Both within this forum, and in the 'real world', we so often see horses enduring long, painful treatments or ailments, because the owner just cannot let go.
For the last 18 months, I have been fighting with the process of hock fusion, which, although not terribly painful for the horse, they are unsound to work for quite some time, and often need to be on courses of bute when the hock swells.
For 18 months, I said that if I thought Hugo's quality of life would be affected, I would put him to sleep. On a number of occasions, I called my vet, asked him to come and look and if he thought putting him to sleep was the best option, then I would agree to that.
Recently, Hugo managed to hyperextend his front leg in the paddock, and tore his suspensory ligament.
From this moment, there was a very pressing thought in my mind that putting him to sleep would be the best thing. I tried for 2 weeks, keeping him stabled, poulticed, bandaged and so on. There was a significant improvement, until I found him one day in the stable, with a bowed tendon.
Now, for these injuries, I could have opted for stem cell treatment, shock wave treatment, putting him in a full leg cast for 8 weeks etc. And maybe, he would have been able to walk on the leg at the end of it.
But was the treatment worth it? Would it be fair to make a horse, that is so used to being able to move freely around a paddock with other horses, stand in a tiny stable with no equine company, for months on end? Would it be fair to make that horse, also have to withstand constant pain, discomfort and stress, in the hope that maybe, just maybe... he might walk again? Even if that hope was quite far fetched?
Would it be fair, to expect the horse to then go through painful side effects in his other limbs, such as rotating pedal bones, and arthritic changes in major joints... because maybe, just maybe, he will walk again?
The same scenario applies to severe colic, long term illnesses and so on.
Is it REALLY fair, to expect an animal, that's lives only for today, to go through so much pain and stress, because you as the owner, can't bring yourself to let go?
I feel guilty that I didn't put Hugo to sleep as soon as he did his suspensory. He was never going to make a full recovery, and his legs were so worn out from his huge amount of time on the track, that even if the ligament did repair, I'm sure another problem would have emerged shortly thereafter. But that ugly, selfish human emotion that cannot let go of people or animals that we love, reared its head and I couldn't bring myself to do it when maybe.... just maybe, he could have recovered.
Now that he is gone, a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I no longer feel riddled with guilt. He went peacefully, I opted to have him sedated heavily, and then given the 'green dream' by his regular vet. He was then buried beside my friend's young mare, that was put to sleep under similar circumstances.
I can feel at peace with my decision, knowing that he is no longer in any pain. He had no idea what was happening, there was no stress involved what so ever. He left us, surrounded by people that loved him, and passed with his head in my father's arms.
Even though it hurts terribly, and I miss him dearly, I am glad it is done. I can feel glad that I let him go before he was in too much pain and began to suffer. He was still happy and bright, and eating well.
Why wait until a horse is in agony, when it can't stand but has been trying to tell you to let it go for weeks on end? The horse does not think about tomorrow, next week or next year, when it might be better. It only knows, now. Is it fair to make the horse's 'now', full of pain and stress, when there is not a great chance of recovery in the end?
I suppose you could call this all a bit of a ramble, and really, it is. My head is still swirling, I've been crying for hours and I miss my special Hugo terribly. But the knowledge that I did the right thing, is getting me through.
Maybe others in the same situation can learn from what I, and many others, have had to do, and decide to this time, put their horse's needs before their own, no matter how badly it hurts.