Horses don’t just enter our lives; they lodge themselves firmly in our hearts leaving an indelible mark which permeates every element of our world. One thing’s for sure, they are never far from our thoughts at any given moment in our day.

Once welcomed and accepted as one of their herd, the journey we share with them will always form some of our fondest memories.

Sometimes just the mere thought of losing them, brings sorrow. Yes, it is a given that in choosing to share our lives with these wonderful creatures, it is inevitable that we will have to say goodbye at one point or another.

It’s true, after losing a horse, the hurt lessens over time but we never forget the moments we shared; the lessons we learnt or their individual quirks and habits. There is something magical about the connection and bond we share with our horses, it’s impossible to fully explain, but they then become a part of who we are and they alter the way we see the world. They are an integral part of our lives, often part of our identity, one of the first things we mention when we meet new people. It is for these reasons that when the time we share comes to an end, we never truly say farewell.

Initially the loss is profound, and we wonder if we will ever be able to function again, but in time we learn to go on and remember the joy they brought.

We never know when the day will come for us to tread separate paths. Sometimes it comes out of the blue, other times it creeps up on us with saddening surety. In loving horses, it is sometimes our duty to make the toughest decisions.

Sometimes this requires courage to be selfless and putting the needs of our equine companions before our own. Whether through planned horse euthanasia, accidents, illness, or old age, losing a horse is both emotional and challenging for us as horse owners. We can learn to cope, work our way through the grieving process and honour their memory in a way which is right and fitting.

Dealing with grief, and how to plan effectively

Anticipatory grief often accompanies expected losses, such as planned euthanasia. It’s essential to set a date for planned euthanasia, and make the most of the remaining time with your horse.

Understand that guilt is a normal part of the grieving process which is why it is essential to discuss your feelings with friends and family, allow them to understand and support you as best they can.

By contrast, unexpected loss can come as a shock: accidents and sudden illness resulting in unplanned euthanasia can be both tragic and traumatic, leading us to question our decisions to have our beloved horses put to sleep, we go on to re-live those moments as the days and weeks pass and wonder if it could have played out differently. It is important to remember that veterinarians are always present on these occasions, they provide objective advise and are often able to look at situations in a more pragmatic way, their emotional bond with your horse is not as closely connected as yours and therefore, it is important to allow them to be the voice of reason. Where there is a solution, they will find it.

In these moments of despair, it is important to trust their judgement and be kind on ourselves rather than looking back and torturing ourselves with endless ‘what ifs.’ As responsible guardians and caregivers, assessing your horse’s quality of life must always come first and foremost.

dealing with horse euthanasia and loss

The bigger picture

Be sure to give a little thought to the wider impact of the loss of a horse. If your horse had companions or was part of a larger herd, it’s important to support them through the loss too.

Accepting that herd dynamics may alter over the coming weeks is important and it may be worth adjusting routines slightly to help ease their transition. There is absolutely no shame in grieving the loss of your horse, please reach out for support and do not think you need to try and simply ‘get on with things’, horses are a huge part of our lives and the hurt of losing them will take time to heal. For specialised emotional support, please talk to ‘Friends at the End’. This is an amazing free and confidential service offered by the British Horse Society. Not only are their volunteers trained to offer emotional support, they are also on hand to offer practical advice on all aspects of horse loss, from discussing euthanasia options to physically being there for you in person to hold your horse if you feel it is too much for you to do it yourself. For children and young people, horse loss can be especially challenging. Particularly for youngsters who have grown up with one specific horse in their lives, it can feel like the end of the world.

Being open and honest with them and involving them in the decision-making process are essential when helping young people cope with the loss. It is important to acknowledge that each child is unique and, as with adults, losing a loved one will affect each person differently. That said, children are more resilient than we think and oftentimes we believe it is best to protect then and shelter them, when in fact giving them the choice, if possible, to be present when their horse is put to sleep may help them to process and come to terms with the loss more quickly.

Not only does it offer them a chance to say goodbye, it also brings a sense of closure. With older children (from around the age of 10), it is not advisable to have their horses put to sleep without discussing it with them first, doing so is likely to leave them feeling angry and resentful.

Older children often have the cognitive ability to understand the finality of dying and will feel the loss more if they are denied the opportunity to share those final moments with their horse. Some young people will decide they want to hold on tight to those fond memories and will choose not to be present, either way respecting their preference is hugely important.

Practical tips

Once your horse has passed you will need to make those all-important final arrangements. If you are fortunate enough to keep your horse at your private residence or on your own land you can, according to DEFRA, bury your horse at home. However, for many this is just not possible and burial on commercial properties is often not a viable option.

There are a number of dedicated equine cremation companies who offer the dignified removal we would all wish for our horses, they promise respectful collection and individual cremation. These services come at a cost, but planning ahead and having the money put aside always ensures you have options to choose from during these difficult moments.

Some people choose to keep their horse’s ashes in a casket; others choose to spread them in a special place where they can visit. Whether you choose to keep or bury your horse’s ashes, willow caskets are a natural choice. Not only do they look special if you choose to keep your casket close by on display, they are also an eco-friendly option if you prefer to bury your horse’s ashes in a treasured place. Dignity Pet Crematorium offer beautiful calico-lined willow caskets in two sizes.

There are also a range of companies who offer keepsakes, meaning you are able to have a reminder of your horse close by. Whether this is one of your horse’s shoes, a lock of tail hair made into an item of jewellery or some of their ashes safely sealed in pendants or transformed into resin charms. Whatever choices you make, there are no right or wrong answers here, it is all a matter of personal preference. Having keepsakes and mementos can often provide comfort or solace in those difficult moments as we grieve.

For children and adults alike, acknowledging grief and hurt helps people feel they are not alone, and they will appreciate your support. Sometimes writing them a card sharing your favourite memory of them and their horse can bring comfort in more difficult moments.

You could even include a poem, such as this one by Edna Clyne-Rekhy:

The Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, your pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.

There is plenty of food, water, and sunshine, and friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who have been ill and old are restored to health and strength, those who were hurt are made better and strong again, like we remember them before they go to heaven.

They are happy and content except for one small thing — they each miss someone very special to them who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are shining, his body shakes.

Suddenly he begins to run from the herd, rushing over the grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cuddle in a happy hug never to be apart again.

You and your pet are in tears. Your hands again cuddle his head and you look again into his trusting eyes, so long gone from life, but never absent from your heart, and then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together.

– By Edna Clyne-Rekhy