When is it the right time...

article about putting your horse to sleep

In this article, Kim, one of the co-founders of EQUUS talks about her recent experience that none of us as horse owners want to think about…

It’s the most difficult of decisions that we all eventually have to face one day. But when is the right time to put a horse to sleep.  Furthermore, when it comes, we all feel ill-prepared for it… just as I did.  Read on to find out how I came to make this decision about my beloved 19 year old mare, Secret.  Hopefully it will help you make this decision when it comes… 

About Secret

Brought up on farm at home with her mother until she was three years old was an idyllic start for this pretty little bay filly.  Sold by her owners on to a showjumper, she acquired many BSJA winnings with her new owner until she became part of a divorce settlement and had to be sold.  Enter me.  The minute I saw her, I knew she was ‘the one’.  Needless to say I bought her then off we went together to Chesfield Equestrian Centre in Hertfordshire.  That was eleven years ago.  During this time she’s had had a series of injuries that have all resulted in box rest and rehab: she’s had her eye stapled in its socket after another bit it, her shoulder bone exposed when another horse kicked her and three suspensory injuries on her hind legs.  So when she did the last suspensory and my vet said ‘I wanted to do more and she needed to do less’, I knew the time had come to retire her.

Caught unawares

Given that the life expectancy of a horse is twenty-five to thirty years, I wasn’t ready to say we are goodbye to my bestest and loyal friend.  I pictured her “living out her days” in a nice field, perhaps with other retired horses.  So last May I found a fabulous retirement home fairly close to where I kept her as I still wanted to be able to see her regularly and without having to drive miles.  

Last summer she sustained a tendon injury on one of her front legs but she recovered quickly from this.  And then three weeks ago the retirement home called me to say she was very lame.  And when I saw her, it was absolutely heart breaking as she was extremely lame, the most I’d seen.  She could barely walk.  It turned out to be a suspected suspensory or check ligament injury on her remaining ‘good’ leg, ie the one that has been injury free. Now she’d badly injured all her legs.  Plus Paula who looks after her at Tranquil Tyrells, her retirement home, noticed that her other front leg that she’d injured last year, was showing the strain of bearing all the load.  

What to do?

Question: what was I to do?  Answer: identify the options, evaluate them and then make a decision.

There were three options: rehab at the retirement home, rehab with me at her old yard or a new set of legs in horsey-heaven.  I needed more information about rehab, what it would mean in the short and the longer term, so I spoke to my vet, Andrea from the Newmarket Equine Hospital.  She indicated that it would probably be 8+ weeks of box rest, followed by walking out in hand and eventually turn out in Autumn time when the wind and rain started…not great timing for a whirling dervish of a horse that hates the wind and rain.  A fundamental consideration the vet highlighted was that given Secret’s history, would she recover completely or would there be a cycle of re-injury, rehab, re-injury etc.  This would involve continual management which would be increasingly difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.  

Suddenly I felt the enormity of the decision I was faced with.  And there other things as well I hadn’t appreciated:  I was the only person that know what was right for Secret given her age, her history and her personality; I was the only one that could make this decision; I had to put my emotions aside and choose what was best for Secret.  

Each person will make this decision based on different factors but for me the critical one was the point the vet made about the continuous cycle of re-injury.  Even before this latest injury she’d had so much box rest, I didn’t think it was fair to put her through this on this occasion and possibly others further down the line.

The hardest decision..

So it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to allow her to get a new set of legs in horsey heaven.  I can honestly say it’s been one of the most difficult decisions to make but it’s not about me, it’s about Secret.  

I would suggest that as soon as you’ve made your decision, you schedule the putting to sleep a few days later.  Plus I recommend that you also schedule some time to say goodbye and finish coming to terms with your decision.  This is what I’ve planned to do.  I haven’t done it yet, so I’ll let you know how it goes in my next article in this series: putting a horse to sleep - seeing it through.

Your thoughts and comments

Have you ever had to make a similar decision about your horse? If so, please take a moment to share your experience and thoughts. We know our readers would appreciate any advice or help you can give. Thank you.



Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.


  • Louise posted on July 24 2014 at 07:07 PM

    In your heart you know you have made the right decision. I think too many people think about themselves in situations like this and don’t consider their horses’ quality of life. Thinking of you x

  • Claire Allan posted on July 25 2014 at 10:07 AM

    A very brave and emotional blog Kim. I know exactly how you are feeling having had to put my beautiful young boy to sleep 3 years ago, I still think of him and miss him terribly every day. As you say you have to make the right decision for your horse. Thinking of you at this time xxxxxx

  • Michelle Butcher posted on March 09 2016 at 10:03 AM

    I had no choice as my mare was flat out in a dark, wet field and at 25 ish years she decided she’d had enough. Worst day of my life. Now I’m faced with our 28 yr old 11.1hh mare who is so arthritic and I know I will have to do the kindest thing for her. It is heart breaking but you will know the right decision for your horse/pony. xxx:(


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