Saying Goodbye to a Horse
Loosing a horse in any capacity is utterly gut wrenching. Today I went through my first ‘shoot’ ordeal and after spending the whole of last night in to the early hours trying to prepare myself for what to expect (which FYI there is very little) it seemed appropriate while fresh in my mind to write my own account of the entire process for anyone about to go through it.
Thankfully this was not my own horse it was a good friend of mine who became a livery client on the yard, but needless to say three weeks of care for him created a bond that still created a lot of upset today.
There remains a great debate in the Equestrian world about ‘the best way’ to euthanise (Injection or Bullet) and from speaking to both a vet and the lady that performs the ‘shoot and disposal’ today there is no right or wrong way it’s personal preference for both the owner and the horse.
This gorgeous boy had the decision made by his owners no more than a week ago so we had nice amount of time to be able to plan thoroughly and leave no stone unturned before his departure. I would highly recommend (if it’s possible) having a photoshoot done or even just getting a friend with an iPhone to capture some special photos of you and your horse, this is something (as I’m an equine photographer) that I did for them only a few days ago. It’s a way to revisit the happy memories of your bond with your horse.
Lots of places provide jewellery where you can incorporate parts of your horses Mane or tail to keep as a memory (here is one I recommend https://www.asheswithart.co.uk though bear in mind this is not cheap) if budget is an issue before now I have just kept a horseshoe and framed it myself or jest kept a clump of tail on the mantle piece for comfort.
This morning his owners came down and spend an hour with him feeding him his absolute favourite treats, in his case this was marshmallows (who knew horses liked them). This is your chance to overload them sugar or carrots and make them feel really loved and special before we say goodbye.
We decided that as he had been predominantly stabled for his time with us that he would have the run of the arena with some haylage there as an option for the remaining few hours of his life. His owners understandably made the decision to leave after saying goodbye so the reins were handed to me.
We turned him out in the arena with the sun shining on his back (It’s like It came out especially) and I spent about half an hour in the arena with him taking some extra video clips for his owners whilst he mooched and basked.
We used an incredible woman called Lizzy who runs a company called ‘Earth 2 Heaven’ based in the South West. She arrived in perfect time and honestly I didn’t know what to expect but she was so compassionate and respectful. Like I said this is the first time I have had a horse shot, previous experiences were all injection based euthanasia so I was internally very anxious not knowing what to expect.
Lizzie arrived, abandoned her car and trailer and focused entirely on meeting the horse and putting him at ease with a good wedge of polos. (I asked her all of questions afterwards which have helped me to piece together this blog) Her aim is to keep the horses as calm as possible, and in her words she will never shoot a frightened horse. She left him, went back to the car to get her pistol and again went over to him with more polos, a few minutes were spent clicking the unloaded gun to prepare him and to make sure he didn’t flinch from her.
At this point I handed the lead rope over to her and walked a few metres behind her. A few more minutes passed and I started to feel the suspense. I made the decision to turn away but did turn back just as she pulled the trigger. I reacted in a combination of panic and upset when I heard the bang and turned away again but quickly pulled myself back together and returned, I think it was more shock than anything. What comforted me in the aftermath was hearing that by the time we have heard the bang the horse is already gone, so they feel nothing, no pain, no fear, the last thing he will her remembered was eating polos and the sun shining on his back.
When a horse dies their body will react, he fell to the ground but there was still a fair bit of movement in his limbs as he went down but Lizzie repeated that he had already gone and it was his nerves and organs shutting down. Very quickly he lay motionless on his side.
I want to give an honest account of this so I will talk about the blood, there was some. Where the bullet entered his head there was a small squirt of blood that continued to flow out until he was moved from when he laid, it wasn’t stomach turning (unless I just have a strong stomach) but I would rather be honest than someone else going through this and being unprepared.
He laid motionless whilst we pulled ourselves together, Lizzie checked his eyes to make sure he was fully gone and I felt a huge pang of relief, but at the same time total disbelief that only minutes ago he was standing happily living and breathing and now he was crumpled to nothing in the sand. This is something I still need to process. I guess the power of playing god is not something we are born to understand.
The next part of the process is not part I recommend being part of. Horses are incredibly big creatures and moving a limp 600kg body is not a graceful or peaceful experience. Lizzie has a winch built in to the trailer so she can wrap their legs and pull them in to the trailer with little to no actual physical strength needed. Thankfully I made the decision to walk away as this somehow felt more awful than the shot itself.
Within 15 minutes or so he was loaded and the trailer was shut, I cleared up the blood left In the sand in the arena and we continued to chat whilst I asked her a million questions (my natural response in a situation I don’t fully understand or feel uncomfortable in is to try and understand it)
‘Don’t you get upset when you have to shoot these horses’ – every single time, It’s not something you can ever get used to and it is heartbreaking even though you don’t know the horse. BUT, more often than not I am putting a horse out of misery or pain so deep down I know I am doing the right thing.
‘How many horses to you have to shoot per day’ – I shoot every single day of the week ranging from 3 horses to 5 per day. I daren’t take a day off because if a horse needs to be put out of it’s misery, I need to be there.
‘Have you ever missed?’ – I’ve been doing this for 30 years seven days per week and only twice has a horse moved so erratically I have had to take a second shot, so on that basis, no.
These are a few of the questions I asked in my desperate attempt to make sense of the situation and Lizzie kindly answered. The more we talked the more I felt at peace with it all.
After Lizzie left, I contacted the owners to let them know that he had gone peacefully and sent them the video clips I had taken prior to Lizzie arriving. I spent a good hour just still trying to internally process everything and then had to turn my attention to the other horses, who predictably remained oblivious and unaffected by the ordeal.
What comforted me the most was the Robin that frequents the yard was closer than ever and whilst I was tending to the other horses came right in to the American barn, hopping from door to door, I’m not superstitious but this did make me smile knowing this could be related in some magical way.
I know this is probably not the most uplifting of blog subjects but I was filled with anxiety last night desperately trying to find an article, a video, anything that could take me through the process step by step, so naturally I knew it was on me to create something people could find and read to ease their anxiety if they find themselves in my situation.
So much love as always and if you are reading this with a loss of your own on the cards, my thoughts are with you.
Saying Goodbye to a Horse – The Audio