Welcome back to KA Equestrian and to Part 3 of ‘Saying Goodbye’, our blog series lifting the veil on the unknown and unsaid about having your horse put to sleep. In part 1 we looked at the decision-making surrounding knowing how and when to have your horse euthanised, in part 2 we looked at the mechanics and practicalities of it and in this third and final part we look at how we cope with the loss and how we commemorate our equine friends once they’re gone.
One of the themes that came up time and time again in the research for this blog series, was how owners struggled to cope with the grief left once their horse had gone. A few people mentioned how they’d been expected by family and friends just to “bounce back” after a few days, with one person sharing the account of being told “You should be over this by now” 2 weeks after the loss of her horse. There was a feeling of not being permitted the time to properly grieve and that because, it was “just a horse”, it isn’t acknowledged as something that could affect you deeply.
When I began to look into this element of losing a horse, I was signposted to The Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Service. I must admit, I hadn’t heard of it previously, but I was really heartened to hear of it’s existence.
“We know that the loss of a pet impacts everyone differently. Feelings of despair, loneliness and even depression can be overwhelming. There may also be a strong sense of guilt and self-doubt, particularly when a decision has been taken to euthanise or re-home a pet. These feelings are normal and a testimony to the special bond between people and their pets. We often hear that friends, family members or colleagues don’t quite understand the upset that losing a pet can bring, and grieving for a pet can be a very lonely experience. Sometimes it helps to share these feelings with someone who knows from personal experience how distressing pet loss can be, and who will listen with compassion and without judgement.”
Run exclusively by trained volunteers, the helpline is open every day from 8.30am - 8.30pm and can be contacted on 0800 096 6606. Alternatively, they offer email support on firstname.lastname@example.org and, if you’d prefer to remain anonymous, a confidential email service is also available which can be accessed via their website www.bluecross.org.uk.
Quite often there isn’t time for much of a goodbye at the time your horse is euthanised and there is no ‘normal’ process for any particular ritual afterwards but part of the grieving process, and crucially, the ability to move on, is dependent on being able to say a proper goodbye.
Owners do a whole host of different things to help remember and commemorate their horses once they’re gone and *WARNING* I was an emotional wreck reading some of these! …
Suzanne said “There was no time to include any ritual, although we did give her a last feed, which she struggled to eat. I think this was more for us to have something to do while we were waiting for arrangements to be put in place than anything else. We had her body cremated but did not keep the ashes as we didn't want to have to decide what to do with them in the long term. I think I grieved over the previous 2 weeks as seeing her suffer was worse than making the decision and it was more of a relief once it was done. There was more mental anguish over the previous days trying to work out of anything else could be done. Once the realisation that there were no other viable treatment options for her it made the decision clear, and probably slightly easier. I did feel guilt over not increasing her PPID treatment but the vet had good reason to suspect this would not be tolerated and was unlikely to work for her. Friends, family and yard staff expressed their condolences for a few days after but I’ve had no other support. The yard manager was supportive with practical matters and the vet practice sent a lovely card which was appreciated. I have ordered a commemorative picture for myself and a picnic bench for the yard which will have a plaque on it. The yard manager has also ordered a plaque with her name on it to be put up outside her stable. My daughter has ordered a bracelet made of her tail hair and I have ordered a bracelet bead and paper weight with her tail hair. I wouldn’t change anything, my experience was the best it could have been. I think I was supported to make the right decision at the right time by the vet and close family.”
Sammy said “ Five months after Charlie was PTS, our son was born on 17th January. We named him Charlie Boothby. My husband said we named him after my old boy so when he’s older he can tell him he was named after my one true love!” Prior to having him put to sleep we had some stunning photos taken of all my boys and I have had the most beautiful bead made with his tail hair in it.”
Suzannne said “On the morning of the day she was PTS she had a full groom, mane tidied, tail trimmed, hoof stain on so she looked her best. A bucket full of feed and a pile of polos and carrots on her walk out to the field with the vet behind us. I felt a heap of guilt and still do wonder if I did the right thing. Although I know I did, there’s always the thought of ‘could I have done more’. My partner was a huge help and I received a beautiful card from my vets to say sorry for my loss, it was a lovely touch and I still have it 5 years on. At the time I wasn’t aware of any of the keepsake jewellery that is available so unfortunately I don’t have any although I wish I did. I have had her portrait drawn and took many photos along our journey.”
Rachel said “I was with her when they put her to sleep. I’d been with one of my other 2 when they went too and had previously been there for others belonging to friends. I wasn’t scared, but I wanted to make sure it was as peaceful as it could be. There were no rituals as it was one of those decisions made in an instant. I had locks of her hair though to keep. I didn’t get any help in getting over the loss, which despite that lack of guilt, took many many years to get over. She was young, she was bred very well and she had done so well as a youngster in the show ring with many county show wins and championships. She came from a mare I adored and had history with and so her loss, with so much life in front of her, affected me deeply. I missed her. I didn’t regret the process, I just missed her so very much. I have her hair that I’m still waiting to do something with but my business is named partly in her honour. The ‘sweet’ part of Sweet Images Photography comes from part of her registered show name. There’s a whole blog on my website that tells the tale of how I started my equine photography business and how she played a huge part then and still today with what I offer clients.”
Carole said “I rode him out a gentle hack one last time and gave him his favourite supper and treats and spent time just sitting with him. I almost felt some relief when he was gone. He hadn’t been coping being not ridden and had almost turned slightly feral being out of work. I had grieved for my horse over the last two years of fighting to get him sound and distanced myself from him in the last two weeks but still loved him to bits. He was my horse and my responsibility right up to the end. I wish people would be more responsible a bit like myself and do the right thing. I could have sold him as a companion/light hack but I didn’t. I could have put him to a sanctuary but I didn’t. I did the right thing and didn’t make my lame horse anyone else’s responsibility. I have a huge canvas of me and him going XC, he had the heart of a lion. I also have one of his shoes with his photo in it.”
There are so many ways in which we can remember the horses we lose, from portraits to photo shoots, plaques to horse shoe art - even naming your first born and your business - but an extremely popular way to always have a bit of your horse with you, is to have a piece of jewellery made. Tail End Jewellery make absolutely beautiful pieces of jewellery incorporating some hair from your horse’s tail. Their founder, Alison Dadley-Webb tells us about the service they offer to owners who have lost their equine friends,
“When we are born, one of the first senses available to us is the sense of touch. Throughout the rest of our lives physical contact continues to play a vital role in our physical and psychological health. Our special equine friends can help fill this basic need for physical touch and affection and part of our grief when they are gone, is we can no longer hold, touch, pat, cuddle or kiss them. So imagine if you could still tangibly touch a real piece of them when they are no longer with you and keep them close to you forever more. I have felt very privileged to help owners for over 17 years do just that, by making a custom piece of jewellery from their very own horses hair. The unique and special piece of jewellery can be worn constantly and touched whenever the need to feel close again arises. It can help hold strong special memories that we want to preserve forever. It is a job I love doing and hearing comments from customers such as “I just wanted to thank you for my ring. It fits perfectly and it’s so comforting to keep a bit of my gorgeous boy with me in such a beautiful way” makes me feel very happy and rewarded. I feel that I have helped them in some small way with their grieving process and to keep the special bond they had with their horse alive.”
I hope that this blog series has been useful and thought-provoking, it has certainly opened my eyes and left me feeling far better informed and prepared to make the decision should I have to. It’s been really quite emotional to read everyone’s stories but heart-warming to hear about how much love they shared with their horses. An enormous thank you to every single person who got in touch to share with me their experiences, it’s really what made this blog and helped colour what could have been a very clinical piece to write.
If you missed parts 1 and 2, you can read them by following the links below, and I’d love to hear from you and what you thought. Do you feel as though you’ve learned something from reading this blog series? Has it been tough to read? Do you feel better prepared? I’d love to know.
Part 1 - Making The Decision To Have Your Horse PTS
Part 2 - How To Have Your Horse PTS
KAEquestrian on YouTube