Since we're likely to outlive our horses, I thought I'd share what I learned at the very last minute that I wish I'd known before I put Estes down.
- Know your choice of euthanization methods. Captive bolt, the blue juice, or "terminal lead poisoning". Know who is going to actually do the euthanizing. If you live, like we do, an hour or so from the nearest vet, can you watch your animal suffer for any period of time? Can you (or whoever you chose) actually follow through with the process? I knew, after the last colic episode, that I would put her down myself. I spent the night before, running through worst-case scenarios in my head and preparing myself, just in case.
- If you choose to put your horse down by lead poisoning, do you know how to handle a gun safely? Do you know where to aim? Do you have the correct caliber? For instance, I've always been told that I could put down a horse with a .22, but when the time came, I feared that it was not a powerful enough round for an instant kill, so I went with a .45.
- Put the animal down in a spot you can access afterward. With putting Estes down at the lodge, we had the added factor of guests. We needed a place that we could get equipment in to move her, but that wasn't within eyesight of the guests. Luckily, Bill had left the horse trailer parked in such a way that Estes could lay down in the grass if she chose (she didn't, crazy mare). The horse trailer blocked the view from the road and the edge of the lodge and dumpster blocked the view from the guests.
- No matter which method you choose for euthanasia, you need to be prepared for the physiologic response of the animal. Damn you, Disney and Ole Yeller! When Mom put her first Mustang, Shadow, down, he fought the juice, but you can't take it back once it's injected, it's a done deal, you just have to keep pumping it in until the animal dies. She had nightmares for months afterward. Some animals will go quietly with the juice, some animals won't. When I pulled the trigger, I knew my shot was true, but the muscle spasms afterward made me doubt myself. I looked into Estes' eyes and knew she was gone, but the muscles in her body hadn't quite gotten the memo. It's hard to imagine what will happen, but be prepared, it might not go like you expect it to. You might need a second round (which was my fear with using a .22), could you shoot your horse a second time?
- Make friends with someone who has heavy equipment and knows how to use it. Without Dan, our neighbor, I don't know what I would have done. You need the heavy equipment to move a carcass that large. The added bonus is that a friend will treat your animal carefully and respectfully.
- Know your disposal options. If you have property and it is legal for you to bury your animal on your property, you are lucky. But refer to #5, 'cause you're gonna need someone to dig a big hole. This is where I really was lacking in knowledge. I had some ideas in the back of my mind from when Estes colicked two years ago, but I hadn't done any research. Do it. Do it now. It's far harder to think straight when you've just lost an animal. Yes, I know it's hard to think about things we don't want to, but trust me, it will make that day much easier. I felt like I called all over the place trying to find someone to come pick her up. The cost ran between $150 - $500 for in town. I couldn't get anyone to come up to the lodge without added expenses. Thank God Bill's brain started working, he suggested we have Dan load her onto the truck (#5 again) and we drive her somewhere. So I started looking at the landfill ($12/100#) and the rendering plant ($40 disposal fee).
- Do you want your animal's mane or tail? If so, who's going to fetch it for you? It's a gruesome task and one that you probably won't be up to, so make sure there's someone who can do it for you. Me? I hate hair, so the mane/tail thing was never an option for me. However, I have a friend whose horse was hit and killed by a car. Her boyfriend saved the tail for her (he's now her husband, nothing says I love you more than tackling that task).
- Make sure you have people around to support you, even if you have everything planned out. Your brain will short-circuit for a while. Share your plans with your friends and family to help you through that short-circuit time.
- Life will go on. You will be able to see beauty in the world again. You'll be able to get through the tears and the memories will forever be secured in your heart.
|"Into the Light" photo by Rachel|
That had to be difficult to write.
I hunt, so I know, they do not die immediately. It is a big surprise to those who havnt seen that.
You are a strong woman.
I thank Horse and rider Mag. for that article they printed on where, to shoot them. Now I know how to find the right place.
Not an easy task. I have only had to put one pony down. I know its coming with my two old mares.
I prob would use the .38 revolver, verses the .45 Autos that we have.
I am going to check into the disposal issue, I dont think its legal to bury here. I dont know if we could drive them to a rendering plant. Food for thought. Need to find out.
Oh and the pony went by the blue juice.
One of my Barn Bosses made sure that all of us knew exactly where to shoot the horse if we ever had to put one down on the trail. I'm thankful for that. The article in Horse and Rider just solidified the information for me.
Excellent post. Planning ahead for all loved ones, furry or not, makes the journey that much easier. It lets you run on autopilot, following your own map.
I have euthanised three horses of my own and been there for several others (standing in for friends). Don't even want to count the cats and dogs. I was there holding every one of them. The only insight I can offer is somewhat contradictory to the usual "better too soon than too late." My experience has been that if the animal is ready to leave, they die quickly and without too much struggle (though they all have muscle spasms afterwards, as you say). The ones I have known of (not mine) that fought the juice were animals that, for whatever reason, were not actually suffering enough that they wanted to let go. Many times the owners were doing a kindness, knowing that the animal was definitively going to get worse, and trying to prevent suffering. Still, I have a tendency to wait until an animal tells me they are ready to go.
Great points about being prepared. We have not had to shoot one yet, but have researched it and are as prepared as we can be. I have a neighbor with a backhoe who has buried my horses and he understands and will be there that day.
This is good to know, because I am sure many people (like me) who are first time horse owners don't realize all that goes into decisions like this.
Good info. The trials of owning a horse are the bummer. The ups far out way the trials, however. Only horse owners would know that. And being responsible is a must! Love ya!
When the vet put Sundee down, he gave her a shot of Rompin first to sedate her and lay her down, then went in with the juice. It was quiet and peaceful. It is a difficult time no matter how prepared you think you are.
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