Putting a horse to sleep (more correctly known as euthanasia) is something that many horse owners have to face sooner or later. There are many reasons why a horse may have to be euthanased, including illness, an accident or because old age has led to their quality of life deteriorating.
We will always do our best to help and support you if and when that difficult time comes. It’s a subject that most people would like to avoid, but it’s better to be prepared for what’s involved, rather than have to make tough decisions during an extremely upsetting time.
Our Quality of Life indicator can be a useful tool to help you evaluate your horse's general health and wellbeing. Please find it below:
Quality of Life (pdf) for more information
Download our Horse Euthanasia leaflet (pdf) for more information
Friends at the End
‘Friends at the End’ is a BHS initiative designed to make sure that no horse owner has to face the loss of their equine companion alone.
Losing an equine companion is an extremely difficult experience to go through due to them often being not only a pet, but also a friend, family member or even a substitute for a child. Recent research by Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence (AESE) has found that only 9% of UK horses die of natural causes, meaning that owners frequently have to make the decision about when the time has come to end their companion’s life. Even when this is unquestionably the right thing to do, it often leads to feelings of guilt, which is completely normal and understandable.
The loss of a horse can have an enormous effect on someone’s entire life. Going up to the yard twice a day fills a huge amount of time and can form the basis of many horse owners’ social lives. Losing all of this on top of losing your horse knocks many people for six and isn’t helped if friends and family don’t understand the gravity of your loss: "It was only a horse, you can get another one."
It is therefore understandable that so many people want to delay euthanising their horse. However, that doesn’t mean it is the best decision for their horse. Sadly, many of the welfare concerns that the BHS receives are about old and much loved horses who have been left to go on for too long and are now suffering. It might be a cliché but the saying ‘better a week too soon than a day too late’ is an important message to remember when considering what is the best option for your horse.
Making the decision can even harder if the horse is not elderly. Sometimes, when a horse has a chronic injury or behavioural issues, it may still be necessary to consider euthanasia. Financial reasons for euthanasia are nothing to be ashamed of, as more people cannot afford to keep field ornaments, however the horse may not be suitable to sell or rehome. Many owners assume a charity will be able to take the horse on, but this is hardly ever the case. Britain’s sanctuaries are struggling to cope with the number of welfare and neglect cases they need to take in, and do not have room for privately rehomed horses.
This is why the BHS has launched "Friends at the End" in response to pleas from owners who felt isolated and unsupported during the time every horse lover dreads.
More than 50 volunteer Welfare Officers have attended training that will help them to support horse owners through the difficult process of saying goodbye. The BHS Friends at the End team can talk to owners about the options available if they can no longer keep their horse for any reason. It doesn’t have to end in euthanasia and if there are other choices they will help find them.
If a horse does need to be put to sleep (for whatever reason), BHS Friends will discuss the choices with owners, from the method of euthanasia to what to do afterwards. Many are willing to be there on the day to offer support, and some will even hold the horse if the owner doesn’t feel able. All BHS Friends are Welfare Officers who love horses and know what the owner is going through. It might help to know that if you don’t feel able to be there for your horse’s final moments, there is a horse lover willing to be with them.
All of our Friends at the End team have received training from bereavement counsellors, so they have a genuine understanding of the loss and grief that come when a horse dies. They aren’t there to take the place of a counsellor or vet, but they can offer an extra source of support. At the hardest time in a horse owner’s journey, our Friends are available to make it as smooth and straightforward as possible.
If you feel that you might benefit from talking to someone through the Friends at the End scheme, contact BHS Welfare on 02476 840517 or email@example.com and they’ll put you in touch with your nearest Friend.
With You Every Step of the Way
There are schemes and information available from World Horse Welfare, the BHS and Blue Cross to ensure that horse owners are supported through every stage of equine euthanasia. To find out more, go to With You Every Step Of The Way.