Seeing it through

putting your horse to sleep part two, seeing it through 

In this, the second article about ‘When is the right time’, having made the decision to let her horse Secret go to Horsey-Heaven, Kim talks about seeing it through, putting her beloved 19 year old mare to sleep…

Prepare yourself

Naively I thought that having made the decision to put Secret to sleep, I’d dealt with a fair bit of the emotional agony I was going to feel. Not so! Nothing or no one had prepared me for the roller coaster of some very intense emotions that I was going to feel before, during and after the event.

In the week before I shed tears, tears and more tears. I felt angry, guilty and even thought about reversing my decision, thinking that I could somehow magic her better. I felt intense sadness as I was losing a loyal friend. Even if there’s really no decision to make, you'll still wonder if you're doing the right thing. I did. But this is the price we pay for loving these animals, and it's our duty to ensure we don't prolong their pain or discomfort, because we can't bear to part with them. I did it for Secret because I loved her.


There are two choices for euthanasia for horses. Both methods are equally quick and painless for the horse. You can agree this on a vet visit or, as I did, by phone.

The first is a large overdose of anaesthetic drugs which very rapidly induces unconsciousness and stops the horse’s heart. My vet also gave Secret a sedative beforehand and once she was sedated, a catheter was inserted in her neck to intravenously and quickly administer the anaesthetic. This is the preferred method as it is more peaceful although the options for disposal are limited and more expensive. With this method you can be sure that the horse cannot be used for any purpose and must be disposed of by cremation or incineration. Nowadays this method is used more frequently than a bullet.

The other method is a bullet. An appointment for this needs to be needs to be booked. The horse is usually sedated prior to being shot and when it is shot then the effect is instantaneous. Two advantages of shooting are cheaper disposal and euthanasia. It is sometimes a better and more dignified end for a horse that is very needle shy.

I chose the injection. Once again this is a very personal decision. The reason for my choice was because I wanted to know exactly what happened to Secret afterwards.

Last moments together

On the day, I went to see her a couple of hours before the agreed time. I’m so pleased I did. I’d recommend this. Steve, the other co-founder of Equus, took some lovely photos of her and a video. Although it’s still too upsetting to look at these, I know in time I’ll be able to look at these and I wouldn’t want to be without them.

Should you stay with the horse when it is carried out?

When the vet arrives, they’ll ask you whether you want to stay to see your horse put to sleep. Deciding whether to stay or not is an incredibly personal decision. There’s no wrong or right decision. It’s simply whatever you decide. I didn’t feel it was right for me to leave her on her own at this important time, especially as I’d personally cared and nursed her through every other significant event in her life since she was eight years old.

Consider field companions

Secret had two companion in fields next to hers. We were going to move them but the vet suggested not as she said that horses are usually better when they remain nearby as they are able then to accept the loss of their companion. However this may vary particularly where two horses have a very close bond.

What happens?

To start with we moved Secret to a place in her field where it would be easier to remove her body afterwards. When the vet arrived, she explained what was going to happen and who was going to do what. She told us that most horses look like they’re going to sit down when they’re going to sleep. She asked that she held Secret herself for safety’s sake as she wasn’t sure which way she’d fall after she’d ‘sat down’. So I stood and watched. It was exactly as the vet had described it. She sat down and then gracefully collapsed to one side.   It was quick and she knew nothing of it.

Arranging collection and disposal

When you make the appointment, you also need to organise the collection and disposal. In recent years the disposal of ‘fallen stock’ as it is known, has become increasingly difficult with new legislation to prevent it entering the food chain and also prohibiting burial. The rules governing incinerators have also been tightened and many small firms and hunts no longer have their own facilities for this. They offer a range of options suit all budgets and needs. I used the Anglian Fallen Stock. They completely understood that it was a difficult time for me and ensured that the Secret received a dignified farewell.

The decision to put Secret to sleep was not an easy one but knowing what to expect and that I was doing the best I could for her brought me some small comfort in an otherwise distressing process.

Are you faced with a similar situation?

This is the second part of a two-part series on euthanasia for horses. In Kim's first article, she discusses when is the right time to consider euthanasia for your horse.

Have you had an experience such as this?

Our readers would very much appreciate hearing your thoughts and comments on this difficult subject. Please add your comments below. 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.

Leave a comment