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Planning For The Death Of A Horse

By Jeffrey Rolo

Death is a topic no pet owner really wishes to consider until they are forced to face it, but whereas a fish, hamster or dog owner can afford to handle their pet's passing when it naturally arrives, a horse owner really doesn't have the same luxury. Due to the size of a horse, disposing of a dead horse poses unique challenges, both physical and legal, that virtually require prior planning depending on where you live. So even if your horse is alive, well, and will be with you for a good 10 or 20 years more before you are forced to face the inevitable, I encourage you to at least scan this article since keeping basic facts about what to do with a dead horse in the back of your mind will help you be better equipped when/if tragedy strikes.

My Horse Is Perfectly Healthy, So Why Worry Now?

You shouldn't worry. I'm not advocating that any horse owner fret or wander around in a paranoid state, just waiting for a tragedy to occur. If your horse is healthy, chances are you have many, many happy years yet to enjoy together.

But keep in mind that horses are not immune to the unexpected any more than people are. A horse that is perfectly healthy one day may have a fatal twisted intestinal colic without warning. It's not common, but sadly it's not rare and it does happen. So just as it makes sense to write a will for your family should the unexpected occur to you, it's a good idea to know what to do with a dead horse should that sad event occur.

So Why Can't I Just Deal With It Later?

Because unlike a fish, you can't flush the body down a toilet. Unlike a dog or cat, many of us don't have the option to quietly bury a dead horse on our property. Horse disposal can be a costly, semi-difficult process, and the clock starts the moment your horse perishes. You have about 24 hours to do what needs to be done before some of your horse disposal options are slowly removed due to decomposition, which doesn't leave you a lot of time to adjust to the shock, research your options, and decide what to do.

You've Convinced Me. What Do I Need To Know?

Before determining the exact processes you can explore when disposing of a dead horse, you first need to draw some lines in the sand. Horses are a very important part of our lives, and the death of a horse can be almost as traumatic as the death of a family member. As such, some valid methods of disposal may be personally unacceptable to you. For example, some may be willing to allow a horse carcass to be used for meat or rendering purposes, but others might find the notion to be uncompassionate. I personally believe that once a soul departs a body, it doesn't much matter what happens to the body since we all return to dust, so I tend to be pragmatic in my outlook, but again... explore your options and determine which would work best for you.

Do You Have Foreknowledge?

If your elderly horse's health is failing and you know that death is only a matter of time, you have more options. You can let nature take its course, obviously, but if your horse is in pain this really isn't a pleasant or humane option. So if allowing a horse to die naturally isn't an option, you're looking at either euthanasia or offering your horse to a zoo or manufacturing plant for use as meat. This option isn't available in all parts of the United States, obviously, so you'll want to call local zoos and such to see if they accept horses for food purposes. Keep in mind that as of 2007 there are no horse slaughter plants in the United States, so unless you live along one of the borders, shipping a horse to a plant probably wouldn't be a viable option.

If this is an option you would consider, keep in mind that most places will not accept horses that have been injected with drugs since it corrupts the meat. Also don't assume that just because there is a facility located near you that they will accept your horse call them first and see what their policies are. Some facilities will not accept horses under any circumstances, others will only accept them as needed rather than keeping their door perpetually open. For this step, the only things that can help you are a phone book, a telephone, and a conversation.

Some zoos and plants will accept dead horses too as long as the death was within a very limited window of delivery, but they may not accept the carcass if it has been euthanized via drugs.

I personally don't have a problem allowing a carcass to be used for meat whenever possible since it's a very productive method of disposal. But knowing what occurs within many slaughterhouses, I personally would not opt for sending a live horse to one. As pragmatic as I consider myself to be, I still prefer to know that my companions died in peace, rather than within the fearful surroundings of a plant.

Since most of us will either see our horses eventually expire from natural causes or euthanasia, horsemeat options may not be available. So let's see what other more common methods of horse disposal there are.

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