Back in 2022 during a routine tooth inspection, Lord Ben, my veteran ex-racer, was diagnosed with EOTRH, and I knew it was a time bomb on Ben being able to keep eating. With regular dental and pain management, Ben spent nearly two years living life to the full and retired in April 2023 due to his increasing blindness.

He was so happy and relaxed during his retirement, and I was so happy to be able to give this horse the downtime he so deserved at 19 years old, following a successful 12-year race career and taking me to BD Novice level in his retraining. In the autumn of 2023, we noticed his teeth were deteriorating and he was no longer able to eat treats like carrots and hay. I was monitoring the situation vigorously until I thought there was no longer any quality of life, because what I owed him after a lifetime of service for our enjoyment was an enjoyable retirement and not a moment of pain or suffering.

Horse

It struck me that I didn’t really know how to say goodbye. I was riddled with guilt and doubt if I would know when the time was right. Would I be selfish and drag out the situation? There was the social pressure of taking hair, keeping ashes and his last pair of shoes, and I felt so overwhelmed with emotion. Then I realised: this was a privilege! This wasn’t an emergency situation, this wasn’t a horrible injury or the dreaded colic, this wasn’t the middle of the night, this wasn’t stressed and panicked, this was as good as any goodbye was ever going to get, and after 29 years of horses I know how rare the privilege was!

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed Ben was struggling to eat the hay/haylage. Luckily, he has a love of the Spillers Senior Mash, and as a fully balanced diet this was the perfect replacement, but I knew that not being able to eat with his herd meant it was time. I was able to pick a lovely sunny day for him to enjoy his rug off, the sun on his back, and nice groom and a cuddle (he was the best for cuddles and they are the thing I will miss the most) and as much mash as he could physically eat. 

In these final moments, I am reminded of the privilege I have. The most effective goodbye you can provide your horse is a lifetime commitment, the best care and the most love you can give. And if you do that, when that dreaded day inevitably arrives, you’ve already said the best goodbye.

Brown horse

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