I’ve had this subject brewing on my mind for a while but the rare afternoon off due to a crushed foot and a bang to the head, has given me time to sort my thoughts. Here goes …
Sometimes, the views that I’m developing scare me. Whoever says you’re grown up at eighteen is wrong. Nine years later I’m still growing.
Recently I’ve had a couple of friends put their elderly horses to sleep, and for whatever reasons they’ve used me as a sounding board, or asked my advice. From afar, I can objectively weigh up the horse’s quality of life. So whilst I can tell them what the kindest thing to do is or isn’t, I know I could never make that decision about my own pets: feline or equine.
I have total respect for anyone who makes that decision. It’s the hardest to do, and the harder you love something the harder it is to let them go. And that’s when I realised that I’m pro-choice.
With an unexpected pregnancy, or one with complications, I think it is the parents right to consider if a) they can suitably provide for said child, or if they would have a physically or emotionally deprived life, or have an unstable home. Or b) if they can’t provide the quality of life; if foreseen problems with baby means that they will always be in pain or limited. Or c) if the health of the mother is jeopardised so that she won’t be able to care sufficiently. It’s totally up to the parents, and each situation is different. Therefore I don’t think you should blanket ban abortion, or make it mandatory for X, Y or Z cases. I think it is for the individual to decide.
At the other end of life’s stick; I think I support people having the option of assisted suicide. It’s my worst nightmare to be dependent; to stop my family living their lives to care for me. And I wonder how many elderly people fading away in nursing homes or hospitals feel the same way. And I wonder how having this option available, so you can die with dignity, would affect the NHS which is struggling with the increasing, aging population. I know it comes with a myriad of problems, with regards to responsibility but I think the concept needs to be taken seriously .
I watched a film a couple of weeks ago, Me Before You, have you seen it? It’s about this paralysed young man going down the assisted suicide route and how his girlfriend finds it difficult to let go. A tear jerker, but also a moral puzzle.
Let’s bring this round to horses. And pets of all description. We have this authority. We are God. But doing it is a lot harder than saying it.
Firstly, I would say that no one loves their horse more than you. Which means that the decision is far harder for you.
No one brings this subject up candidly; a lot of thought goes into it for weeks or months in advance. After all, you get blinkered by memories of what was, and live in hope that what is will improve (I thought of this phrase earlier in the week and been dying to use it).
But what are the considerations of putting a horse to sleep?
Perhaps most importantly, is you. Is your future changing which means you will not be able to provide, or can’t guarantee to. Perhaps that’s an illness, baby, changing job, marriage. Once you’ve come to the conclusion that you aren’t in this horse’s future, you need to decide whether they would be happy with a change in circumstance. Moving yards, new field mates, all of that is very stressful, so it isn’t always fair to put that upon an elderly horse. However, if they are younger and fit then selling or rehoming to a suitable person is the obvious choice.
Then there’s the horse. Are they chronically lame; are there underlying health issues (COPD, Cushings, sarcoids, heart murmurs) that could cause low level pain? Can the pain be managed easily or does it impact on their quality of life? Do they fair better at different times – cold weather and getting stiff, or flies irritating sarcoids?
If as an owner you know that your horse’s quality of life is going to deteriorate then I think it’s your duty to act. It may be changing medication, or if you have no other options, putting them to sleep before they deteriorate. I can’t think of anything worse than waiting for them to suffer and then doing it quickly. Yes things like colic or field accidents happen; but I do think with older horses it’s better to go a day too early than a day too late. After all, they’ve given us so much pleasure, why should we deny them the relief of pain (or pain to come) because we aren’t ready to say goodbye.
So yes, we are God. I am pro-choice in this matter, but I think every horse owner has the right and responsibility to make the decision about their horse, and no one should talk them into or out of their choice. Because the bravest, most courageous, and most loving decision anyone can make is to let someone go. And I respect everyone who had had to do that because I am dreading it when it’s my turn to say goodbye.