Should you be there when your horse has to be put to sleep?






For me… and in my opinion, for everyone… the word should doesn’t apply.

I think each case is different and every person is different.  This is a very personal choice.

But, putting a horse down is very different than putting a dog or cat down – logistically – and I wanted to share this with you so you can make your best decision for you, if the time comes.

Let me explain…

THE HARD REALITY – IT ISN’T PRETTY.

Just to be very clear, when a small animal passes, we, as larger animals, can embrace their bodies.  Most dogs and cats will lie down during the sedation phase making it very easy for us to comfort them during this time.

But it is very different with a horse.  Unless the horse is already down or the vet can safely lay them down for you… a horse is usually standing.  When the horse has its final injection – and falls – it can be gruesome for an owner …and dangerous.

So, the rules that you may apply to yourself for being present until the absolute end with a small animal – may not be safe for you with your horse.

Of course, if the horse is already down during this time, it would be beautiful to be able to hold their head until the end.  I wish this had been the case for me.

MY PERSONAL HORSES WHO HAVE PASSED.

I’ve only had the opportunity to be present during this last goodbye for one of my horses – Mama Tess.

I had known the day would come, so in preparation, I asked my vet about the process… and I talked to the rendering company beforehand so I knew what to expect.  It was important for me to ingest this information when I wasn’t already hysterical.  In hindsight, having all the details understood was a very good idea, and I suggest it for anyone who is facing the death of a horse.  Figure out the logistics before the time comes – as hard as it may be to pick up the phone and face the reality – the death of a horse is not a simple matter for most people.  And knowing what needs to be done during the critical time, eases the fear.

OK, back to the facts… per my vet and several other vets I have spoken with… putting down a horse can be dangerous. They fall.  There is no controlling how or where they fall.  And when they hit the ground, it can be unpleasant in many ways – which would be difficult for any owner who loved their horse as a family member.

My vet told me that he felt that the horse was aware up to the point of the heavy sedation that precedes the lethal injection.  But after the heavy sedation, they aren’t really aware of much.

Knowing this, his suggestion to me was to be there for all of it – up to and including the very heavy sedation – but leave after the sedation.

So, that is what I did.

I couldn’t face watching Mama Tess fall to the ground in a heap.  I let her keep her dignity and I said my goodbyes while she was very present.  And, as the sedation took her away, my lips on her cheek were probably the last feeling she comprehended.

And that was fine.  The last time I saw her, she was so heavily sedated, my girl was already gone.

Of all the time we spent together, I don’t think she holds it against me that I didn’t watch her body drop to the ground.

However, that’s me.

BUT, I KNOW OF PEOPLE WHO CAN DO IT – AND DO

There are several horse rescue operations that deal with equine passings – more often then most of us regular folks.

I have seen photos of them holding the heads of passing horses – on the ground – and I am guessing they knew the ropes, stood back and then come in after the horse had fallen.

Part of me would like to think that the spirit of the horse recognizes the human there with him as he moves his way to horse heaven.

So, if this is how you’d like it to be, then go in strong, know the horse may fall in an unpleasant way, and stand by your friend.

BUT WHAT ABOUT WHEN THE DEATH IS MISSED?

Aladdin passed in the equine hospital.  I had visited him that day and I knew somethings was in the works.  He was suddenly different.  He clearly nuzzled me, then he went off into the corner – very unlike him.

I knew he was done.

And, that night he passed.

I missed it.  But, I didn’t feel like he didn’t know that I loved him.  I didn’t feel like I let him down.  We were good.  He knew it and I knew it.

And… when Slick passed last year, I missed it, too.  He was in the hospital and he looked fine.  But the vets told me that they were keeping him alive with fluids and meds.  At any minute, his kidneys could fail.  It was just a matter of time.

So, I visited him every day, brought him treats and groomed him incessantly.

When he passed, I didn’t live close enough to run down and be with him.  It was over very quickly.

I didn’t feel I let him down.  He had a great last week.  Slick had a luxury Emergency room.  The area was vast for a little pony.  Slick had an IV drip that made him feel like SuperPony.  He was warm, dry and fussed over.  And he gave me no indication that his last day was his last day.   I don’t think he knew – or if he did, he didn’t tell me.

And I don’t think he yearned for me at the end.  Probably, he just wanted the pain to be gone quickly – which it was.

FOR ME

For me, if you have the chance to make this decision for your horse, then you probably have at least a few hours to make your peace with each other.

For me, it was important to have the time with Aladdin and Slick.

With MT, I only had a few hours, but we had spent 3 years working up to that day.

With all of them, just like with all of my human family, it is wise to treat each person with the same respect you would on their last day – so that when that day comes, there is no guilt…

…Only sadness, which will pass.

 

AND OF COURSE…

And of course, for me, I talk to MT every day…

To me, the Spirit lives on after the vessel is gone.

 

 



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15 comments have been posted...

  1. Nellie

    I really appreciate this post. I was not present when my 25 yo quarter horse was put to sleep, then buried. The barn owner assured me it was ok that she and her husband take care of it. I came the evening before and said my goodbyes. A few months back later the barn owner made made this scathing remark that I wasn’t there. I took it in stride eventually. For my present QH I will be present if he doesn’t go naturally.

  2. Stacey

    One of the most amazing things about my boss a equine Veternarian who was actually my Vet before I started working for her is , 1 she does not charge her clients for Euthanizing her clients horses and when she started with her practice she told them that up front. 2 She always takes the horse from the client after the lethal injection and asks the step back and the horse falls the most graceful way it can with its head never hitting the ground . I have watched many horse euthanized where they just don’t care and just let them fall to the ground,y worst was when a Vet had to put a weanling down never sedated him first and he fought the euthanasia and till this day I saw the look in his eye at me struggling I cried so hard this was 8 years ago and it is bring tears to my eyes now . I remeber Momma Tess So well I truly do think of her and all you did for her . Thank you for writing this story

  3. Marta Paras

    The only animals that I have regretted putting down were the ones I weren’t with. I walked away from two horses because the vets were “too busy” to do it right then. Those I regretted immensely. Not only did I feel that I let them down, I felt like I abandoned them. My last dog, it was a terrible situation. I was ready to put her down both emotionally and logically as she had so much going on. I let the vet talk me out of it. In hindsight, I think because the situation was too close to her own dog’s situation. She talked me into a last ditch drug regime and I capitulated. Although I waited the appropriate length of time after giving my girl the new drug, I know she had a delayed adverse reaction. I came home to a dog in shock, having convulsions and who had tried to claw through a fire door trying to find me. We had to give her oxygen before we could even euthanize her. On top of it, the new receptionist when I called to say I was bringing her in, told me I need to wait ONE HOUR before doing so, so it wouldn’t upset the other clients. Really? I still go to our local vet but I ask for the other primary and it surprises me every time I relive this of how ANGRY I still am about the choices (both MINE & the VETS) that were made in so much error that day.

  4. Valerie Neilson

    I have had both cases happen to me. We had adopted a companion horse for my T.W. mare Mystey. Annabelle had a great home with us for 5 yrs. I went out one morning & found Mystey standing over Annabelle. She was 34 yrs. old & looked like a big deer laying in the field, all curled up, looking peaceful. We figured she had a heart attack, did not look stressed. We were able to bury her on the property. My mare Mystey was different. She was healthy, happy & only 15 yrs. old when she had a horrible accident that cut her back leg to the bone above her hoof. We had no choice but to put her down. I stayed with her the whole way, stroking her face & eyes, the way she loved, did a bit of Riki over her head. The Vet came, gave her the first shot, she went down hard, but not dangerously. I went to her, put her head in my lap & kissed her goodbye while she was still with me. I was the last one she saw before she crossed over, quiet & calm. I was the emotional wreck, but would have it no other way. Luckily, I was able to hold it together until she passed or my emotions would have caused her agitation. It’s never an easy decision & each to their own.

  5. Teresa

    I totally get it. Both ways. But I worked on an Arabian ranch, and I gotta say there is nothing deader looking than a dead horse. Even if I wasn’t attached I was deeply disturbed. We usually got notified because if you come around a corner leading a horse, it’s trouble with a capital “T”.

  6. Hana Kárníková

    Hello, I have to say not always it’s planed action :( Unfortunately I had to put down my first mare in May, I loved her very much and we tried to get her thru the colic but it was bad. I had trailer at ready to take her to hospital, but I saw she would not make it. I would be selfish and would put her thru unnecessary pain …
    Vet gave her 10% chance with operation. I will never forget her look she wanted me to help her, she had faith in me and I could do nothing just put her down. Her head laid in my arms when she passed… It was the worst thing I had to do but I am glad I could be with her. On one side I am happy it was because of the colic and I did not had to decide that her arthritis is so bad she needs to go, cause she loved to walk around and cuddle and I know she did not wanted to go… on other hand, I think maybe the owners whose horse pass peacefully on pasture are in better state of mind, its hard too I know but you are spared of the suffering and look in their eyes when they are leaving :(

  7. Dorothy H Benedict

    I am present for all of my animals when they pass if I can be. I think of it as part of my responsibility to them and my final act of love . Always.

  8. Cathy

    I don’t think being present matters to the horse. The horse doesn’t know what’s going on. He’s just getting a shot from the vet, like a hundred times before. There is no way a horse has the capacity to know he’s about to die *unless* you, the owner, are freaking out and crying and upset and putting him on notice that something bad is happening. That’s why I truly believe if you can’t keep it together, it’s kinder on the horse for you to walk away and let the professionals handle it.

  9. Linda Scrip

    We lost Tiki our beloved Morgan mare. Three weeks ago yesterday. Tumor on her intestines. We were with her til the very end. What a terrible heartbreaking thing to do. She was 19 never sick. We thought it was colic. Took her to midatlantic equine center. They were really good. Compassionate and honest. It was raining that day and Heather said at least she was in a nice warm environment. We stood there as the did the injections and then they guided her to the floor where Heather sat down held her head as the vet listened to Tiki’s heart stop. The tears poured from my daughter’s eyes. I walked away leaving her to say goodbye. Heather got part of her mane and tail. It’s so painful to walk into the barn afterwards. The only time an animal breaks our hearts is when we lose them. Very heartbreaking. She was 19 and we had her for 11 great years.

  10. Sarah Harrison

    I was there heart wrenching but I’m so glad that I had friends and family to help lower her to the ground and I was there hugging her for quite a while and

  11. Aja

    Not all horses fall to the ground. Mine laid himself down in a very elegant way, as if he was going to sleep. I helped him laying his head down and so, with my hands around his head, we said farewell. It was just beautiful and peaceful.

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