What to Do After Your Horse Dies

If on-site burial isn't an option at your farm, you'll need to plan ahead and find alternative arrangements. Here's how.

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While many people know they have to deal with end-of-life decisions for themselves and their family, it’s important to plan for the passing of your four-legged family, as well. Though burying a dog or cat on your property in the country may be permissible, because of horse’s size, their burial–and its legality–can become a bit more complicated.

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World Horse Welfare offers resources for end-of-life planning for horses >>

Additionally, you won’t be able to simply walk outside with a shovel to prepare a place for your horse to rest–it’s imperative you determine what you will do when the time comes. There are a few options to consider after you’ve said your final farewell.

Horse Burial

Burying an animal that can weigh upward of 1,000 pounds requires a very large hole, one that simply cannot be dug by hand in even the best of soil conditions. Knowing how, and who, will bury your horse will ensure you’re not left with a deceased horse on your property for any longer than necessary.

If you live in an agricultural area, word of mouth is probably the easiest way to determine who has a piece of machinery (think backhoe or tractor with a bucket) that can dig a hole when you need it. If you still can’t find someone who can help, simply search for “tractor rental” or “equipment rental” to locate a machine that can be rented hourly to dig the hole.

Some considerations: If you board your horse, don’t just assume the owner of the property will allow you to bury your horse there. It’s helpful to tactfully broach the subject with the owner, especially if you have an older equine or one who is ill, to determine if they would be open to your horse being laid to rest on their farm. If they decline, don’t be offended, but know you need to prepare for Plan B.

If your farm is very remote, you will need to ensure that the machine can physically get to your farm on a flatbed trailer. Make sure the driver knows the roads you will need them to take and ask them what they charge for a delivery and rental fee, which could vary based on the distance the machine needs to travel and the duration of time it is rented for.

If you live within city limits but are zoned agricultural, you will need to check with local ordinances to determine if you can lawfully bury your horse on your farm. Many cities won’t allow horses to be buried within a certain distance of a dwelling for fear of water supply contamination during the decomposition process.

While burying your horse on your property will allow you to have a place to go and mourn the loss of your beloved equine, it comes with its own set of potential pitfalls. One is cost. Here in Kentucky, renting the equipment, having it delivered and having someone to operate it can cost between $200 and $400 on average.
Another possible complication is intangible, but potentially more stressful: watching a horse be placed in his grave is not for the faint of heart. Being prepared beforehand and asking the equipment operator if you need to be present could help you avoid some potentially unnerving sights.

Carcass Removal

In many areas, there are services that will come and remove your deceased horse for you, whether you choose not to bury him on your farm or you need assistance getting him to the place where he will be cremated. Many of these companies offer myriad services including removal, burial and cremation. Each of these services come at a cost that will vary in different parts of the country.

Removal of the horse may be necessary if you live in a place that does not allow burial of horses on the property. These restrictions are typically related to zoning issues where the local city or township government is concerned about the potential for groundwater contamination from buried animals.

One of the positives about hiring a company to come and remove your animal is that you usually don’t have to be present for the service to be provided. You can tell them where the animal is located, then receive a bill in the mail for services rendered. Many times the cost of removal is a set fee (typically starting at $100) in addition to mileage, which, on average, is $1 per mile.

Horse Cremation

Many state laboratories, equine hospitals and even some private entities offer cremation services for horses. You will need to find a way to transport your horse’s body to the facility to use this method.

The best way to locate a local equine crematorium is both by word of mouth or searching online. Many people will be able to tell you about their experiences with the local businesses.

It’s also an option to choose a meaningful-to-you urn in which to place your horse’s ashes once they are returned to you. There are many unique options available, including pottery that has pieces of your horse’s hair fired into it. It may be worthwhile when speaking with the crematorium to ask if the ashes you receive will be only from your horse; some services cremate multiple horses at a time, meaning the ashes delivered to you might not be solely from your horse. Also a consideration is if you will get your horse back in his entirety (typically between 60 and 80 pounds of ash) or if you will received only a small amount of ash back.

Read more ideas for memorials for your horse >>

Additionally, cremation typically is not cheap (think $1,000 and up). Be sure to ask up front what the cost is to have your horse cremated so you’re not surprised by the bill when it comes.

What to do with your beloved horse once he passes is not an easy topic to discuss. However, making decisions now, before they become necessary, will ensure that you have one less difficult decision to make when the time comes to say goodbye to your best friend.

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