|My beloved horse Buck at 26 years of age. Best horse that ever drew air. Most trustworthy and reliable of riding partners; kindest of heart; and with the sweetest neigh of any horse I've known.|
Let's talk about it. Your beloved horse is mortal. Despite the long lives contemporary horses may have with proper care and good fortune, eventually he's going to pass. Setting aside the inevitable sadness and grief, let's talk some practical considerations and some advance planning.
Horses aren't goldfish. They're not easily disposed of and there are some unique logistical concerns involved. Although you can't prepare for every contingency, even when stable planning there are some things in advance you can do to make the final passage more manageable. The person who comes out to remove your horse will have to drag the body at some point and winch it onto a truck or trailer. When I built my dream stable a few years ago (one I left behind in search of more acreage, sadly) I had six-foot wide gates on each side of the over-sized stalls. Why? Because if a horse passes in a stall, it makes removing their body so, so much easier and gentler. If you have portable pipe panel fencing, that makes the job easier as well. If you're planning a facility, consider the final exit of the animals that will reside there. It'll make your life easier at a very difficult time. Ensure a truck and trailer or a tractor can access the turn-outs and stall area at a distance and trajectory that animal removal is simplified.
Now, about those remains. Some owners are very sentimental about the post-mortem status of the remains; others, more practically inclined. Your budget may well play a part. Again, some advance planning can help you out when you're grieving. Think about how much importance you place on the final resting place or your horse and whether or not you'll realistically be able to achieve that goal; if you can't, look at what compromise you can make that will answer to your feelings as well as your checkbook. If you want to ensure your horse is cremated, you may be looking at the expense of the veterinary visit for euthanasia; the removal service; and the cost of cremation. If it's important enough to you to want these services, set aside the necessary amount (even if you must put a few dollars away monthly until the time comes) in a savings account so you needn't think about them when your horse passes. Even if cremation isn't an option, at minimum you'll have removal service expenses and, very likely, associated veterinary costs.
If you own a large property and may legally do so, you can consider burial of your horse on your own property. Although you won't have to pay for removal services, you'll need the use of a tractor with a backhoe. If you already have a rig of your own, you can dig your horse's grave. If you know the end is imminent, it's wise to dig or have the grave dug in advance, and then lead him to the site to say goodbye. A sloping entrance to the grave will allow you to lead your horse precisely to his place of rest without any unpleasant dragging or rough handling of a body, if this is important to you. Your veterinarian can meet you there to perform a humane euthanasia. If you have a padded moving blanket (the type used for shipping furniture) or a horse blanket you can let your horse lie down upon as he is sedated, that will make it gentler for him and easier on you. The moving blankets are inexpensive and if you wish to, you can cover him with it as necessary. From there, the burial is easy; make sure the remains are fully covered and the ground packed well to prevent coyotes from digging at the site. You may be surprised how persistent they can be about digging.
When planning ahead for a site for a horse burial, consider the area required for the earth-moving vehicles to maneuver. They need space to move back and forth and laterally as well as room to put all the dirt until the process is complete; they then have to be able to push the dirt back in. With a larger commercial backhoe I recently required nearly an 80 x 80 foot clearing to allow safe ingress and egress for the digger.
If you do not have a facility where burying a horse is possible, legal, or practical, you have several options and considerations. Do you have a friend or neighbor with a facility where it's a possibility? If so, take the horse there for euthanasia and final arrangements. If not, you may require the use and expense of a byproducts service or a horse-removal specialist. Your local veterinarian can recommend those companies. You may also wish to take your horse to a veterinary clinic for euthanasia; you then need not be present to have the body removed, and your veterinarian can make the arrangements for you and add them to the euthanasia bill. Some companies will offer cremation services; if this is important to you, you will pay more to have the ashes returned to you.
There are even more options. If your horse is healthy but euthanasia is a necessity due to other concerns - an old injury, for example, or aggression / behavioral issues - you may consider donating him to a zoo /wildlife sanctuary / safari park / wildlife rehab center. They will offer humane euthanasia and the horse's body will benefit the facility by feeding predators. Those animals need to eat and they are carnivores, so do not feel guilty about this choice. Your donation will provide food for the animals and will save other animal lives by doing so. However, there are things in advance you must know and do for this option. A contract with the wildlife park is necessary; you must agree not to give your horse pharmaceuticals or medications for a specific period prior to the donation; you must, in all probability, deliver the animal within certain specified times; and he must be freshly and thoroughly washed prior to the delivery.
Should you be fortunate enough to have a veterinary college in your area, you may have other options. I had a sweet mare who required euthanasia for severe founder. She had an unusual medical history and I reached out to a local veterinary school to see if they could use her for post-mortem study or medical research. They didn't accept donations, per se, but they did offer me an affordable and humane end of life for her. I found this to be ultimately one of the gentlest, most delicate end-of-life events my horses have undergone. The staff at the college was tremendous and kind. They had a grassy square near the clinic barn where they suggested I spend time saying goodbye to my mare and letting her graze. They had a specially-made heavily-padded anesthesia stall that "embraced" the horse as the sedation took effect, allowing a controlled drop to the padded floor. From there I turned everything else over to them; they took care of the removal, and in addition they were able to use her hock joints as a teaching aid. It made me feel better knowing the mare was able to benefit future veterinary students. The school did charge for the services, but it was far less expensive than having a veterinary call-out plus removal services, and again, providing the money to the veterinary school was well in line with my own preferences.
|(c) 2022 Marcy J. Miller|
Now let's talk sentimental / memorial considerations. When you lose a horse, you may wish to save a large swatch of their tail to have a craft item made to remember him by. You can have an artisan craft the tail into a hitched-horsehair item such as a bridle, a tassel or shoo-fly, or you can consider finding a potter to make a thrown-horsehair item. The latter is a craft long practiced by indigenous people; when the clay pot or bowl is fired in the kiln, horsehair (tail hair) is "thrown" on the pot while it is still hot, fusing it beautifully and permanently into the glaze. It is a distinctive and lovely art and makes for an elegant "memory pot" to memorialize your horse. I once had the misfortune of being the "on-call" neighbor for a friend who was out of town. Their petsitter called me when their elderly and very-much-loved horse suffered colic. Sadly, the horse's stomach had ruptured by the time the vet arrived and euthanasia was the only option. I made the arrangements for the horse's burial, but before doing so I saved a section of his tail and secretly had a thrown-horsehair vase made for them. They were overwhelmed with gratitude when I took it to them a few weeks later. The potter made a braided "collar" for the neck of the vase of the remaining tail hairs. You can find artisans who practice hitched-horsehair and thrown-horsehair crafts online via Etsy or their own websites.
If you have saved a horseshoe from your horse, you can also incorporate that either with or without some tail or mane hair to make a rustic frame for a photograph of him. Alternately, you may opt to have a local artist paint him from a photograph and frame that instead. One of my traditions with the many horses I've lost is to buy myself a memorial piece of jewelry on their passing. When I lost Oscar (much too young,) to melanoma, I bought a handcrafted silver necklace with running horses on it. Invariably every time I pull it from my jewelry box I think of that stunning, sweet, funny horse and when someone compliments the necklace, I share a memory of him with them.
Another aspect of advance planning is to document your preferences for the disposition of your horse's remains for any boarding facility, trainer, shipping service, or horse-sitter you use. Be reasonable, and recognize the impact on the involved parties; keep in mind this is likely not easy on them, either. Prior guidance may well be appreciated and make their job easier should the worst happen when you aren't present or available.
Regardless of how you choose to dispose of your horse's remains, it is your choice. If you have a close relationship to your horse and it's important for you to give him a particularly dignified final disposition, that's your decision. If you're pragmatic or simply can't afford certain options, that's your business. We all have our own sensitivities and viewpoints involving end-of-life issues. You needn't feel guilty for how spending as little as possible, nor need you feel guilty for giving him a human-grade memorial service. One of the most challenging things about losing beloved pets is we don't have a cultural avenue for grieving; sometimes I think an animal funeral would be a wise custom so we can process our grief and move past it. That part isn't for them; it's for us, and as loving and compassionate horse owners, we deserve such compassion ourselves.
If you are reading this because your horse has recently passed, please accept my condolences.
(c) 2022 Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including images, may be reproduced without the express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared and are greatly appreciated * Thank you for stopping by!