For those that know horses, and have been around them for a while, you will have heard many horror stories of horses dying under terrible circumstances. The ” and they fell asleep under the apple tree and peacefully past away” tales are only seen in stories.
One of the most important aspects of horse ownership is planning for the final days of you equine friend. As horses get older, they, like us, may suffer from chronic disease, for example Cushings or arthritis. Or, just the amount of injuries stacks up and cause long term pain.
The first decision that you may find yourself making is:
Are they well enough to be ridden?
If the answer is no, BUT they are happy and still enjoying life and their condition can be controlled with simple intervention, then what is their plan for retirement?
If the answer is no, and they are in constant and uncontrollable pain, what is the “end of life” plan?
So, you decide that your horse has earned a retirement, and you have found them a good situation, you need to keep on checking in with them and answer the following question:
Is my horse happy and enjoying life in retirement, and is/are their conditions(s) well controlled?
To help you answer that question, you need to keep an eye on them physically, for example, check their weight, the quality of their coat and feet, are they still eating well, are stool and urine still normal in both volume and sight for them, can they still roll and move around without pain?
If anything physically changes, then you need to call in the vet.
But, we also need to watch their mental wellbeing too:
Is my horse, still recognizably “my horse”?
Has their behaviour changed, are they still interested in their surroundings, and are they still a herd member, or are they being picked on?
If the answer is yes, investigate.
If your horse is no longer enjoying life, and changes in, perhaps, feed, routine, or even spending more time with them is making no impact, and your vet has ruled out any new or changes in age related conditions, this means their quality of live is diminished, and you need to be honest with yourself and work out who they are still being kept around for.
As I mentioned above, when horse dies, it is normally due to a catastrophic event, where emotional decisions need to be made in the moment. This is not good for anyone.
To help yourself out, make a list for your horse, taking into account their issues, the interventions that you are happy to make to help them live a bit longer? For example:
Would you allow surgery?
Would you take them off the property?
Would you be happy injecting them with powerful pain meds every day?
And stick to it.
A quiet, planned euthanasia is better for everyone than a “Your horse is about to suffer a long and painful death if we don’t …” decision.