How and When to Put a Horse Down – Horse Euthanasia


Although some horses (like some people) have the good fortune to die peacefully in their sleep of old age, most horses will eventually reach a stage (due to severe injury, disease or incapacity) where the most humane action is to put them down. For the horse owner, this can be a very difficult and painful decision, in terms of when a horse should be put down, as well as how. This article is the personal view of one horse owner on this subject.

Is Now the Time?

If a horse is in a lot of pain and distress, due to an incurable injury or disease, the only correct action is to put it down as quickly and as humanely as possible. However, in some cases the decision is not as clear.

For example, a horse may be in permanent pain but quite capable of happily living with it. This was the case of a draft horse pensioned with us, who had a chronic case of laminitis which made walking painful (especially over hard surfaces). As an elderly horse, he also had dental issues which made chewing uncomfortable. However, by supplementing his diet with soft food and giving him maximum time on soft pasture, his discomfort was minimised. He was a stoic horse, who seemed little bothered by pain, and obviously enjoyed life. He would trot around the pasture with his head held high and come to us for cuddles. Although retired, he was active in the pasture and obviously enjoyed life despite the constant pain in his feet and when he ate.

For me, the question is not how much pain the horse is in, but rather is he still happy and enjoying life. One can tell this not only by how the horse behaves at the moment, but also how his behavior has changed in response to injury or illness. When life changes from a pleasure to a burden, that is the time for the horse to be put down.

Are you wondering, like many of these, how to get started with horse riding lessons?

Life’s issues, work, family, etc. may squelch the desire at times but, from what I’ve learned over the years talking to lots of folks, that desire is always there. Many in that 40 – 60 range are now financially able handle horseback riding lessons – but aren’t sure how to start.

Yet some simply can’t afford lessons, let alone keeping their own horse. But they want to learn enough about riding so they can go on a trail ride or go with a friend.


When your horse has reached the point where it needs to be put down, the question is no longer ‘when’ but rather ‘how’.

The normal methods are by injection (sedative overdose) or by a slaughter gun which fires a bolt directly into the brain. In both cases, this should be done by a professional. In particular, the use of a slaughter gun should be done by an experienced person, as inexperienced people have been known to shoot the horse without killing it on first attempt, resulting in terrible pain until the mistake can be corrected. Whatever one might see in western movies, the use of a hunting gun is highly questionable, due to the risk that the bullet may not penetrate the thick skill and immediately end the horse’s life.

Why not jump on bareback, throw on a saddle of a different discipline, take your horse for a walk, walk through a trail in the woods, walk out in an open field, stand at the end of a pond, walk in a pond, go for a swim in the pond (take off that martingale), ride in a different arena, trailer to a new place to ride…. The possibilities are endless! The more types of environments you expose yourself and your horse to, the better trained you both will be. And what this means, is more opportunities for FUN!

Resource Author Francisco Rodriguez H.
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