People who have euthanized horse without actual medical reason, how do you feel?

To anyone who has put their horse down not because of medical necessity (instead, like a young horse retired early because of soundness issues, a horse with a dangerous behavior, etc.), how do you feel about having done that? Do you ever feel guilty?

I have a 20yr old 12hh pony that I’ve had for 11 years - she’s been retired for 8 of those. To make a long story short(er), she was my first pony who was only moderately broke when my parents bought her. After some failed training attempts we discovered that she had back issues (we didn’t get diagnostics, but I suspect kissing spines) and bad behavioral issues, and she’s been retired ever since.

I’ve kept her all these years because as a teenager I certainly couldn’t imagine getting rid of my first pony. We have our own property, so we’ve been able to keep her without too much added cost.

She’s had Cushings for the last couple of years and just isn’t looking as healthy as she used to (despite being on meds and having regular blood tests). I often feel sorry for her since she has to stay in a gravel paddock because she can’t tolerate grass. She also can’t be turned out with other horses because she beats the crap out of them. I can’t help but think she must be sad living in a gravel paddock with no social interactions. She can see the other horses on the property, she just can’t be turned out with/ next to them (she’ll destroy fences to attack a neighboring horse).

She’s definitely not entirely mentally sound. She’s always disliked other horses, and she also has a very unpredictable explosive streak (which, after we bought her, we realized made her unsuitable to be a child’s pony). She has always, whether under saddle or being led, will randomly bolt and start bucking or rearing. Even though she’s small, this makes her a bit dangerous when being led to/ from her stall. Over the years we’ve had every kind of trainer work with her, from cowboys to natural horsemanship gurus, and they all came to the same conclusion - she was mentally unstable and basically untrainable. I found the lady who bred her, and it turns out her dam was the same way - she wasn’t safe to be ridden/ worked with (and I guess that made her an excellent candidate to breed :roll_eyes:).

I am in the position to continue paying for my pony’s care, but that money could also be put to good use paying off other bills. I’ve wondered about looking into the possibility of putting her down, but I don’t know if I could do it. Outside of being a bit of a nut, she’s healthy. Has anyone else been in a similar position? What did you do? How do you feel about your decision?

Based on everything you’ve said here, and you’ve obviously put a lot of thought into it, it’s a quality of life issue when you decide to euthanize. Physical pain, mental pain, etc. all factor in. While physical pain/suffering can make the decision more clear cut, this pony does not sound like a happy camper - and has not been so for most or all of her life. Take the money factor out of it because if you had all the money in the world, would prolonging this pony’s life be a good decision for her? If she can’t be turned out with others, cannot graze and spend her days having the equine equivalent of a good life, it doesn’t sound like she is enjoying herself. If she is constantly stressed and watching that stresses you, I think the choice is clear. And I fully admit it’s easy for me to say this because I’m not emotionally involved!

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I agree with @Lusoluv whom I think said it well. This doesn’t sound like a happy pony. You are maintaining her as best you can to be a healthy pony, but I don’t think that you’re letting her go too soon, if you consider her emotional wellbeing.

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IMO, you have given her as good a Life as she could have.
Ending it now is not unkind for either of you.
Horses don’t live for tomorrow, Today is all they know, so a responsible euth is an option for you.

I have already decided to put down the horses I have now if I can’t rely on anyone to take them on when/if I am no longer able.
18yo TWH, can be ridden, no vices save a helluva sideways spook that he telegraph’s to an experienced rider.
21yo decorative Hackney Pony.
Was driven 10yrs ago, before I got him. I think it would be unkind to try to retrain him at this point.

Also have a 6yo mini who drives & has a great personality.
He will go to the granddaughter of a Driving Club friend.

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Quality of life is for all, the horse and other horses and humans impacted.

Seems that the pony’s quality of life is not that good and definitively that of others around her and taking care of her is not that good either?

Euthanizing is always a hard, terminal decision we will have to live with afterwards.
Have you asked your vet for help deciding where you are with that pony medically?
Sounds like even there, her quality of life now is questionable.

I have a horse now 23 with Cushing’s , kept in dry lots and on medication for many years now and he is doing fine, his quality of life has never been in question.
The minute it starts to be questions, we too will be there, consult and make the right decisions as necessary.

No one can help with your decision, but we can help commiserating with life’s turns and twists that put us in those hard situations.

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I had a mare that was unstable. She was fine (for me) nearly all of the time, but had been very badly abused in her life and had several episodes out of nowhere where she lost her mind in a dangerous way. She landed me in the ER a few times.

She was really pretty okay living in a field, so I kept her like that for several years. I boarded, and the barn had instructions that only I handled her.

I got to the point where I really just couldn’t afford to keep her. There was nothing wrong with her, other than mentally. I could not, in good conscious, sell her or give her away–the risk that she would kill someone was certainly greater than 0. The risk that she would wind up mistreated or at a livestock sale, shipping to Mexico, was also greater than zero.

So I put her down. On a sunny day, after a bucket of treats. I have no regrets. Her life with me was massively better than her life before me. Her ending was peaceful and painless.

There are much worse things than death. There is no shame or error in giving any animal a peaceful end.

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I agree there are worse things than death. A bucket of treats and they are never in pain again.

You cannot euthanize early. You can euthanize too late. It is cruel when euthanizing too late if it is for yourself and not for them. Don’t euthanize too late.

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I had one that I rescued. He had ptsd and uveitis in one eye. I believe I posted about him previously. I actually found him a really good home as a companion pony, as his ground manners were impeccable. Under saddle, he could be dangerous if you didn’t know exactly what you were doing. He wasn’t a mean horse, but he was severely abused and beaten by someone. After the abuse, he was left to starve. Poor boy. He went through hell before I rescued him.

I was debating this myself and if the perfect home had not come along, I would have put him down. I didn’t want to keep him for another 20 years, and put thousands into him. He is young enough to live a long time. The person who has him now is not against putting him down when his condition deteriorates. Given he has uveitis, it is just a question of if/when he deteriorates. It could be years. It could be tomorrow.

His new owner keeps me updated with pictures every few weeks so I am certain that he is doing well and thriving in his new home. But I got very very lucky, because while there are those who will take in a problematic horse, there isn’t that many of them.

I could have euthanized, it wouldn’t have been the wrong decision because he had both health and behavioral issues. But it would have broken my heart because he was mostly a sweet horse who people really screwed up. I wanted to do right by him. I wanted to give him a retirement, if I could find the right situation for him. He has that now.

I once was a person who would rescue anything, ride anything. Now I value my safety before anything else. If a horse is dangerous, and I can’t safely rehome them, then yes I would probably consider euthanasia. It is so much harder when you love the animal and have an emotional attachment. My old mare is at the end, and I have spent thousands of dollars on her retirement over the last several years. She had lameness issues on and off for most of her life. If someone gave me a horse like her, I would euthanize immediately, rather then get attached.

If you are attached you need to do some soul searching and make sure you will be okay with the decision to let go. Because it hurts your heart no matter what. Sometimes that means continuing with retirement, because money does not bring happiness, and maybe seeing her is enough to make you happy. Only you can make this decision.

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It sounds to me like this horse is unhappy. I wouldn’t be surprised if her behaviour is a pain response. I think it may be time to release her from this life. My heart is with you on this difficult decision.

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What you have described is not exactly a healthy pony. She has a condition that does not seem to be terribly well managed despite meds and lifestyle adjustments. She can’t really live like a horse because her behavior is too bad. You think she has chronic pain. She is dangerous to the kind of person who is likely to be looking for a pony. And maybe she’s chemically unbalanced in her brain. No there is no medical necessity at this time to put her down, but she is not exactly healthy or having a great quality of life. Is it the worst life? No. But if you are starting to question continuing on, there is no wrong answer.

I think we as humans often find something to feel guilty over. Whether you feel guilt that you did it too soon or too late or you feel sorry for yourself because you weren’t able to improve her quality of life. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also feel peace with your decision.

I wound up not having a choice with my last one—colic that had 0% chance of survival unless he’d happened to already be in the hospital when it started. But he was a young horse with a lot of problems. He was very sweet and friendly and outgoing but he had a lot of stuff going on and was a lot of work to manage. I vowed to never try to rehome him. And did not have concrete limits on when enough would be enough, and I was often emotionally exhausted. I certainly could have saved up and bought myself a very fancy horse. My initial goal I was working towards was trying to have my own place where I could manage him versus boarding. But I don’t know if I would have achieved that in time as things were approaching some difficult long term quality of life questions shortly before the colic. I miss him terribly and I carry guilt nonetheless but in the end he made this decision for us. And it was a really horrible last few hours for him, which I also feel guilty about. So the guilt can get you no matter what.

Whatever decision you make just be content with the fact that you are doing your best, whatever that is.

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Thanks, everyone. These replies are helpful to read.

Deep down, I think I know euthanizing would be the best choice. Although she certainly isn’t miserable, she also hasn’t been as happy the past couple months as she used to be. We’re just coming out of winter where we are, and right now she looks much older than she actually is. I also have a retired 23yr old dressage mare (who is fat, happy, and looks great), and my pony looks quite a bit older than my 23yr old. With warmer weather coming, I still want to hang on to her a bit longer. She still loves relaxing in the sun - that’s the one time where she looks happy. Her temperature regulation isn’t great now though because of the Cushings, and last year she had trouble not overheating in the summer. I wonder if it would be best to let her go in the spring, before it gets too hot out.

This pony has been such a big part of my life though, despite her not being entirely “useful”, and I know saying goodbye to her is going to be hard. Last year, I didn’t ever think about the possibility of putting her down. I know that since I am thinking about it this year though, that it must mean the time to do that is close.

I have a newish vet right now, as my old vet is no longer practicing. How on earth do I bring up this conversation? I would assume any vet would understand the situation and agree with it? I’ve had the same farrier since we bought this pony, and I don’t know how I could bring up the topic without dissolving into a crying puddle.

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This sounds like a very kind thing to do.

You really just tell them what you’ve told us here. If you get any push back–you shouldn’t, but some vets can be unreasonable–come back here, let us know where you are, and we’ll help you find someone else.

Best of luck, I know how hard this is. Big hugs.

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I have done it, and would/will do it again in a heartbeat. My animals, my dogs, my cats, my horses, deserve to have the best I can give them, and that very much includes euthanasia if they are not safe, if they are not sound, if they cannot be kept like horses.

Not all vets see this situation equally. I have a wonderful vet now who feels the same way I do, so if I call him and say it needs to be done he attends to it in the most peaceful and easy way possible for the animal. However, I know many vets who will insist on keeping animals in pain, who are suffering (and yes, mental anguish is still pain) alive at any cost, so be prepared for pushback. I have been in this game with animals for more than 60 years, and I can attest to the fact that not all veterinarians are humane.

Please do this for your mare sooner rather than later. She will have no regrets, and neither should you.

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I want to rephrase your subject line based on what you’ve said about your pony. Your pony has a chronic medical condition. You have a medical reason. Your question is not “how do I come to terms with considering letting my horse go without a medical reason.” It’s “how do I come to terms with deciding when managing her medical condition is no longer enough?” I wonder if reframing her medical situation helps you reframe some of what you are feeling.

I have not been in your shoes, but I also have a Cushings senior who struggles in the summer. One day I will have to make this decision. You have my empathy from this side of the fence. And yes, I think it will be kind to let her go before the hardest part of her year. At this point, you don’t know how many happy years she could have left in her life if various age-related complications didn’t take the choice away from you both. She’s not profoundly ill, but she’s also not well now, and a long hot summer- 3 months- could be 25% of her remaining time on earth. If that were true, it is the right thing to do to send her across the bridge before she spends a whole 25% of it struggling just to get to a 50% where it’s not miserable.

Either way, you said that right now she’s not a happy pony, and you know what her struggles will be. If you are asking the question, I think it is because you already know the answer in your heart.

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As @SuzieQNutter said above “You cannot euthanize early. You can euthanize too late.”

I believe that the kindest thing to do would be to provide her with a day where she can be spoiled. All the grass she could want, all the treats she deserves for being your friend, anything she truly enjoys along with having a whole day of just the two of you, just an overall day of joy. Then give her a kiss and let her go to the other side where she can wait for you and live without the stress of Cushings.

In terms of talking with your vet I would just be honest that last summer was hard on her and you want to make sure she goes before it gets too hot. My vet and I have had this conversation about my 24 year old Cushings pony and agreed that when I decide to make the call she’ll come out, without question, and help him cross the rainbow bridge.

Most vets should support this decision and help you because they know you’re just trying to do right by the horse. Others might argue but that’s when I just find another vet who will help my guy cross over.

Just know that it will be harder on you than it will be on your mare. She knows she is loved and on some level I believe they know you’re just trying to help them. No matter what your final call is, you’re doing the best possible for your mare and it sounds like she has had an amazing life with you.

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Oh man can I relate to this. Even down to the newish vet. My horse is nearly 30 though, he’s got cushings, he’s got EOTRH. He has an incredibly hard time in the summer with the heat and the bugs. You can see he is miserable. Last fall I started thinking it may be best to put him down this spring, after a nice fall and winter and before another super hot summer. I was nervous to talk to my vet about it, who I had only been using for a couple years. I just wasn’t sure how she would react. In hindsight, it was my guilt at putting him down when he probably could live longer that made me feel that way. She agreed spring would be ok.

Well now it’s spring. His weight is still good, he’s super sound, although we had to increase prascend last fall and his teeth are visibly worsening. Still though, it’s going to be hot here very soon. Time for spring shots and the vet I spoke to last year suddenly quit the practice and now we’re seeing the other vet in the practice who I haven’t seen in a few years. I instantly got anxious about talking to her about this, what if she thought it was too soon to put him down? Again, it was my guilt that made me feel this way. She was completely supportive, even more so than the other vet and agreed it is not too soon and decisions like this are only hard on the people, not the animals. Your pony sounds similar to my horse in that they both have a disease that will only keep getting worse, neither of them are on death’s door but why do we have to wait for either of them to get to that point? The answer is we really don’t. Making the decision is going to be hard on you and I’m sure you’ll feel the guilt that I’m feeling but it isn’t the wrong decision to let them go before things really turn sideways. Yeah, some people would keep these horses going and wait till something extreme happened before letting them go but that’s not the only way to do it either. It’s hard, no matter what.

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I would never feel guilty about ensuring an animal had a peaceful, pain-free end. I’m a firm subscriber to the “better a months too early than an hour too late” school of thought when it comes to euthanasia.

It’s not just for medical emergencies. Quality of life is important to assess.

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I have done it twice and have no regrets in either instance. Quality of life for human and horse is important.

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I would consider kissing spines( or symptoms there of) , cushings and mentally unstable as medical issues TBH.

With animals it isn’t quantity of life it is quality because obviously they don’t think like we do. I can only say that while I haven’t had to do this with any of mine yet, I would not be opposed to it if she was mine.

She has had 20 years of life and 11 years of good care with you. It sounds like the quality of her life now is severely lacking and it is time if you want to let her go.

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I have done it twice.

It is a burden having the weight of life or death, but in both cases, I tortured myself for far too long before making the decision, and in both cases I felt better once the decision had been made and I found support from my vet and friends…

What is a burden to us, is a gift to our animals.

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