“Grief is any distressing emotion or behavior that arises out of a change,” according to Sandy Heath, certified grief recovery counselor in San Diego, California.
Horses love consistency and routine and may react strongly when that is upset for any reason. Separation from a loved one or a lifestyle change can create irreconcilable feelings of insecurity and unfamiliarity.
Grief in horses can appear as depression, anger, anxiety, impatience, or any multitude of behaviors. Of course, this is normal for any loss or change but if the horse has not gotten better within a given period of time, then attitude and behavior can be affected with long-term negative consequences.
A wonderful Quarter Horse mare came to us as a rescue. We got her sound and loved her dearly for many years. She babysat my six-year-old son and was smooth as silk with him in the corral or on the trail.
While playing in the pasture, she tore all the ligaments and tendons away from her knee tripping in a gopher hole. The vet said she had a 50/50 chance. We did everything we could for her for the next 18 months. I had made a promise that I was never going to give up on her, until I saw what would change my mind. She was playing in the pasture with our other horses when she pulled herself out of the game, went behind a tree and hung her head in pain. I knew then that her quality of life would force the worse decision any horse owner will ever have to make.
Euthanasia in Greek means “good death” and I have come to believe it is an inherent responsibility that follows domestication. I have learned that it is never the perfect answer, that there is never a good time, and that I’ve never been 100% certain in any of the 11 times that I have had to make the decision. I have rescued so many horses in my lifetime and been incredibly successful re-habilitating them and placing them in good homes, but the reality is that not all are going to make it.
I did not let Pony and our Clydesdale-Thoroughbred, Bubba, say “good-bye” to their stable mate when she left. I thought I was doing the right thing but Bubba told me different - he was immediately angry and agitated, and he bucked me off every time I rode him for the next three weeks. I wanted him to go through the grieving process in his own time, but he was stuck - and I was on the ground way too much - so I intervened.
I gave him Gentian flower essence, which is for matters of the heart. He also received Gorse for hope and his loss of trust. The world had changed and was no longer in its proper order. Rock Rose is a good essence for this behavior, addressing panic and uncertainty, giving the horse a chance to quiet down and accept the new situation.