There’s an old adage among longtime horse owners: Eventually all horses go lame. Fortunately, most lamenesses are short-lived, and the horse recovers. But what are your options when your horse becomes permanently unsound? Whether a chronic condition has advanced to a severe disability, or your horse suffers a catastrophic injury, a lame yet otherwise healthy horse presents a heartbreaking dilemma. You must ask yourself the following:
- If my horse is limping or displaying signs of restricted movement, he’s in pain, so it’s inhumane to ride him in this condition. My first priority is to determine what’s best for my horse. If I decide I can’t ride him, do any of my friends have a horse I can borrow for an occasional ride? Does my riding instructor have a lesson horse that needs exercise? Can I volunteer to school horses at a local rescue operation?
- Does my vet have medications or a management plan that might reduce my horse’s pain so he’s at least pasture sound? If so, can I afford to care for a “pasture pet” until the end of his natural life?
- If indeed my horse can be made pasture sound, is my horse one of those trustworthy babysitters with impeccable ground manners? Do I personally know anyone who might want a sweet backyard horse that can serve to introduce young children to the world of horses? They’ll have to sign a contract, however, ensuring that the horse comes directly back to me if they ever want to terminate the agreement.
- Am I willing to haul my horse to a major equine veterinary hospital or university? Advanced diagnostic procedures are available on-site, plus I’d get a second opinion and access to innovative treatments. Yet I could end up with a hefty bill in exchange for just more bad news.
- What is my horse’s quality of life? Now that his routine is permanently altered, and he must endure some amount of pain each day, I feel like I’m prolonging his suffering rather than preserving his life. Is it ethically alright for me to consider humane euthanasia?
For example, some horse owners can’t emotionally deal with the idea of putting down one of their horses. They choose to live in blissful denial. They ignore the raw sores from hours spent lying down to relieve the pain in hooves and joints. They disregard their horse’s listless demeanor as it hobbles toward its dinner. Another example of denial is sending a lame horse to an auction, with the fairy tale notion that a kindhearted stranger will buy the horse for a few dollars. Of course, in reality that once beloved horse is probably going from the auction to a slaughterhouse.
A horse owner who can afford monthly board and care fees might consider sending their pasture sound horse to a retirement facility. Many of these retirement homes provide loving, expert care for pensioned equines. On the other hand, personal anecdotes abound regarding long-distance horse owners who make an impromptu visit and discover their disabled horse in deplorable condition. It’s wise to conduct a thorough investigation of such facilities before shipping a lame horse into oblivion.
If you’re ever faced with the diagnosis of a severely lame, unrideable horse, find the courage to confront all aspects of the situation. Set your emotions aside and focus on your horse’s comfort and quality of life. You’ve always done what’s best for your horse; don’t stop now, when your wisdom and compassion are most needed.