Have you ever considered equine hospice? It sounds like a strange concept, but horses deserve the same dignity and care in their final stages as humans.
We are so fortunate to care for many senior horses at Oak Haven Horse Farm. Our philosophy is that equines should have the right to spend their golden years with as much happiness, comfort, and dignity as possible. No wonder folks from all over the state give us that sacred trust to care for their horses.
When your equine partner is blissfully galloping through pastures, mortality is the last thing on your mind. She knows your touch and trots over to the fence the moment she sees you. As she lowers her head for you to scratch behind her ears or maybe offer her a treat, you think these moments will last forever.
One of the beautiful things about adopting a horse is that most can live up to 20 years, depending on loving care and good health. Having a friend who long forges a bond will last even when both humans and animals have passed. You’re never ready to say goodbye, no matter how many years have transpired.
If you are familiar with hospice for humans, you know that it emphasizes quality of life over quantity. The same principles apply to equine hospice. The goal is maintaining loving comfort and dignity. When further medical treatment is futile, hospice offers comfort care that neither prolongs life nor hastens death.
In the past, euthanasia was the only humane option for terminally ill senior horses. It is still a last resort when the quality of life diminishes, and chronic suffering is inevitable. However, more horse lovers are considering equine hospice and being with their beloved animals during their transition from this life.
Little Dottie’s Story
For over 20 years, our retirement ranch has had the privilege of loving and caring for numerous senior equines. In many ways, they mirror the golden years of humans. These majestic beings exhibit an incredible will to survive and thrive. Older horses often have the vitality of a young mind, but their bodies don’t cooperate.
Little Dottie was one of these strong-willed horses, and we realized it when she first took residence at our ranch. She was born on a small farm in Kentucky and became her human’s school 4-H project. Her coat was fascinated with so many black polka dots that her human called her Little Dottie when she was born. The 15-year-old girl, Amelia, and her spotted colt forged a tight friendship that lasted for 19 years.
For the rest of her high school years, Little Dottie and Amelia were virtually inseparable. The team won numerous awards and ribbons at 4-H events and the county fair. As most horse lovers should, young Amelia took her responsibility for her equine friend seriously. When they weren’t in training sessions or traveling for various horse shows, the friends were often endlessly exploring pastures and woodlands.
When it came time for Amelia to graduate and attend college, she chose a university close to home. She couldn’t bear to be apart from her four-footed friend. Even though Amelia’s years of college, marriage, and starting a family, Little Dottie was always in the picture.
The beloved horse also bore a couple of colts. One was coal-black, and Amelia’s little daughter named her Sadie. The second one born was spotted like Little Dottie, so the family called her Black Diamond. It was an unforgettable time when both human and equine families.
Little Dottie’s Retirement
This gracious horse was 17 years old when she retired to Oak Haven. Although she was a senior and moved a little slower, her indomitable spirit was still evident. Amelia and her family were here almost every weekend to spend time with their horse and shower her with love and attention.
Little Dottie bonded with her fellow equine residents as well as our ranch staff. Despite the best vet care and constant visits from her family, we were all disheartened when her health declined. Soon, we all knew that a heartbreaking decision couldn’t wait any longer.
Like many senior horses towards the end of life, Little Dottie developed an arthritic condition that made it difficult and painful to stand. Still, she was eating and drinking and enjoying the closeness of her family and our staff. Instead of euthanasia, Amelia and her family decided to employ equine hospice.
Her experience with this specialized vet and a medical team was beyond words. All involved knew that further treatments would be futile, so they did their best to keep the horse comfortable. The staff helped her stand as needed, and the vet managed any pain she had as best possible.
During the last few weeks of Little Dottie’s life, her comfort care was of the utmost importance. As she took her last breaths, she was surrounded by her loving family and her hospice staff. No struggling, no suffering, and nothing to hasten the process. Amelia and her brokenhearted family buried Little Dottie under the apple tree close to the barn where she was born after she passed.
Equine hospice is a relatively new concept that’s still being developed. In cases where terminally ill horses are suffering unbearably, euthanasia is still the loving and humane option. However, we look forward to the advances that comfort care offers in the future.
Contact Oak Haven Horse Farm today to discuss retirement for your equine friends. They can live out the rest of their lives happy, comfortable, and loved. We are with you and your horse on life’s journey.
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