ISSUE 63
FEBRUARY 2021
BONEO
BIG TOUR

DRESSAGE STARS THRILL
VALE DI SCHAEFFER
EVENTING LEGEND
EMILY STIRLING
SETS THE EXAMPLE

PLUS: ASSERT YOUR SENIORITY WITH KERRY MACK, RACHAEL CLARKE’S TARCOOLA EQUESTRIAN CENTRE, THE MAKING OF ‘PHAR LAP’, MEGAN BRYANT’S LESSON WITH LYNDAL, CAROLYN LIEUTENANT’S VICTORY SALUTE, OUR BLACK SUMMER HEROES, AUSTRIA’S GOLDEN HORSES, IRELAND’S CONNEMARAS, FEEDING OMEGA-3s & A VET’S TAKE ON EUTHANASIA

AUSTRALIA`S BEST EQUINE MAGAZINE
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ISSUE 63

CONTENTS

FEBRUARY 2021
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A few Words

FROM THE CHAIRMAN

ROBERT MCKAY

Opinion

VALE DI SCHAEFFER WARRIOR OF AUSTRALIAN EVENTING

RYAN’S RAVE BY HEATH RYAN

Dressage

BONEO BIG TOUR LEAVES PLENTY TO BE EXCITED ABOUT

BY ADELE SEVERS

Showjumping

YOUNG EMILY SETS A STIRLING EXAMPLE

BY AMANDA YOUNG

Training

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR SENIORITY

BY DR KERRY MACK

Lifestyle

MEET PHAR LAP’S DOUBLE — TOWERING INFERNO

BY SUZY JARRATT

Dressage

MEGAN BRYANT ZOOMS IN TO VIRTUAL VICTORY

BY EDWINA BADGERY

Health

NEW EO-3 PASSES THE TASTE TEST

BY KENTUCKY EQUINE RESEARCH STAFF

EQ Journeys

A GODSEND FOR THE CONNEMARA

BY EQ LIFE

Health

EUTHANASIA, THE TOUGHEST DECISION

BY DR MAXINE BRAIN

Special feature

COURAGEOUS KIWI BLAZES HER OWN TRAIL (Part 7)

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

Breeding

FROM AUSTRIA WITH LOVE, THE GOLDEN HORSE

BY ELLIE JOLLEY

Special feature

THE ORPHAN HORSES OF PAYNES CROSSING

BY AMANDA YOUNG

Property

RACHAEL CLARKE’S MAGIC TOUCH AT TARCOOLA

BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE

My Favourite Dish

VEGETARIAN LASAGNE

WITH RACHAEL CLARKE
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My belief is that if you are in tune with your horse, you will know when the time has come.
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One of the hardest parts of my job as a veterinarian is having to euthanise someone’s well-loved horse or pony. As an owner, how do you cope when euthanasia becomes the most likely outcome?

“It’s a part of the job
that never gets any easier.”

As a veterinarian, there have been many times I have stood behind my car door shedding a tear, trying to compose myself before going back to a distraught owner to perform euthanasia on an animal, a task which is hard but necessary.

More often than not, the horse is one I have dealt with in the past and sometimes one I’ve watched being born and raised, and now I must assist to die for reasons that are beyond anyone’s control. It’s a part of the job that never gets any easier, yet sometimes it’s a part of the job that brings about a kind of inner peace knowing that you have been able to help the horse and the suffering is over.

There are a number of scenarios where euthanasia becomes a very realistic outcome and the individual circumstances leading to this decision will change the way in which the owner accepts the decision and copes with the loss.

1)    Euthanasia due to a catastrophic injury or event. In these circumstances there is often not much time for the owner to think about the decision and euthanasia is the only choice available. Such is the case where the horse has sustained a massive fracture of a limb that is not amenable to surgical repair. Even though technology has improved immensely over the last few decades, some limb fractures are impossible to fix and so euthanasia is the only option if one is considering the welfare of the horse. Wounds where the long bones of the limb are shattered and through the skin have any extremely poor prognosis for repair due to the high risk of infection and low success rate in treating these infections. This is often hard because the owner has very little time to come to terms with the loss, however, the decision is not really theirs to make, as the horse is suffering and should not be left in pain for any longer than is absolutely necessary.

2)    Euthanasia due to old age or the progression of a debilitating disease that is incurable. This is often hard because the client can see the horse slowly declining in its health, and at some point the decision between living and living with a good quality of life has to be made. There is no one point in time where the quality of life switches from good to bad. More often, it is a gradual progression where the horse slows down more, or becomes too weak, can’t eat or remains recumbent for long periods of time. Each person will perceive the situation differently and therefore will come to a different conclusion as to when euthanasia is required.

Often owners are concerned that perhaps they will put the horse through too much suffering before they are able to make a decision to euthanise. Some owners are very quick to make a call on euthanising their horse, deciding to act before the horse shows any signs of discomfort or pain. I am often asked, “when should I have him or her put down?” My belief is that if you are in tune with your horse, you will know when the time has come. Sometimes in the situation where the horse goes down and can’t get up, the decision is made and this can upset some owners because they hadn’t made the decision to euthanise a day earlier.

Crystal balls are wonderful to have but not available to the mortal human, so predicting what is going to happen tomorrow is beyond the talents of most of us. I do believe that a decision to have six months of good quality life with one night of suffering is a better choice than euthanising too quickly and denying the horse months, if not years, of quality life for the fear that they may suffer for a short period of time. However, as I stated earlier, this decision is a very personal one and one that each individual has to make and live with themselves.

“There are often rehoming
options available if the
horse is healthy.”

3)    Euthanasia due to incompatibility with a quality of life. This is similar to the above two reasons for euthanasia but takes into account foals that are born with major birth defects such as no eyes or deformed limbs that would make life almost impossible to persist with. There are also incidences where an injury or an illness has rendered the horse a danger to itself or to people around it. Horses diagnosed with severe grades of “wobbler syndrome”, whilst healthy in themselves, are very ataxic and can readily stumble through fences or fall over and so are better euthanised than continuously hurting themselves through injury. Most owners when in this situation will see the option of euthanasia as being both logical and practical. They have less of an emotional issue as they have time to make the decision and there is usually no other option when the best interests of the horse are considered first.

4)    Euthanasia for financial reasons. Sometimes for reasons that are known only to the owner, a horse is euthanised due to financial constraints. This usually involves vets if it is a result of some medical procedure being required that the owners cannot afford to do and so euthanasia is chosen.

A typical scenario would be the middle-aged horse that requires colic surgery; with surgery the likelihood is the horse will survive, without surgery, death is imminent. Colic surgery is an expensive procedure and it would not be unexpected to receive a bill of $8000-$15,000 with a routine colic surgery. There are many people that simply can’t afford to spend this amount of money on their horse, regardless of how much they love them. In these circumstances the owner often has to deal with a lot of guilt as well as the grief of losing their animal because they cannot afford a procedure done.

It should be understood and respected by outsiders that sometimes the added financial strain of a procedure on a horse can be enough to push an individual or family over the edge. It is far better for the horse to be put to sleep humanely and quickly rather than left to struggle until it dies because veterinary attention cannot be afforded. For others, the option of euthanasia is considered because they no longer can afford to feed their horse or look after it. Hopefully this is not a situation that is common, as there are often rehoming options available if the horse is healthy and has a good temperament.

I believe that as long as we give our horse a good life whilst they are alive, and can make every reasonable attempt to find a solution if keeping them is no longer a financial option, euthanasia in this situation should not be frowned upon.

5)    Euthanasia due to temperament. Some horses are just not suitable for a life with humans. They may be particularly aggressive and pose a threat to people. Luckily this is a very, very small minority of horses, but as with any species, rogue individuals do exist and despite all the best love and attention they cannot be trusted not to cause injury or death to someone. Some of these horses will bide their time, watching and waiting until they get the opportunity to inflict an injury on a person they have taken a dislike too. It can be debated as to how these horses became so dangerous, whether it was human involvement initially or not, however, they get to a point where they are fixated on attacking and pose too much of a risk. For the small number of horses I have seen like this, I have very little remorse at advocating euthanasia as the most appropriate solution as I have not seen improvement in their behaviour, even with intense training and handling. It most instances, horses in this category are euthanised by an experienced firearms person, as close contact is not feasible.

“The majority of
the horses will slip into
a deep sleep.”

6)    Euthanasia due to neglect. Sadly, some horses are neglected and found too late to be saved. This is by far the hardest situation to cope with by all involved except the negligent owner. I have come across several people over my professional life who would rather have a horse euthanised than risk it being given away to someone who will not care for it. Whilst in my younger years as a vet I was horrified at that thought, having since seen a number of horses requiring euthanasia due to starvation after they have been “given away to a good home”, I do not view this attitude with as much disdain as I once did.

METHODS OF EUTHANASIA

There are two main ways that euthanasia is performed: 1) Lethal Injection or 2) Firearm. The method is affected by a number of factors, such as personal choice, environment, the reason for euthanasia and availability of drug or firearm at the time.

LETHAL INJECTION

This involves giving a relatively large injection of a barbiturate resulting in an overdose, which stops the horse’s respiration and heartbeat. I usually prefer to pre-medicate the horse with heavy sedation so that it is relaxed and does not try and fight the effects of the barbiturate. The majority of the horses will slip into a deep sleep and then, as the full effect of the barbiturate hits, they die peacefully. This procedure does take more time than shooting the horse, but once the horse is asleep it feels very little. The major disadvantage of this form of euthanasia is the disposal of the body. Horses that are given a lethal injection are poisonous to anything that eats the meat or blood and so must be disposed of carefully. In particular, care must be exercised in the immediate period between destruction and disposal of the body as owners are often distressed and go inside without covering the body, giving easy access to other animals. Dogs and cats do not need to eat much barbiturate-contaminated meat to be killed.

FIREARM

For many people, the idea of shooting their horse is aesthetically displeasing. There is a loud noise, the horse drops suddenly and there can be a lot of blood. In the correct hands, this method is very quick and the horse is dead instantaneously. It does require a person or veterinarian to hold a current firearm licence, and to have a gun or captive bolt readily available (in cases of emergency destruction). It cannot be performed in built-up areas or areas of tight confinement for human safety reasons. It has the advantage that the body can be disposed of in several ways, one of which although distasteful to discuss, is the removal of the body by a third party for pet food consumption. Using a gun to euthanise the horse is more commonly done in rural surroundings and is the only practical way of euthanising when the animal cannot be caught, is poorly handled or access to a vein is impossible.

DISPOSAL

Horses are large creatures and something has to be done with their body once they have been euthanised. Ideally for most, burial of the body would be the best option, however, some councils will not allow large animals to be buried on the property, so the legal position on this should be ascertained prior to the procedure being done. If they can be buried, then the vet can sometimes co-ordinate their visit (in non-emergency situations) with an earth mover so that the horse is euthanised at a similar time to the hole being dug, allowing the whole procedure (euthanasia and burial) to occur in a short period.

Unfortunately, there are cases where burial is just not practical and the body must be removed by a third party. This third person is usually a stock removalist and they have a number of options for how they can dispose of the body. Their charges and availability to remove the body will vary according to how they can dispose of the body. It is very important to disclose to the person removing the horse the method of euthanising, particularly if barbiturates have been used, as the consequences could be disastrous if the body is not handled correctly.

This has been a very sombre article to write, however, it is a topic that is very real and hopefully has given a better understanding to euthanasia. Our job as horse owners is to give them a good life — and part of that includes facilitating a good death. EQ

You might also like to read the following veterinary articles by Dr Maxine Brain:

How to Beat Heat StressEquestrian Life, January 2021

Medicinal Cannabis for HorsesEquestrian Life, December 2020

Foal Diarrhoea Part 2: Infectious DiarrhoeaEquestrian Life, November 2020

Foal Diarrhoea (Don’t Panic!)Equestrian Life, October 2020

Urticaria Calls For Detective WorkEquestrian Life, September 2020

Winter’s Scourge, The Foot AbscessEquestrian Life, August 2020

Core Strengthening & Balance ExercisesEquestrian Life, July 2020

The Principles of RehabilitationEquestrian Life, June 2020

When is Old, Too Old?Equestrian Life, May 2020

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