see something if it turns out to be more than you can cope with. I have been present with four of my horses when they were put down. I stayed until they were dead and then helped to bury them, or to get them on to the knackers truck. I did that because I felt that it was the last thing I could do for them, but I cope best when I have something to do and to organise, and because for me, imagining what might happen is worse than seeing the reality.
    You did everything you possibly could for MT and I feel really angry that anyone has the audacity to judge you harshly, especially when they were not there with you!

  10. Mary Beeson

    There is a wonderful couple who does legitimate equine creamation in PA and surrounding areas. They cared for both my horses after they were put down. A beautiful wooden urn with a nameplate of your choosing to keep your equine partner forever. Even in the tragedy of losing Peanut as I shared in the original post the Ackerman’s were so kind, respectful of my horses, and sweet during everything. I’ve included their website

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