An Equine End-of-Life Plan Makes a Difficult Decision a Bit Easier
(Part 1 of a 3-part series on equine end-of-life planning.)
Gail M. Staines, Ph.D.
Founder, The Senior Horse
We all want our horses to live forever, but we know that it is not possible. One of the best actions we can take to make it less stressful for all involved, including your beloved horse, is to make an Equine End-of-Life Plan.
An example Equine End-of-Life Plan, created by The Senior Horse, is available for you to download for free at the end of this post.
What to Include in Your Plan
Here is the basic information that you should gather in one document. Update your plan on a regular basis (a yearly review is a good idea) and make sure to share it with those individuals that will be involved and/or need to know.
Gather contact information for the following individuals and services: include names, addresses, phone numbers, emergency phone numbers (if applicable), and website addresses. Indicate if the phone numbers also accept text messages as an alternative way to get a hold of someone.
Relative(s) (if applicable)
Barn Manager (if you board)
Name of Veterinarian and the name of the veterinarian’s practice
Contact information for the service you select (e.g., burial, cremation, rendering).
Next, record information about your horse including:
Registered name (if applicable)
Date of birth (if known) OR approximate age
Height, weight, color, and specific markings
Record any known illnesses, injuries, allergies, etc. Include dates, diagnoses, and treatments and whether the condition is on-going.
Include at least 2 photos of your horse: a head shot and a full-body shot.
Making the Decision in Advance
Deciding what to do with your horse’s remains well in advance and include that information in this document.
There are typically four options:
c.) cremation, and
If you decide to bury your horse’s remains, you will need to obtain information in advance, including:
Contact the city/town/county/government entity where you want to bury your horse to see if it is even legal to do so. Some areas do not allow large animals to be buried on property. If it is legal, record the copy of the law that allows or disallows this action in case you are questioned about it in the future.
To bury your horse you will need to dig a hole large enough. According to Extension Horses, Inc. the size of your burial plot should be 7-feet wide and 9-feet deep. You will need about 3-4 feet of additional dirt to cover the plot. Most individuals use a backhoe to excavate such a large site.
Composting a horse’s remains is becoming increasingly popular. You will need to research whether or not it is legal in your area to do this. If it is allowable, you may compost the remains yourself or contact a company such as Compassionate Composting that retrieves the remains in a respectful manner, placing the animal in a correctly designed pile also known as a windrow. After 4-5 months, all soft tissue is gone with only the bones remaining. The bones decompose at a slower rate.
Once your horse’s remains have completely decomposed, you can use the compost by adding it to soil. Some horse owner’s spread the remains in areas where the horse once grazed and lived.
Another option is to have your horse’s remains cremated. Albeit an environmentally-friendly option, it can be expensive. Once your horse has been cremated, the ashes are returned to you. You do have the option of sending the ashes to a landfill, if this is permitted in your area.
Rendering was, and in some locations, still is a very common method of disposing of a horse that has passed away, naturally or by euthanasia. You will need to do some research to determine if there is a rendering company in your area and then make arrangements with the company to pick up your horse’s remains. It is not a pleasant process. Once removed from the property, the company heats the carcass until only bone meal remains. Bone meal is then used in animal feed products.
Have Your Plan Ready
Creating an Equine End-of-Life plan takes time. You will need to do some research, gather information, and make a decision about your horse. The Humane Society of the United States has a useful website that provides information to help you make these decisions.
This is Part 1 of a three part series on making end-of-life decisions for your horse. Part 2 provides information about euthanasia – what to expect and what to plan for. Part 3 offers ways to celebrate your horse’s life.
Compassionate Composting. https://www.compassionatecomposting.com/
Extension Horses, Inc. (2019). Horse Disposal Options. USDA. National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Cooperative Extension. https://horses.extension.org/horse-disposal-options/
Humane Society of the United States. (2021). Resources for Making a Humane End of Life Decision for Your Horse. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/humane-horse-remains-disposal