Grieve, Then Honor the Loss of a Horse

The grief experienced over the loss of a horse is deep, profound and feels like it is too much to bear. The decision to euthanize your horse to release him from pain does not make your loss any easier to bear. What are you going to do now?

Grieving is experienced differently for everyone yet there are stages you will go through and emotions you will be dealing with. Allow yourself to feel the pain and grieve the loss of your horse, then you will be able to move on to honor and cherish the time spent with your horse.

According to WebMD there are five classic stages of grief that are often associated with loss:

Denial: Reacting to the death of a horse is challenging for most owners. During this first stage of grief you may seem confused or uncertain about the loss of your horse, which should not be confused with lack of caring. The grieving person may find it helpful to take action, such as making funeral arrangements, and as you acknowledge the loss, denial and disbelief will diminish.

Bargaining: This second stage may involve continued thoughts about what you could have done to stop the loss and/or preoccupied about ways things could have been different. This stage becomes very apparent in an owner who had to make a decision to euthanize their horse. Horse owners in the bargaining stage of grief, although it will not change the outcome, will look for alternatives in an attempt to regain control over the situation. This stage of grieving over the loss of a horse needs to be resolved or feelings of remorse and guilt will interfere with the healing process.

Depression: This stage of grief occurs when individuals realize the full extent of their loss. Signs of depression include disturbance in sleep and appetite, a lack of energy, a struggle to keep concentration and crying out of the blue. A person may go through feelings of loneliness, emptiness, isolation, self-pity or withdrawal from close friends, family and social contacts.

Anger: Losing a long-time companion, such as a horse, is frustrating and gives the mourning person the feeling of helplessness. During this stage grief can be expressed as anger. A person may speak rude towards friends, colleagues or even their vet and may be angry at a higher power or toward life in general. The anger becomes a defense mechanism during this stage of grieving.

Grieving the loss of a horse can also bring changes in the emotional attachment toward the remaining horses and animals in the horse mourner’s life. This may show through becoming overly attached or aggressive, neglectful, or unhappy with other animals in their care.

Acceptance: Acceptance is the stage of grief where a horse owner will come to terms with their feelings, accept the fact that the loss has occurred and move past the period of depression and anger. They may still be sad, but will have accepted the loss and can now move forward with memories of their horse.

Along with the memories of the horse here are some ways to cherish the time spent with your horse and keep your horse close to the heart.

  • Instead of a funeral hold a celebration of life to honor your horse and the joy your horse brought into your life.
  • Use the last set of shoes and make photo frames. Finish them how you’d like and glue a favorite photo to the back of each shoe. Use material from the saddle blanket to make a ribbon hanger.
  • Donate a horse book or subscription to a horse journal to your local library.
  • Plant flowering bulbs, perineal flowers or a tree that will represent your love for your horse and the growth you gained by it being in your life.
  • Braid a bookmark, window ornament, or wristband out of your mane or tail hair.
  • Buy or make a special horse memorial piece of jewelry, a keepsake box or keychain.
  • Make a memory book of photos, stories, recollections of, and lessons learned from, your horse.
  • Make a shadow box with his leather halter, stall plate, forelock hair, memorable ribbons, halters, brushes and photos.
  • Sponsor a horse in a rescue farm in your horses’ memory.
  • Send a donation in memory of your beloved partner to your favorite rescue or equine charity.
  • Honor your horse by volunteering at your vet’s office or local equine rescue organization.
  • Donate a horse book or subscription to a horse journal to your local library.
  • If you feel very ambitious start a 4-H club to introduce kids to horses.

The grieving process is something that is painful but you will get through it. Allow yourself to go through it then take steps to remember and honor your horse. No one can take away the wonderful memories and thoughts of your horse and they eventually will bring a smile to your face.