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Euthanasia decision dilemma

I am not currently a frequent visitor to this forum but in years past spent many hours here absorbing information and advice. I am now faced with a difficult decision, one that I see has been posted on a few times before, but I think my situation is slightly different and I’m seeking some input and peace of mind.

I have a 20 y/o Paint gelding that has been with me most of his life. Last year, he was diagnosed with ringbone arthritis in one front leg. He has been on Equioxx since that diagnosis. With that and pads on the front, he has been sound enough to ride.

Prior to the barn he has been at for the last two years, he was pastured with other horses. At this place, however, he is in a large pen (1/3 acre ish) and has shown a lot of fence aggression toward other horses and the barn manager is unwilling to experiment turning him out with others (which I don’t blame her for). I had him tested to make sure he was a true gelding, because he also displayed stud like behavior in the presence of mares, and he is. More recently, I had him tested for Cushings, as the vet thought that might explain some of the behavior. He tested positive. He is now on pergolide to manage that diagnosis. The barn manager is still very reluctant to turn him out, which I again do not begrudge her for, as I understand her job is to prevent injury to other horses.

I have two kids, three years old and under, and find that I can only make it to the barn about once a week. My time is super limited and when I do have free time, I am pulled toward spending it with my family. When I do make my weekly visit, I typically groom him, hand graze him, and address a few other chores. The barn manager is on site seven days a week so he has almost constant oversight, but I have a ton of guilt about the fact that he is by himself and not frequently ridden or otherwise exercised. If I could ride three or four times a week keeping him alone wouldn’t seem like a big issue to me, but as it is, I don’t think it’s fair to him.

I have reached out to ten other barns in the area, to see if there’s any other situation that might be a better fit for him and make me feel better as well. So far, I haven’t had a lot of promising responses. I think most other barn owners will have similar concerns as our current barn manager. I have considered rehoming him, because I do feel that he has some good rides left in him, but with all of his maintenance needs and potential behavioral issues, I worry that he might end up in the wrong hands.

With all of that said, I am considering euthanasia. I have discussed that with his vet, and she said that there is no ethical concern with that from her perspective. But of course, it breaks my heart. It’s not his fault that I am in a chapter of life that hugely limits my time or that he has some issues that make him very difficult to rehome. Ultimately, when I think of watching him stand alone in a pen for another winter, I have to ask myself “why?” But when I see him, he is always super happy to be caught and hand grazed. He generally seems happy in his pen. And, we have a strong bond.

Does anyone have input on this? Has anyone faced something similar?

Is he sound enough/ suitable as a part or full care lease? To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with euthanasia, in this (or most) situations, but that might be something to explore.


The aggression (to the point that you had his testosterone level checked) makes me think ulcers. Some horses do fine on solo turnout, but others really need the interaction. If he’s permanently on pain medication and unable to live in a normal herd situation, I see nothing wrong with euthanasia.


I had strongly considered a partial lease situation but what I learned about liability and indemnification in my state (MT) gave me serious pause. I’m too nervous about litigation impacting my family, because I’m not sure there’s a way to completely protect ourselves. I appreciate the idea though!

Yes, that’s a possibility. I could definitely have it checked. I think part of the problem is that he’s developed a reputation as aggressive. Some of that seems to have been mitigated by pain and cushings management, but now there’s a lot of hesitancy to put him in with a “crash test dummy”, which makes sense.

Thank you for weighing in on euthanasia.

Is the problem financial or that you aren’t comfortable with the solo turnout?

It sounds like he is relatively happy with his current situation. My horse is abysmal in turnout unless in a small dry lot… and even then, only for a few hours. I do think she would do better with a buddy, but she has hind shoes and I am not comfortable turning her out with a buddy. But she is happy with her situation, so I accept her less than ideal time outside.

I am not a lawyer, and I don’t live in MT…, but I wonder if whatever liability concerns you have couldn’t be solved with paying someone to draft an iron clad lease agreement. Horses with issues can often find good “free lease” arrangements where the lessor pays board, training and farrier/vet but no fee. Sometimes the owner might pitch in on vet. That may lessen your financial investment and also give both of you a bit of happiness knowing someone else is going to love on him.

That said, if none of that fits and he isn’t likely to find a soft landing, then euthanasia may be the best choice.

It’s more of my discomfort with solo turnout. And maybe he is truly happy with that setup and I’m just projecting my own feelings about the need for horses to have some kind of socialization or mental stimulation. Currently, it costs around $600 a month for board, meds, and the corrective shoeing. I think of it as donating to a good cause :slight_smile: Although I do sometimes question the wisdom of throwing that money at it all, when he’s just standing there. But it’s for my love of him.

I may explore the possibility of a lease situation again. When I previously researched it, it was difficulty to find a lawyer with that specialty and when I did, they sent me the first lease agreement template that comes up on a google search, which did not give me much confidence.

At many barns, solo turnout is the norm. I leased a horse for years who disliked other horses and was absolutely ecstatic, having an entire field to himself to eat to his heart’s content. Just like people, horses have varying levels of need (or ability) to socialize.

I think if you were choosy about a half-leaser, you could probably find someone to pay some of his monthly expenses, at least a quarter of them, with minimal drama. As long as you find a reasonably experienced person–like a re-rider wanting saddle time, without the pressures of ownership–versus a beginner who doesn’t know how to manage him on the ground.

Check out Equine Legal Solutions. I think they’re in OR, but may cover MT law too. Not sure. I had haul in and rider contracts from them. Nothing is 100% though

Solo turnout can be just fine for many horses. It’s not ideal for all, but is the norm in many barns. So my first advice is to separate your feelings about solo turnout and honestly evaluate how your horse feels about it.

As for part board / care lease, a good contract and making sure all parties have insurance should take care of your liability concerns, and this may be a good option to keep your horse busy and happy, while offsetting costs for you.

If you can, investigate pain related causes for aggression and look into having someone to share his care.

But if you can’t, euthanasia is not unethical. It’s certainly not “mean” to the horse to offer him a safe, loving, dignified end rather than risking your senior horse of questionable soundness and behaviour problems ending up mistreated at someone else’s hands.


Euthanasia is a reasonable solution in this case. In my opinion.

A horse that is unhappy and/or uncomfortable does not have quality of life. The age does not matter.

There are no rules or contests to achieve a certain number of years of a horse’s life. IMO the age number is irrelevant. In this culture we humans are far too wrapped up in age numbers, for animals and humans, and forget about what living every day is like for the individual.

A shorter good life is still a good life.

In fact, a shorter good life is better than a longer life that is not a happy one in the later years.

Your horse does not know how old he is. He only knows how he feels all day, every day.

Don’t let people guilt you by phrases like “convenience euthanasia”. It is about horse welfare and quality of life.

Just imo, I do not believe you or anyone else should be judged or criticized over a euthanasia decision in the circumstances you describe. You do not owe an explanation to anyone. You don’t have to justify or defend or even communicate your decision. IMO there is no problem doing what is right for both you and for your horse.


I think I would look for a responsible person and lease him out for a bit. There are good people out there. Is he particularly difficult under saddle?

At first glance it looks like they may not cover MT but I’ll do some more research. Thank you for this resource!

No, he is well mannered under saddle and knows quite a bit. He would not be suitable for someone inexperienced, but an assertive rider would have no trouble, especially in the arena. On trails, I have found him to be a bit jumpy for my confidence level, but he hasn’t been out on trails in recent years so that could probably be overcome with more miles under saddle.

I had a very hard decision about a horse in a different situation, but similar in that he was no longer a happy camper … and less than 20 years old. And just nothing that could be done for him. The vet did a complete workup and he was suffering from about a half-dozen different conditions. In his case his whole system was collapsing for complex reasons. This was after over a year of rehab and nourishment and retirement to grass pasture and so on and on.

But in the end all that mattered is that his life was no longer the happy comfortable one he knew. In fact I once had a farm caretaker I was close to call me out of the blue to tell me how sad and miserable the horse was that day, sending me photos and descriptions. It was just so unlike how he had been during his previous good life. And this horse was very clear that he did not want to live like that. Some horses might adjust somewhat, but over a year’s time this one really did not.

These days it is very hard to find pasture board, depending on where you are. Whatever you do that is best for you & him I would fully support.


Yes, the idea of separating my feelings from his reality definitely resonates. I think that’s the next step I need to make the right decision. I also need to realize that it’s not an emergency. He is relatively pain free (with medication) and safe in his current situation, so there’s no real reason to immediately take action. I’m realizing that if I’m so conflicted I should probably sit on it for a bit and look further into the options (leases being one of them).


Thank you - your thoughts are so helpful to me. It sounds like you made the best choice for your guy. Sometimes the signs are clear and other times less so. Especially as things can change so slowly over time. I had to let my dog go last year and I waffled back and forth over whether he was ready for weeks and weeks. In hindsight, he was more than ready and the final decision I made was the right one. I could have let him go longer, but that would have only been for me. When the decision to let go of your friend of fifteen years is solely in your hands, it’s definitely a clouded one.

In this case it’s been harder because it’s not obvious that he’s miserable or in pain and seems to be well managed, but his situation isn’t the ideal that I’d like to provide him with. I think ultimately, I will explore the leasing option, or another boarding situation, and if those are dead ends I’ll move to the next thing.


Right - it’s so important to me that I’m in control of his final chapter. I feel like he’s owed that. While I think there are many honest and good hearted horse people out there, no one has the history with him that I do and I don’t trust that everyone would be as compassionate toward his quirks and issues.


Have you already asked your vet if they know of any other barns that might be a better fit for this horse?

I would not euthanize. You can afford him. Prior to this barn (so, what, for 10-15 years?) he was able to be turned out with other horses.

Retire him to a cheaper situation. (The OP is in Montana. I have to believe there are cheaper options out there). Pull his shoes.

Now, it’s entirely possible I’ve misread this situation. The horse’s comfort and happiness are most important. I would be guided by your vet, who has seen this horse in real life, unlike those of us on the internet.


I do not think there is a wrong answer here.

Horses live for today, they do not sit around thinking about what they want to do next week.

If you can work thru your legal concerns with leasing and there is a person interested in riding him, even a free lease to get him out more would probably be a great thing.
(But we all know that is like finding a needle in a haystack so do not feel like a failure if that is just not an option where you are.)