Grieving the loss of a horse
It’s something none of us want to think about, you push the thought into the depths of your brain and hope, that somehow, by some miracle, it’s something you’ll never have to deal with.
The reality is at some point, it is likely every horse owner and rider will experience the loss of their beloved horse.
Horses aren’t “just horses”. They are family members, loved ones, best friends we dote on day after day. Through the dark mornings, the relentlessly long nights, the mud, the sweat, the tears. The calls to the vet, the cups of tea for the blacksmith. Through the broken nails, the chill blains, and the aching limbs.
They steal our hearts, turn the hobby we know and love into a lifestyle, the lifestyle that has made us who we are. The lifestyle that taught us commitment, unconditional love and heartbreak.
So, when the unimaginable happens, how can we grieve the loss of a horse?
What horses mean to us
Horses are members of the family, there’s the emotional, physical and (not forgetting) financial investment. When it comes to saying goodbye, either because it’s the natural end of their full and active lives or because an accident or injury shortens their time with us, it’s not just the horse that we have to learn to live without. It’s the bond built up over time, the routine, the friendships. The lifestyle.
They’re everything to us. Our whole world.
How to deal with grieving the loss of a horse
Give yourself time. In the early days, the weight of grief can seem too heavy to deal with. The empty stables and tack sitting untouched can be too much to be around.
But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and have faith in the fact that it will get better, time will help you heal. The day will come when you can look back at the time you had with your horse with fondness rather than with pain. To help you deal with grieving the loss of a horse you can:
- Talk to those around you - friends/family and people at the yard. If you feel able to, let them know how you’re feeling
- Remember the good times – the shows you went to and the long rides you enjoyed
- Look back at photos – when you feel able to, have a flick through the photos you have of your horse and remember happier times from your partnership
- Know you’ve done the right thing – it’s one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make but know you did it out of kindness to your horse
- Spend time with other horses – if you feel up to it, asking a friend if you can groom their horse or do some stable jobs could help. Part of the grieving process is missing the hole in your day that your horse used to fill. Spending time at the yard, being around horses and doing familiar yard jobs will help you feel a bit more normal
- Take every day at a time – it will get easier and day by day you’ll wake up feeling slightly better than the day before. You’ll reach a point where your horse will fit into a piece of your heart, you’ll never forget them and they’ll be with you in spirit every day.
The way in which you grieve and how long you need to feel like yourself again is personal to you. Some people find getting another horse and starting a new partnership is the medicine they need whereas others take longer to open their hearts and let in another equine partner.
Do what’s right for you and take as much time as you need before you get back in the saddle again.
Do horses experience grief?
Horses feel emotions differently to humans, it is believed they mourn the loss of physical touch and comfort from their companion more than anything. You can support your horse and reduce their feelings of loneliness through grooming and spending time with them in the field or stable. Give them time to deal with the loss of a companion and reduce any extra stresses in this period. Try to keep their routine as normal as possible and just like you, over time they will accept the loss of their companion and be ready to face the world with full force again.
When to say goodbye to your horse
It’s no secret that knowing when to say goodbye is often the hardest decision you’ll ever have to make. This is something Dressage rider Steph Croxford knows about too well as she reflects on her time with the fabulous dressage horse Mr President
“I’ll never have another Mr P.”
This, is our lifestyle, the dreams we hold and the memories we share. This blog is for the ones that are no longer with us but are forever in our hearts.