It is without doubt the hardest part of owning and loving a horse - having to make the upsetting yet likely decision to have your friend put to sleep when 'it's time'. Though many of us welcome horses into our lives with the intention of keeping them for all of theirs, we avoid thinking about the inevitability of having to make the uncomfortable judgement of when the time is right - it’s just too uncomfortable. Even when horses join us for an intended short period of time, there is always the possibility of having to make the decision to have them put to sleep should tragedy strike or circumstances dictate, and it's not something many of us are prepared for until the time comes.
When I put out the call to my friends and followers for contributions to this blog series, I was completely overwhelmed by the interest in the topic, people's eagerness to tell their story, the complexities of the decision-making process and it's impact. I was also blown away by the love people have for their horses and the care and effort they go to to be there and ‘do the right thing’ whatever they perceive that to be, for their equine friends when it’s been required. Reading through the stories of the 184 people who took the time to respond to my call for contributors has made me cry (a LOT!) and it has been a real honour to have been trusted with these stories to tell. What started off as a one-off blog, has become a 3 part series of which this is the first and I hope I’m able to do justice to this really important topic. I hope you can understand that it wouldn’t be possible for me to include every single story from those who responded, but be assured that I have read them all, was touched by each one and they have all helped inform this blog series.
In part 1 of 'Saying Goodbye', we look at how people have experienced making the decision to have their horse put to sleep - how you know when the time is right, who's advice you sought out, the impact making the decision had on you. In part 2 we’ll look at the mechanics and practicalities of when a horse is euthanised - which methods of euthanasia are available, the consideration of which method is right for you and your horse, whether it’s right for you to be there or not and what happens after your horse has passed then in the final part of this series we’ll look at how we come to terms with the loss of our equine friends and the ways in which we remember and commemorate them.
We have this idea that when it’s time to have your horse PTS, the effects of old age will be the cause. Your horse will have had a great life full of lovely memories for you to treasure and he will have been loved and cared for into his senior years. In reality of course, it’s not always the case, with the vast majority of your stories involving young horses with some sort of physical breakdown preceding the decision. Kissing Spine, bone spavin, navicular, arthritis, heart conditions, colic, fractured limbs and ulcers were the most commonly-sited conditions that forced the decision to be made but of course, we all know horses with these conditions who’s symptoms are managed to allow them continue to live a comfortable life. How then, do you know when it’s the right time to make the decision? Do you wait until the crisis point or do you make the decision ahead of real suffering? It’s a really complex topic with all sorts of practical and ethical considerations but it helps to hear from a few people who knew when it was the ‘right’ time.
Suzanne Arnott shares her story…..
“Shaka was PTS due to the progression of cushings disease, a field injury and the subsequent suppression of her immune system. She developed mouth abscesses and ulceration of the tongue and gums causing acute problems eating and drinking. The attending vets recommended treatment for the mouth but advised she needed to be able to heal herself in addition to the treatment so it might not work. On the day she was PTS I had already decided to have her PTS as she’d been unable to eat or drink for 2 days and found this heartbreaking to see. When the vet arrived she agreed with the decision and did not offer another opinion.”
Sammy Boothby says...
“3 years ago my boy was diagnosed with a heart murmur. We had an ECG done and was told to enjoy him while we could. The following year when the vet came to do his vaccinations she detected arterial fibrillation and was advised to retire him from a ridden career. At this point we discussed how we would know the time was right and agreed to see how he went through the winter and potentially give him one last summer. In June 2017 I found out I was pregnant with my first child and after much soul searching and discussing with my vet, we decided that we would not put Charlie through another winter as his heart beat was becoming more irregular and the vet felt he would struggle. We decided that we would pick a date (we chose 31st August just before my 20 week scan) this was by far the hardest part knowing each day that we were a day closer to losing him. I have no regrets that we picked the right time as the vet listened to his heart on the day and said he would of had at most 3 months and the thought of coming to the yard one day and finding him dead would have broken my heart more. He owed me nothing and was my horse of a lifetime”
Rachel Bragg shares her story….
“My 5 year old mare was ill and had been for a few months. She’d be in and out of the Royal Vet College near London for a period of time, initially with what appeared to be a nasal cavity issue but this triggered other symptoms that were both perplexing for all vet staff working on her case and terribly emotional for me. I’d had this mare from birth and she was the first foal of a wonderful mare of mine I’d sold to a good friend to breed from. Her problems got more difficult to diagnose, her weight dropped hugely, she was colic-ing frequently (albeit mildly) and her heart was struggling to cope with it all at times. She needed surgery but wasn’t strong enough for it so brought her home with a huge amount of medication in order to give her some home comforts and familiarity in the hope she would gain strength and weight then cope with the surgery. Despite all the problems she was incredibly alert and stable in many ways, she was a real fighter and just loved to be with people. The decision was made quite easily by me. She’s been super-brave all the way through, dealing with whatever came her way. She was never nasty, always whinnied at the sight of me and put up with so many procedures, tubes and contraptions with such amazing grace. I decided that at the first signs she was no longer fighting herself then this would be her time. One morning at 5.30 I arrived and her head wasn’t over her door and she made no sound. When I got to her her head was low to the ground and it was clear she’d stopped fighting. I called my vet straight away. I didn’t really talk it through with anyone else, although I’m sure I’d have had great advice if I’d needed it. I’d lost 2 horses in the past so was fully aware of my options and what might happen afterwards. I have no regrets at all about my decision or my timing. I knew her well, had done since birth and I knew the second I saw her that she’d given up”
Suzanne Anderson said
“I bought at 17 year old warmblood mare unseen, through a friend of a friend, with the intention of hacking, light schooling and just general pottering around day to day - something to pamper. The day she arrived via a transport company, she fell off the box as she was so weak, stiff as a board and skin and bone. I made it my mission to fix her up which I did, but as the weight went on, her arthritis went well beyond manageable which took me down the path of putting her to sl