Making the decision to euthanise

No matter what our views on euthanasia are, at some point in our lives we will probably have to face making this terrible decision. For most riders, our horses are our friends and companions. Having to make the decision to put our best friend down is the single biggest responsibility that we have for them. The loss of your horse can be equated to losing a loved one; with all the ensuing guilt, loss and grief associated with a decision of this magnitude.


Listening to your vet and other experts can help you to make the right decision

Understanding grief

The psychological definition of grief is: “The anguish that a person will experience after a significant loss like the death of a beloved person.” However you feel and experience grief, it is real, debilitating and can be overwhelming and devastating.

Managing guilt

The only way to deal with guilt is by knowing that we did the right thing, and giving ourselves the time to come to terms with what we have had to do; having our horses’ best interests at heart helps ease our minds. Our responsibility lies in giving them the best life possible, no matter how hard any decision might be for us to make.

Putting your horse to sleep

In South Africa there are two accepted ways of putting horses to sleep: a drug called Euthanase, which is also used on cats and dogs, or alternatively, one clean gunshot. There are pros and cons to both methods:

  • Euthanase (essentially a highly concentrated anaesthetic) burns when injected and the quantities required for a horse are large and take a relatively long time to move through a horse’s body and stop the heart. Disposal of the body may also be more difficult as Euthanase would affect any animals eating the carcass.
  • A gunshot for us has the terrible association of violence, but in actual fact is quick and kind, especially performed by a professional in an environment that the horse knows well and is relaxed in.

Body disposal

Conservation projects are more aware now of the impact of certain drugs such as phenylbutazone on their wildlife. Provided you can supply them with a full medical history down to the regular vaccinations and dewormings performed, there are certain conservation programmes that can and will use horse carcasses.

Legacy Pet Crematorium is now able to deal with horses as well as smaller animals. There are two options available to horse owners: Communal Cremation and Return of Ashes. The prices vary from R2,000 to R3,500 for Communal Cremation and R3,500 to R6,000 for Return of Ashes. The team at Legacy are able to guarantee the return of specifically your horse’s ashes. They are able to collect and transport the horse from your stables. Ashes are returned in a meranti casket with a brass clip and engraved name plate.

Disposal of remains

Life Gem with Legacy

The manufactured gem has the same physical characteristics as a natural diamond

The manufactured gem has the same physical characteristics as a natural diamond

Legacy now also offers the unique option for horse owners of being able to have a Life Gem generated from your horse’s ashes. The ashes are sent to Chicago, USA and through extreme heat and pressure, a unique diamond is made.

Prices are US$ based.

Expert advice

No decision like this is ever taken lightly. Listening to your vet and other experts associated with your horse can help you to make the right decision and give you peace of mind once you have put your horse down. Most of all, listen to your horse and your heart.

Helpful tools


Allow yourself to grieve and acknowledge the pain, as well as cherish the memories

Here are some ideas to help you deal with the loss of your horse:

  • Bronze one of your horse’s shoes
  • Plant a special bed of flowers or a tree or special plant
  • Have a piece of jewellery made from your horse’s mane or tail hair
  • Have a special piece of jewellery engraved with your horse’s name
  • Donate his tack to a charity or donate your time in his name
  • Donate time or money to your local veterinary clinic in your horse’s name
  • Send your vet a card or photo of your horse thanking them for all their help. They grieve just as much as we do.
  • Read The Rainbow Bridge. It helps.

Sometimes the decision to let go is taken out of our hands, such as when our horse has a catastrophic accident. For many, this is the hardest loss of all, often not even giving us the time to say goodbye. Allow yourself to grieve and time to heal. Most of all remember that somewhere out there is another deserving horse who would love to have the love, respect and quality of life that you gave your special horse. Time may not heal all wounds, but it helps to give us the distance to deal with the hurt a little better.

Text: Mandy Schroder

The full article appears in the September issue of HQ.