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Thank you to everyone who posted for your advice and support. I made an appointment with the vet to say goodbye to my old friend. This decision has given me peace and I know it is the right thing for him. I am removing the information about his situation from my posts. I hope you all understand.

I am sorry you are going through this. It is obvious that you love him and want to do what is best. It is never easy and I understand what a difficult dilemma this is. My thoughts are if he is eating then he is probably okay. When they stop eating or barely eat, that might be a sign he is ready to go.

What does your vet say?
Vets know their patients and can help you.
Here is more to go by:


We let our not so old, early 20’s gelding with a stifle injury go when he was having no interest in his friends.
He was always very social to other horses, but never to the point of buddy sour.
He started choosing to rather stay alone and had trouble holding feet up for farrier and getting up when he laid down to rest.
Our vet and farrier agreed that he was starting to just endure, his quality of life not as good as we would like for him.

Hope that helps you decide where you are now.


Since you offered finances are not an issue I would move him a place where he can get the care you say he needs to thrive better. See how he does, maybe he’ll put back on weight and feel perkier again. I guess I’d be curious to know why the weight loss on a non-ridden horse over the winter- lack of groceries for the amount of cold weather? Internal issues?

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So… can you achieve that for him or not? If the truth of the matter is that he can only stay in the place that is making him situationally unhappy, I’d add that to the other factors that suggest euthanasia and feel OK about that decision. And that’s because this factor is about his quality of life. I would not keep him in a situation that was “meh” enough to make him look unhappy just so that you could say he wasn’t dead. A well-done euthanasia is an OK experience for a horse like that to have.


IMO there is never any shame in euthanasia. Let’s be honest, no one is forking out $$ to have a horse properly euth’d and disposed of just for kicks. And horses have zero concept of the future, so it’s not like you are taking something away from them. But pain? They remember pain. I prefer to err on the side of, “better a month too soon than a day too late.”
It is an incredibly personal decision. And finances are ALWAYS going to be an important consideration - it would be irresponsible at best to disregard the financial aspect of caring for an aging equine (unless you’re a billionaire I guess).


No one should fault you for giving your old friend a kind and gentle passing. It is a gracious gift.


The number one cause of weight loss is lack of calories. Not enough forage or being bullied. I boarded my horse with a friend and she couldn’t understand why her air ferns were fat and healthy while my mare dropped weight. Seniors need extra nutrition and my mare couldn’t maintain on a couple flakes plus senior feed. All she needed was unlimited hay plus senior feed, but that wasn’t possible with her setup. I moved my mare and she plumped up easily.

The lower horse in the herd is the most likely to drop weight.

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This is not a euthanasia of convenience. It would be to give your beloved horse a gentle passing before it got very bad.

I have a 24 y/o Clyde/Standardbred cross mare. In the almost three years since I moved her to my new home, she’s gone downhill fast. For an air fern to lose weight, despite 24/7 free-choice hay, feed and vet care, you know there’s something going on.

I’ve decided that this will be her last summer. Before it gets too cold, I’ll make arrangements for her and give her what she deserves: buckets full of every yummy ever and a pain-free crossing. Then my man will have to sedate me, because it’ll about do me in.

This is the cost of loving a horse.


Just to add to that, the cause is not enough of the kinds of calories they need. I have one very hard keeper who needs a lot of grain in the winter, and it needs to be a palatable (to her) calorie dense grain because otherwise she won’t eat enough of it. She also needs a low stress environment because she gets wound up easily, stays wound up sometimes for days, and then runs and doesn’t eat much until she calms down again. And once she loses the weight she won’t put it back on again until the grass comes in the spring.

It’s not always easy to feed a hard keeper, because they need to have access to enough feed, yet they don’t want to be separated from their herd to eat it. The ideal situation for my mare was to put her in with an old horse who could also have free choice grain and hay, and then just give them as much as they’d eat.

To be honest, I think sometimes people jump to euthanasia too quickly. Of course, there are others who allow an animal to languish in pain for far too long but I think there are extremes at both ends of the spectrum.

I do not believe animals are lower than humans. Do they may have different emotions, languages and ways of expressing themselves? Sure. But if the animal is happy and has to put up with chronic discomfort or even pain occasionally, I would think they would choose life if they were able to communicate that to us.

You say the animal is depressed due to environment and you feel that could be changed. If you can change it and want to put the time, money and effort and the horse is not in severe pain and more along the lines of something chronic (say arthritis) I think it would be fair to keep him alive.

All animals (both human and non-human) value their lives. Just because we do not speak their language, doesn’t mean they are unable to feel emotions.

It wasn’t that long ago that most people (and even some today) held the belief that fish do not feel pain but through scientific studies, we now know that they do in fact feel pain.

Orcas, they are very self aware and their emotional centers within their brains are bigger than ours which indicates they have bigger emotional ranges than us and because of that, it actually makes them better parents than even humans.

No, euthanasia is not bad and is a God send for a lot of animals in pain. But it is taking a life and euthanasia should not be looked at so nonchalantely (SP) as I have seen.

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While there is no “right” time in many cases, my philosophy is that it’s far better to euth a month too soon than a minute too late.


Hard to say anything based on the info you posted. Lost weight and not thriving in a different herd could describe a lot of perfectly fine horses. If this herd isn’t working, can he go to a different one? Or pay a kid to feed him an extra meal at lunch? Or arrange eating his meals in a stall? Or moving to a barn with a more hands-on approach to group management? Or maybe he just has a loose tooth?

If you can’t meet his needs, let him go, but I’d need to know that it wasn’t something basic before feeling comfortable with that decision myself.

Move him or euthanize him neither of those answers is wrong, but IMHO leaving him in the current situation is.


I had a hard keeper… he was about 20.

I moved states and he stayed with my mom. Horse wouldn’t of survived a trailer ride or hard winters.

He was super unhappy in a pasture. We had him on as much high quality hay as he wanted, good senior feed… cool calories etc.

My mom would call me about every other month to tell me how ‘miserable’ he was. I told her go ahead and euthanize him. I was okay with it… do you think she did? Nope.

Horse had a horrible, horrible colic episode, and a seizure along with it all. He had to be PTS, what I can only imagine in pain.

I feel really, reallt guitly for not visiting him one last time. He was retired for 2 years, basically the time I left.

I am alllll for putting animals to sleep, especially ones that aren’t triving.

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Beyond the herd situation, what have you done to diagnose why he’s having trouble keeping weight? Have his teeth been done? Wormed regularly? If this is a new herd to him, perhaps someone introduced a new worm to the mix that he’s picked up. Are they all fed together, or are they grained separately? Is he ‘dribbling’ food or eating well?

It could very well be that he’s depressed - if this is a new herd of young horses, he is likely the ‘odd man out.’ Horses are social, and if he’s being ostracized, that could be contributing to his issues. Ulcers are another likely thing to look at, especially if he’s under new stress.

That said, I have had hard keepers in their 20s and it’s very expensive and time-consuming to keep them up to snuff. I may have to think about having my 33-year old mare put to sleep later this year (she has horrible teeth and keeping weight on her is starting to be a challenge - hard to think about, when she was always such an air fern). This is not a situation in which anyone would fault you for erring on the side of the horse as he is now. But if you can move him and improve the situation, you could always try that. If he doesn’t improve by fall, even with all the other things I talked about, then euthanasia may be the best thing.

I think you have two main options here.

The happiness of an older horse is strongly related to their herd circumstance. Older horses derive great pleasure from being surrounded either timid younger horses that they can take under their wing, or other old friends that they can be companionable with. An older horse that is being bossed around by a group of strong, dominant young horses that are too rough is likely not particularly happy. It’s one thing for a young horse that is playing rough to take some bites and kicks in the course of their mischief–that’s normal and fine. It’s another thing entirely for an arthritic older horse that just wants some peace to have to endure being periodically roughed up by a bunch of thugs.

So the two options: 1) Find your horse a different living situation where he is turned out with more gentle, suitable pasture mates, in which scenario he probably won’t care very much that he’s a little sore or unthrifty. Or, 2) euthanize, and no need to feel guilty about it. It is a reasonable option and guarantees a peaceful end.

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I don’t totally agree with this. I have known a few very old horses that no matter how much and how high calorie food they ate they lost weight. One horse was 36 years old, the large pony was 38 almost 39 years old. I think that some horses as they age can no longer absorb the nutrients from their feed as well.
So yes in a sense it is lack of calories because their body is not absorbing the calories rather than not being fed enough calories. For both these horses they both were given a lot of feed but could not/would not eat enough to stay at a good weight.
I also think that like many old people they lose their tastebuds so food isn’t as appealing. Therefore it can be hard to get them to eat more feed.

I 100% agree with soybeanzz. I would try to find more suitable living arrangements for your horse and give him a chance. I am very careful about who I turn my senior guy out with, luckily for me I am able to have him at home, but out of the 4 others I have there’s only 1 I’ll turn him out with because I don’t believe his retirement should include being kicked in the face by stroppy mares.

Thank you all for your replies. I really appreciate your advice and support.

I think I’ve found a new situation for him and am going to take further steps to get him back to himself. If he still doesn’t look happy after a summer on green grass with lots of good feed and the right care, we’ll revisit this decision then. But for right now, I’m very hopeful he will come around!