This week, I had the grizzly job of making a decision on my mare. Horse euthanasia is not something that any horse person likes to consider, but there are times when it is the only option. Here is my account of what I chose to do.
My mare had been getting progressively lame. Although her homeopathic treatment was, to some extent, helping her, the problem was deteriorating. Although lame, she was eating really well. This is always a good sign, as pain does tend to depress the appetite.
She would also walk the farthest distance in the paddock, after her evening meal, to get to some succulent clover. So I was still hopeful I could turn her problem around.
However, when she went down last week, she was unable to get back up. She had probably become too weak. Large animals, such as horses, can’t remain lying down for extended periods. Apart from the soreness of lying on the same parts for long, their organs can suffer.
I switched treatment to try to give her the strength to get up. I briefly considered getting help to get her up, but I thought the process could cause her a lot of stress, and possibly injury. And if she was already weak, she would probably go down again.
A concerned neighbour came to talk to me. His options were the normal ones everyone who cares about animals suffering, considers, but I wasn’t ready for euthanasia at this point. There was still hope. Although I don’t have a problem with death, I do have a problem with taking life. I don’t believe we have the right to do so. But at the same time, I knew that had she been in the wild, a predator would have helped her on her way.
If I had to take on the job of the predator, I needed to feel right about it. I don’t consider the feeling to be purely mine. To feel right, I believe that she would somehow get through to me, that this is what she was ready for.
She eagerly ate everything I offered her – grass, clover, carrots. She repositioned herself when she became too hot. She slept a lot. She had chosen a perfect time – a warm, dry spell towards the end of winter.
I spent as much time with her as I could, watching out for symptoms that would indicate a suitable remedy.
I did hope, that if she was ready, she would slip away in the night. Then I wouldn’t have to make the decision. That wasn’t to be.
When she started to become restless and wasn’t so keen to eat, I knew I had to help her on her way. Speaking to someone who had also been through the experience helped me feel it was the right time.
Only two options came to me, both of which seemed unbelievably brutal and barbaric – drugs or shooting. I had always treated her homeopathically, so I wasn’t about to fill her with drugs at the end.
I found someone who was experienced in shooting horses and he sounded compassionate. I liked him immediately, although meeting him under different circumstances would have been preferable.
I stroked her and spoke to her. She was calm and relaxed. He bent down and also spoke to her gently and stroked her. He told me he always wished them well. Then she was gone in an instant.
While he was digging her grave, I brought my other two horses to her body so they knew what was happening. They had followed the process and were more aware than I gave them credit for. They sniffed around a bit, particularly when she was taken away.
I was particularly concerned about one of the horses, who was apt to get in a real sweat, galloping around, whinnying constantly when he couldn’t find her. However, apart from half a dozen whinnies in the next 12 hours, he was fine. They did gravitate towards the fence of a neighbouring mare for a couple of days. Horse society is matriarchal, so doubtless she was a comfort.
Ideally, I would have liked to leave the body for a few hours, to allow the remaining horses to say goodbye on their terms, as well as to be sure she had gone, but it all worked out.
I haven’t felt like a murderer. I felt the time was right. With due consideration, horse euthanasia can be done sensitively for all concerned – the horse, the remaining herd, as well as you. But don’t rush in and do what others want you to do. Do what feels right for you and the horse, at the time.