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Grim topic...putting a horse

I know this is an awful topic but Bundychicks story and a friend of mine have me thinking... my friends horse is on her way out, she is 29 years old and has suffered with chronic laminitis for the last 5 years or so. She is not getting up very often and when she goes down she stays down for a long time. She is doing everything she can to keep her comfortable and will let her go when she tells her it's time.

What do you think is more humane (better for the horse not us)...a quick bullet? Or an injection from the vet?


I have been in a situation where I needed to know this and I am glad someone told me even though it is horrible to think about...

Just in case anyone is ever in a situation and needs to know, the fastest way to put a horse down with a bullet is put the end of the gun above their eye where the soft spot goes in and out when they chew and aim for the ear on the opposite side. This will go right through their brain and end their suffering immediately.

Horrible but necessary knowledge.

Both times I have been involved in it, we called the vet.  Once at an emergency call and then this morning at an arranged visit.  Both times, the vet sedated the horse, the horse went down and then the vet administered the "injection".  Both were calm and as peaceful as possible for all concerned.


I also have euthanized with the vet.   It is as Erin described, sedation first and then the fatal injection.   I think Tina nickered a heartbreaking farewell and "Thank you" whereas Bella looked at me like I was a horrible traitor.   I felt awful.  

As for when to make the decision, I think if the horse is in pain all the time with no hope of recovery, then it is time to make the decision.   Too many people let acute founder and colic horses die 'naturally,' which I find inhumane.   Why make them suffer because you can't make the hard decision?

A bullet may be cheaper but I couldnt do it.

I would call the Vet.

When you start thinking it MAY be time .... it is.

I am so sorry when someone must make that choice.

Gismo wrote:
When you start thinking it MAY be time .... it is.

I agree.  Anything else after that is superfluous and arrogant on the part of the human imo.


Yes, biggest fear. Think I would call a vet too, unless the horse was in extreme pain. Then I would have to do it myself.

Euthanzing a horse is pretty peaceful- as peaceful as saying goodbye can be, I guess.

My parents put down our old quarter horse Jim (38 years old) when I was 12. He'd had one last glorius summer living in a huge pature and sunbathing in the pond. He was diagnosed with cancer that summer, and before it started to become painful for him, we put him down. It was very peaceful.

When Aero was put down, it was very tramatic- he was overdosed on bute per vets instructions, and another vet put him down. He was my best friend since I eight, and became sick right before I turned 15. He died with his head on my lap- you can't do that when you use a bullet. He's buried under his favorite tree.

I really think it's the kindest thing we can do, and Gismo's right- when you start to think it might be time, it's time.

And in retrospect - I didn't mean that arrogant humans remark about anyone here - just generally speaking.  When I re-read it, it sounded a little harsh and I did not intend it that way.


To look at the other side of this story:

Putting a horse down with a bullet, when it is done correctly, is very quick for a horse.  One minute they are standing up eating their oats from a bucket and the next second they are down and gone.  I don't even think they hear the report from the gun.  We have put a number of good horses down this way, our own geriatrics and sometimes a horse of one of our friends.  

You might think it is peaceful when a horse is put down with chemicals, but some people think that the horse's muscles are paralyzed, but you can't guarantee what the horse is actually sensing.  Also, if a horse is put down using chemicals their whole body becomes poisonous, and the horse must be buried very deep.  If an animal does dig at the burial site, they would be poisoned.  Also, I don't know what it does to the soil and how long it stays in the soil and if it could leach into the water supply.

There are not easy answers when you have to make that final decision, but it is the last decision that we have to make as responsible horse owners for our beloved horses.
Horse Gypsy

The one time I did it we called the vet.   IT was a dramatic situation because the horse broke its leg-- but it didn't seem painful or inhumane.   When I was a kid we did have a horse go peacefully in his sleep one night  he had to be in his 30s.

I have been involved in both and, really, it depends on your situation. If I have time I call the vet. If I don't I get the neighbour over with his gun. I have no problem either way. Done correctly, the gun is quick with no waiting around for hours for the vet, but the Green Dream is very peaceful, you have time to say goodbye, the horse just goes to sleep in your arms. Perhaps it is that the situations where we have needed to use a gun were never peaceful.

Far more peaceful for the horse and the owner if drugs are used rather than a bullet. The horse goes to sleep and doesn't wake up.

A friend's horse suffered Pattersons Curse poisoning. It's body failed and the decision was made to give the horse the green dream. My friend was too distressed to be there so another friend and I met with the vet and ensured the horse died peacefully. The horse was then buried in the same paddock.

If I had a choice, I would choose the same method for either of my horses if/when that day eventually comes.

A vet told me to shoot my mare it would be cheaper than him coming out to put her down.I called another vet to put her down.Barney died before a vet could put him down after he was hit by a truck.We called the vet for the other 2.My hubby plans on shooting his dog when it's time.I'm afraid of "the bad shot" happening(animal moves wrong way) and the animal suffering more than what they should have.I'll always call a vet.

The "green dream" I like that.

I've been involved with both also and the times we couldn't wait for the vet were traumatic anyway the bullet was much more humane than waiting hours or even any minutes longer for the vets to arrive.

I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from one of them.

I was very glad that we knew how to put a horse down effectively with a bullet. Our vets can be as much as 2 hours away depending on where they are practising that day.
becky b

Three years ago when I had to make the decision to let Mollie go, I called the vet.  He sedated her, then administered the drugs.  She died with her head in my lap and me sobbing like a baby.  She was 35, and I loved her dearly.  I haven't been as confident on a horse since as I was on her.  She had not been ridden in about 7 years due to her age, but she lived a very peaceful and happy retirement before her time came to say goodbye.  I personally could never shoot a horse, I guess if one was in a lot of pain and suffering and it was going to take the vet a long time to get here, my husband might could shoot it, but I certainly would not be able to witness it.

Such a hard subject to discuss. I have seen a horse euthanize it is probably the best way to go for the horse. They do not see a gun pointing to there head. My Dad had to put a horse down by Bullet it is not something he wants to do ever again.. He said it was one of the hardest things he had ever done. So I would have to say Vet would be the best bet Just falling to a long sleep is better...

I've never shot a horse, but have shot a cow.

I have to agree that if the horse is in a lot of pain, and the vet will take some time, then shooting is probably the most humane thing you can do.  

I have a friend whose horse fell down into a pocket canyon.   There was no way out.   She survived the fall, but there was no way to get her out of it.  They had to shoot her there.   She was only 4.   Can you imagine killing a perfectly healthy horse?   There are times it is the only answer.
Scarlet Belle

Been in both situations, shooting the horse was the last and though it was the only choice at hand, I am glad for him not to have suffered any longer.  That being said, I grieved a long time for having to make that decision.  It was a hard choice.  It made me angry and bitter for some time.  I, even, lashed out at people unlike I have done before...
I have considered getting rid of another horse because he resembles that horse.  Yet, I wanted the other horse so much.  It was traumatic for me because I love my horses, dearly.

I had the other horse removed briefly, today, I was sent a picture of him being funny sticking his head in a car window.  I am trying not to like this horse.  That is too funny!  So he is trying to enter my life and help heal me?

I'm probably going to get virtually stoned by making this comment, but I am going to anyway.

The way I understand it, a horse that is euthanized by injection is not useable for meat.  The meat becomes toxic, and the horse is wasted.  It has to be buried a certain depth in the ground or creamated.

A bullet of the correct caliber, used by skilled hands, is quick and also humane (much better to shoot the horse than to allow continued suffering). One noted benefit is that the horse is useable as meat.

The only horse I have ever had to put down was a 7 year old horse with a degenerative and painful disease of the joints.  He was not comfortable in his own skin and never would be.  Several friends of mine happened to be dog mushers.  They used horse meat almost exclusively to feed their dogs.  I helped in the butchering of this one horse.  (I wanted to learn about their anatomy)  One minute the horse was eating peppermints and sweetfeed, the next, he was lying peacefully in the grass.  The end was not beautiful, but it was definately merciful.

I am a circle-of-life girl.  I think something as large and as useful as a horse, should not go to waste.

I think they should be euthanized as humanely as possible (by bullet), then their carcass salvaged.  

Yes I have a hard time thinking of my horses as dogfood.  No I would not feed them to my own dogs.  But I would give their carcasses to a musher.  MY opinion, is that it is wasteful not to.

Sebocat, I'm in the same camp as you.  In all honesty, if it was my horses time to go, I'd rather his body be put to use somehow, than just going in a landfill.  Thats also why I'd prefer a clean shot over barbiturates and euthanol, there's enough poison in the environment, I don't want to add more, particularly very toxic chemicals.

I watched a video of someone in Europe bringing their horse to a packers to be put down.  She led her horse off the trailer, into a set of stocks, then left as the horse was shot with a captive bolt gun.  The horse's body could then go on for food etc. instead of just fertilizer like in North America right now.  If I had a choice, thats what I would prefer to do.

My vet will shoot a horse if you ask him to.  He knows its fast, he is very accurate, and agrees with it as an option.  He's also European, and grew up eating horse meat.  He's an outstanding equine vet, does some of the top equine reproductive work in the world, and owns (and spoils rotten) several horses himself.

I honestly don't know what I would do when the time comes... my old man Joker is 22 now and is getting harder and harder to winter. I would want to be with him when he crosses that bridge and don't know if I could stand to be there when the gun was fired.

It depends on the situation I guess, if I need to make a choice and he is not suffering I probably would call the vet for selfish reasons of wanting to be there holding him and telling him it's OK to go. If something happened and he was suffering I would choose the bullet.

I respect others opinions on the meat/usability thing and could in all honesty probably do that with other horses I own, but not my old man.

The biggest difference with the bullet IMHO is the final call.

With euthanasia, it seems more peaceful.  No big bang that you get with the gun.  It is less dramatic.  Less graphic.  Certainly less painful for the people involved.

I already stated my point about my prefered method.  I re read that, and it almost sounds like I'm belittling people who choose euthanasia, and I most certainly am not.  

The choice is up to each of us as individuals, and there is no right answer.  

To be honest, I don't think I could shoot my own horse unless it was an emergency, and things are allways easier said than done.

Regardless of the means I decide, when that time comes, I just hope I can be merciful enough to recognize it.

I hope I can do what is right for my horse.

Yeah, this is a hard topic, but one we all have to deal with at one time or another Its good to know your options.

Having experienced what I did on the weekend,  i would have agreed to shoot the horse in an instant.

The horse was in agony. The look in her eyes was of utter hopelessness, she was lost in a maze of confusion, concussion, pain and fear.

If the vet said he couldn't have done it for an hour, i would have said "Well then we'll just have to shoot her". If i was ever put in the situation where i was required to be the shooter, I *think* that i could possibly muster the courage to do it, but it would take some doing. I would then be utterly inconsolable for a very long period of time.

However, if i had the choice - I would choose euthenasia any day. Although it would break my heart, and i would probably require sedation myself - I intend to be there at the end (God willing) for my horse. i intend to hold his head, stroke him and let him know he's ok. Because, as his partner - its only fair to act like a partner to the bitter end.

However - if he was suffering from a break, or was in terrible agony and the agistment managers rang me telling me that he was in real distress, I would ask them to shoot him. Its not pretty, and i wouldn't be able to say goodbye, but he'd be out of pain.

Sebocat - I totally see your POV re the circle of life, but I don't think i could ever put my horse down and let him be used for food, I would feel like I was betraying him (I know it sound silly, but its my own personal opinion, please don't for one minute think I'm thinking ill of your opinion) - I would continue the circle of life, by making sure he was buried, and making fertilizer.

Actually Suz, I agree with you.  That is part of why I was against euthainizing the 'left over' mustangs.   I'm a naturalist and it goes against my grain to waste resources and horse meat is a resource.    There are children who go to bed hungry in our country, not to mention elsewhere in the world that this meat could go for.  It can be drug out in the mountains and feed lions, wolves, coyotes, birds, as nature intended.

We are a very selfish species.   I selfishly wanted to bury my two friends here where I could keep a piece of them.    If I had to make the choice for horses who aren't my pets, I'd agree that they need to go the knacker who takes the meat to for dog food or to the zoo.

I couldn't put a bullet in Tina who had been my dream come true for 31 years, nor to Bella, who was Bruiser's dam, and her last sight was him running in the field.   I'm just a bit sentimental at times.
Scarlet Belle

Strong for those we hold dear and yet respectful of others views.  It's good. Always tough decisions.  I'd be the same way Carol.  All my guys are buried here.  I don't want someone taking them to a landfill, glue factory, etc.  The thought of it. Selfish love.  Selfish dignity for what they gave me.  Yet, I believe it allowing nature to take it's course for me?

What with that?

I am with you about the mustangs and yet, I know so many people feel very strongly against it.

I see it the same as deer here, they get diseases and the population becomes unheallthy and they die off.  Rather them be able to feed a hungry family.  We have hunters for the hungry that feed families through the winter with deer, boar and turkey that they hunt.  Fish they they get on a trip.  So atleast with the what they enjoy as a hobby, they share what they do not use with families here.



kristie wrote:
I have thought about this at times too, and I agree with some others that if time were on my side, then I would call the vet and have the horse put down.  If my horse suffered some trauma and was in excrutiating pain, then I would shoot it immediately.  That is the biggest reason I like to have a gun handy on a trailride.  Freaky things do happen.

I don't see anything wrong with recycling them.  I have never considered it for my personal horses because (1) I don't eat horse meat and (2) I don't live in an environment/community that does.  People here scoff at venison

I carry a gun on trailrides for this reason as well.  I also keep one in the truck if I am trailering a horse. I would HATE to need it and not have it.  The suffering would hurt worse than anything. I hate when animals suffer.

On the meat end, I would never eat my horse, but Carol brough up an excellent point: your local zoo.  They have HUGE feedbills for their carnivores.  Horse meat, I imagine, would be very welcome.

There is no right anwer.

I prefer injection, but would use a bullet if there was no time to wait for the vet.

My bigger issue with euthanizing is a) people who can't let go and ask the horse to hang on longer than they should and b) vets who encourage this behavior.

When I was a little younger, I was running the horseback riding program at a summer camp.  The horses were leased from a dealer way up in northern Minnesota, and were delivered to northern IL in mid-May.  One pony in particular did not adjust well to the difference in heat & humidity here and developed heaves in less than a week.

I begged the dealer to come and get her, but it was not worth the expense to him to send a hauler all the way back for 1 pony.  Nor did the camp want to pay to haul her all the way up there.

I spent all summer trying to keep this pony going.  At times she wouldn't eat because she had such a hard time breathing.  The camp had no barn, only a pasture & run-in, and there were no trees in the pasture.  We set her up in a former goat pen--at least it had some shade--and I was pouring Ventipulmin in her like it was water.

Finally, towards the end of summer, she went down one night and would not get up.  I was 2 hours away when I got the call and could not get there for several hours.  I had the vet go out--he administered Banamine and some fluids and left her.....said she'd either make it or she wouldn't.  My staff (kids ranging from 13-1 periodically tried to get her up, unsuccessfully.  I told the camp director to tell the vet to euthanize if he felt it was necessary.  She wanted to wait for me (I should add she had zero horse experience).

By the time I got there, she'd been down for probably 12 hours and they'd tried to prop her up with feed bags.  Flies were gathering in her eyes and her tongue was turning blue.  I was beyond furious they'd allowed to languish like this for so long.

Even worse, the camp director had called a different vet and asked for a second opinion.  He was standing there, looking at this half-dead pony, and telling the director he could run fluids, etc. etc.  Unbelieveable and so wrong, IMO.

Finally the poor thing heaved herself to her feet and attempted to walk--bystanders were screaming "it's a miracle!"--before losing control and crashing to the ground.  At that point I told--growled at him, really--the vet to get the injection and put her out of her misery.  The poor kids that worked for me were absolutely traumatized by this.

Wow, that was long.    That awful situation has just always bothered me.  It was several years ago but I still feel like I failed that pony....for her to have suffered all day like that just make me sick.  And I still can't believe that vet was suggesting running fluids & steriods as she was dying.

We want to hang onto the hope that they will get better or there is a miracle waiting for us, hind sight is always 20-20.

The traumatic experience I was involved in was made even more traumatic because everyone was procrastinating while I was standing there with the gun. I knew immediately what had to be done and we probably could have saved the unborn foal had they listened to me or if ANY of the vets on the phone ( we called 3 different ones) had believed me about what had happened or believed I knew what I was looking at.

Regarding bullets, the decision needs to be made swiftly and unemotionally at times, many times if that's what needs to be done the horse isn't really there anymore anyway they have already let go, or they are in shock.

Regarding euthanasia via the vet, I agree about not asking the horse (or any animal, this especially applies to dogs) to hold on any longer especially when they are suffering and trying to stay for you. If you tell them it's OK for them to leave now and you will be OK and will never forget them they have a much more peaceful transition. You should hold them and send them happy peaceful energy thinking of the best times you had together, or their favorite things, so they leave this world easily and peacefully. You should not have a break down and cry uncontrollably while holding them asking them to stay while they are trying to let go, you should wait until they are gone and then have your breakdown.

Easier said than done... I know... but it really does help the animal.
Horse Gypsy

I had a yearling who somehow broke its back,  went down and we couldn't get him up, and I think I remember that the vet gave me tranquilizers  to give to him so that he would rest peacefully.  We were all hoping he would get up, but he ended up dieing.    I do not think I could be around when a horse was shot.  I just couldn't bare it.  I hope mine just die of old age.  I have 2 that are getting up there.  I might get my brother in law or someone to shoot one of them- actually if they were really suffering-  but it seems like an un peaceful way to go.  I hadn't thought about the meat thing.  Most likely I would bury them out here somewhere.  This is slightly nasty, but periodically I come across dead horses on the public lands behind my house, that I am thinking people just dumped-- coyotes pretty much take care of it, then I just come across the bones.  My mare hates those skeletons- one of the few things that makes her snorty.

i had to have my lovely tb gelding put down in 2004... he suffered a mystery illness that was slow in coming on and then hit fast at the end. the vets never knew what it was, even after a post-mortem, but after 48hrs i knew my responsibility was to not let my own need for him get in the way of ending his suffering. he was such a gentle dignified horse that a gun would have seem inappropriate and violent for him. we took him into the arena and the vet sedated him and then injected him. he fell quickly and uttered one last deep breath and I stroked his face til his eye glazed over. it was so sad that even the vet cried! it was a quiet and dignified end and i had him cremated.

I also had to have my 6month old lab puppy put to sleep last year and the whole process was quick and respectful. to shoot him would have been unthinkable....

i had to hold a friends horse some years ago when it was shot with a captive bolt gun and it was truly horrific. the horse was stunned when it went down but it was squealing and its legs were straight and thrashing and he certainly didnt die immediately. the knacker man then had to squish his brain with an 'L' shaped piece of wire which made his legs thrash around even more. there was brains and blood everywhere and I was only 17 at the time. truly f*cked with my head!! i vowed that this was not the end I would want for my horse.

however in an emergency situation where a horse is terminally injured if a shot to the head is the quickest way to end the suffering then it must be done. i've witnessed a couple of horses wait for too long with horrible broken legs because their owners wanted to have them put down by injection.

I would have NEVER thought to shoot my horse to put her out of pain. But I can see both sides of it. But I could NEVER pull the trigger.. It would do too much damage to me emotionally. Although somedays I feel my hubby has a cold heart. If it came down to it he would not faulter and would be able to handle it much better then I ever could. He is a rock when he has to be!!

Carol what is a Pocket Canyon?

I work in an animal shelter and am a Certified Euthanasia Technician. We use Fatal-Plus for IV lethal injection, which is considered the best on the market. When we must euthanize, we pre-sedate to ensure the animal is not fearful or stressed.

That being said, my husband and I have agreed to put our horses down via gunshot when the time comes. While most euthanasia in dogs and cats is quick and calm, sometimes it's not. Some sedatives (I believe Telazol??) cause paralysis which makes the animal appear to not be in pain, when in fact all their systems are paralyzed, so they couldn't show pain if they tried.

I do regret that this means I won't be holding my horse's head in my arms.

Finally, unless it is winter and the ground frozen solid, they will be buried on our farm. In deep winter, they would be taken to a friend's large ranch in the wilderness and put out for the wildlife.

I understand everyone's view, just want to share my perspective.

edit: shooting is ONLY ok if the shooter is skilled and calm. it should be instantaneous, with only reflexive movement after the shot. otherwise, I would recommend euth by injection only.

unless a horse was in extreme pain I would call the vet out to do it. The bigger problem around here right now is what to do with them after it is done. The laws to bury them are very strict and there is no where on our land we could abide by the rules without using dynamite. There is no longer any pick up. Cremation is about 1,500 bucks for the average horse. Burning.......I don't even want to think about that.  

where are you located?

hollandhorses wrote:
where are you located?

just outside Louisville, KY

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