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Saying goodbye to your horse with Gil Riley Equine Vets

Putting a horse to sleep is a very upsetting and distressing time for any owner, but we often say that it’s the last kind thing you can do for your horse.


It’s our duty to alleviate pain and suffering in our horses, and unfortunately it is often the case that a put to sleep is a viable tool to achieve this.


There are many different reasons for which we may choose to put a horse to sleep. Sometimes it can be elective, due to old age or lameness, or sometimes due to an emergency such as a broken leg, colic or a ruptured tendon.


Here we talk about what to expect before, during and after you say goodbye to your horse.

Image by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho
Girl with Horse

Before you say goodbye: How we prepare for a put to sleep

Once we have jointly come to the conclusion that a put to sleep is the best option for your horse, one of our friendly team will work with you to arrange a suitable time and date, as well as your preferred vet to perform the procedure.


Normally the procedure is done at your yard but it can be done at our clinic if you prefer.


We choose the best time of day and check with the yard owner and other liveries as to when the yard will be at its most quiet. It’s ideal to have a dry field or menage to perform the procedure so that there is ease of removal after the procedure has been carried out.


Our office team can also arrange removal after the put to sleep.


There are several options for this, including a fallen stock company, which costs about £150. Alternatively there can be an individual or communal cremation carried out, which costs between £500 and £1000.


Some owners may choose to bury their horse on site – if this horse is chosen, then you must obtain permission form the local council. It’s worth bearing in mind that most removal companies will request payment up front or at the time of collection.


For those horses who are insured, owners should know that unless the put to sleep meets the BIVA criteria for humane destruction, the insurance company is unlikely to compensate them.

On the day: What to expect at a put to sleep appointment

On the day itself, try to keep the same routine for you and your horse – extra treats are of course encouraged. You may want a friend there for moral support.


Our vets will have performed this procedure hundreds of times and are very experienced.


When our vet arrives they’ll have a chat with you first, and then when you’re ready the horse will be sedated, usually in the stable, before being walked out to the field or menage where the procedure is to take place.


The injection is given, and after about 20 seconds the horse will take a few deep breaths, gradually pass out of consciousness and sink to the ground. At that point they will have passed away.


The injection has two components: one to suppress consciousness and the other to stop the heart. It is extremely reliable.


There are some reflexes that you may notice after your horse has passed away. These can include a flickering of the eye, movement of a limb or the odd gasp for breath – which isn’t an attempt to draw in oxygen, but just a discharging of energy.


The vet will perform tests on the eyes to check that the movement is random, and we’ll also listen for a heartbeat.


Most owners will choose to stay for the put to sleep, but if you’d rather not be present that is absolutely fine.

Image by John-Mark Strange

After the procedure: What comes next

After the put to sleep it is good to have a sheet to hand to cover the horse.


Many owners like to have a shoe or a hair clipping as a keepsake.


The removal company usually arrive about 15 or 20 minutes after the vet so that the removal is continuous with the procedure.


If ashes have been requested they are usually returned within a week.


You should inform your insurance company that the put to sleep has been performed and return your horse’s passport to the issuing agency.


A put to sleep is an emotional time, whether it be elective or emergency, but your horse’s welfare is always paramount.


Our vets are very experienced and we are here to support your decision and to help you through this difficult time.

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