You Owe It to Your Horse to...

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...have a plan in place for the logistics and expenses of his death. Sure, it's not the most pleasant of subjects, but it's far more unpleasant to be facing certain realities at the height of your shock and grief, while having no clue what to do. Some things to take into account as you create a what-if plan for your horse's demise:

* What will you do with his remains, and how will that affect where he is for his final moments? Unless you intend to bury him on your property (provided it's legal where you live), his remains will need to be picked up and taken away--so do what you can to make the removal process as simple as possible for those operating the removal equipment. With that in mind, it's better (when possible) to have a horse put down in an open area, accessible by removal vehicle, than it is to have him euthanized in a stall at the back corner of a barn. If you'll be burying your horse at home, it's better to have him put down near the gravesite than somewhere that'll require his body to be winched and then dragged a long distance.

* Who will you call for removal or grave-digging services, and where can you keep those numbers for ease in finding them when you need them? Your veterinarian may be able to help you locate leads for those who provide such services. Call ahead, well before a mortality crisis, to ask about lead time needed and cost of the service. The sooner you can have the remains dealt with, the less traumatic for all involved. While not always possible, it's ideal to coordinate euthanasia and burial/remains pick-up for the same day. It's bad enough to lose your horse, but you sure don't want his body left lying on your place for days--especially in hot weather--if you can help it.

* If you plan on home burial, where will the grave be located? The spot you choose must be accessible by a backhoe, as far as possible from water-table contamination, and the hole itself must be about the size of a two-horse trailer. That's a substantial excavation project.

* How much will euthanasia and burial/removal cost in your locale, and how can you be sure to have the money available? For point of reference, our vet charged $125 for last week's farm call and euthanasia procedure of our Arabian gelding. A neighbor with a backhoe buried our horse free of charge, but the same service, by a commercial operator, would have cost approximately $300.

We went through this sort of "what-if?" planning at our ranch several years ago, and as it turned out, we were very glad we'd done so. Our horse became ill and had to be put down while I was travelling home from a business trip, and that left all the logistical planning to my husband, who'd never gone through the euthanasia experience until then. As tough as it was for him to go it alone, he did get a huge measure of peace of mind from knowing what to do, and how to go about it.

Let's hope you're among the lucky horse owners who never need face the realities of a dying or dead horse. Just keep in mind that hope won't be enough to get you through those tough hours if and when it becomes your turn.