My friend’s daughter recently had a pony bought for her birthday. You can imagine the excitement and delight! For me, it was a bitter-sweet feeling as my own beloved horse died three years ago this week and the memories of that time are still raw and painful. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that most of us will outlive our equine friends, and the end of your horse’s life is something that you might well have to face.
How do you cope?
How on earth do you cope when your four-legged friend has gone? Your daily routine will be thrown into chaos; something will be missing that can never be replaced.
Those around you might not understand how you’re feeling, especially if they’re not animal owners themselves. Thoughtless remarks like, “Well, he was old and he’d had a good innings” or “Are you going to buy another one when you get the insurance money?” are, at best, insensitive and can prolong your grief even more. When an animal has been your friend for many years, it can feel like no-one understands how much you loved them and how traumatic their loss can be.
Don’t despair; you’re not alone and there are many ways of coping with loss. Check out the Association of Pet Loss and Bereavement, a website where owners can find support and even counseling before and after the death of their pet.
A psychotherapy technique called, ‘positive framing’ is also very effective for coping with pet bereavement. Don’t focus on your horse’s death and your own grief; instead, zone in on the wonderful fun times you shared. Think about your first show together and how he always called to you when you arrived to catch him from the field. Dig out old photos and remember him – it’s not a bad thing to shed tears and a good cry can be very cathartic.
Not everyone grieves in the same way. Here are some ways that others have found helpful.
- If you own your own land, you might want to consider burying your horse there; maybe there was a particular place in his paddock he loved. This can be very helpful for bereaved owners as they are able to visit their horse’s resting place whenever they want to and will always feel that he’s near them. Always check the legality of this though as different countries and jurisdictions have different rules governing this sort of disposal.
- The most common method of disposal is cremation. You can choose to take the ashes home with you and bury them on your property without fear of legal issues, or if you prefer, you can keep them in an urn or box and put them in a special place in your home.
- It’s really important that you talk about your feelings with sympathetic friends and family. Don’t bottle your grief up; this just makes it harder to move on and come to terms with what’s happened.
- Never feel guilty if you had to make the decision to have your horse put to sleep because he was ill. Animals do not share the same sense of mortality that we do; you made a difficult decision in his best interests and all he knew was the end to his pain and the kind touch and voice of the person who loved him most.
- Be comforted by the knowledge that you loved your horse; you gave him the best life you could and a peaceful, dignified death. You were both lucky to have known each other and to have shared such wonderful times!
The loss of a much-loved horse is hard to take. Don’t be in a rush to replace him; your heart will tell you when the time is right.