What do I need to prepare for as my horse gets older?  Do I need an end of life plan?

The short answer is yes, there’s a lot to consider.  Also know that your plan may not go as you hope. Knowing what you want, and don’t want, for your horse can help guide you through a difficult time.  Also know that horses are masters of throwing us for a loop, and life threatening conditions and injuries can occur to any horse at any age.  You may have a five year old now, but he could still need surgery or develop an illness.  Don’t wait until you are faced with horrible choices to make involving time, risk, recovery, limitations, and other options.  I know this is a sad and difficult topic to discuss, but as our horse’s lives come to an end, the the process can be made less stressful if you have made some choices and plans before hand.  Knowing your options now and how much they cost will only help you in the future. 


One way to alleviate some stress about your horse’s end of life plan is to determine if your horse could benefit from insurance.  Colic is a common ailment, and in some cases surgery is warranted.  An insurance plan that covers part of a surgical procedure for colic can save you from wondering if and how and when you could pay for such an emergency surgery.  Talk to your Veterinarian to get an idea of how much a colic surgery costs, and talk to an insurance agent regarding an insurance policy.  Your pocketbook may thank you! 


Speaking of colic, I decided for one of my horses that should the need arise, I would not have surgery performed on him.  I based this on his age, current fitness level, recovery possibility, his current health issues, and upon talking with his Veterinarian.  While this was a difficult choice to make, I know that if I am faced with making a decision in the future, it’s already done and I won’t be guessing about doing what’s best for him.  


I also have a plan in place for the time in which he is euthanized if need be.  Again, terribly difficult plans to make, but a few phone calls to ask some hard questions and a plan is in place.  If you horse is suffering and you need to euthanize him, you don’t have time to mess around with these things, especially if it’s on a holiday or weekend.  


Talk to your Veterinarian about the following items:

  • Where can your horse be euthanized?  


Can it happen at home, or do you need to transport him to a clinic?  If it’s the latter, do you have a rig?  Can your Vet make him comfortable for transport?  If your Veterinarian can come to you and your horse, do you have a spot on the property that will allow for a peaceful passing?  What about a spot that is accessible for his removal afterwards?  


  • What are the choices for your horse after he has passed on? 

Some of us are lucky enough to own our own farms, in which case a burial near his favorite tree or patch of grass is an option.  Check first with your municipality, as this is often forbidden.  Also make a plan if burial at home is allowed and the ground is frozen.  Many horse owners have their horses rendered, while others have their horses cremated and the ashes returned.  Cremation is an expensive option, and not available in all areas.  Another option may be to have his remains donated to a Veterinary college, in which case you will likely need to arrange this well in advance.  Your Veterinarian will be able to give you information about all of your options and estimated costs.  



  • Should you have a necropsy performed?  

This is a difficult question to answer.  On one hand, you may want to know more details about your horse’s medical conditions.  On the other hand, you may find peace in knowing that he had a wonderful life and the best care that you could give him without knowing more details.  A necropsy is also invasive, and will carry with it associated Veterinary and laboratory costs.  


A few other things to consider as you develop your horse’s end of life plan: 


  • Do you have a support system in place?  
  • If possible, do you have friends that can be by your side during your horse’s passing?
  • If you horse is euthanized, are you comfortable being there, or will your friend or trainer step in for you if need be? 
  • Do you have contact information for the many pet loss support systems in your area?  Some are nationwide, many others are local and provide valuable support and guidance. 
  • Do you have mementos of your horse collected already?  Often at the time of death it’s horribly difficult to take tail or mane clippings and a shoe.  You may want to collect these now!  




Save your horse's treasured items before the time comes.  


How have you prepared for your horse’s passing?