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4 Survival Tactics to Cope with Horse Loss and Grief

losing your horse

Note: This article was originally published on our sister site Love & Let Go.

How to heal from one of life’s great losses

You may have seen an article making the rounds on social media titled Losing a pet can be just as hard as losing a loved one by the editor of PsychCentral.com. I wonder if your reaction was similar to mine.

I thought, “Of course, losing a pet IS losing a loved one. Tell me something I don’t know!”

In this article, we’ll discuss 4 ways to survive horse loss: 

  1. Write a eulogy
  2. Do something you haven’t been able to do lately
  3. Surround yourself with animal love
  4. Become a horse foster parent

Great Love, Great Loss

As I imagine most of you have, I’ve experienced loss firsthand—both the loss of human and animal loved ones. I can unequivocally agree that the losses feel very similar. Our animal companions fill so many roles in our lives that it’s no wonder their loss often feels like losing several human loved ones.

My animals have been my children, my best friends, my protectors, my emotional caretakers, and some of my best confidants.

Losing a pet of any kind, regardless of how many others still remain, can leave you feeling lonely, bereft, and unprotected.

Worse yet, given that we are almost always destined to outlive our horses, the aging process, end-of-life decisions, and ultimate loss of our animals can result in exhaustion, doubt, and guilt.

The question is not whether the loss of a horse is difficult, but how to process that loss and move forward.

What can we do that will allow us to grieve and carry on living? In the first few hours after losing your beloved equine companion, you may not see a way that this is possible, but it always is. Always.

We all must grieve and heal in our own ways. As a clinical psychologist, and someone who has lost 5 pets in the last 6 years, I’ve put together four healthy ways to grieve, while also moving forward.

How to cope with pet loss

1. Write a Eulogy

When we lose human loved ones, we often find great comfort in hearing a eulogy given at a memorial service, or reading one that’s printed in the paper or online.

Putting the story of a person’s life into words helps honor their legacy and provide closure to their loved ones. Your cherished horse deserves nothing less.

Perhaps this eulogy is only for you, or perhaps you share it with family or on social media.

Regardless of the audience (or absence thereof), take some time to write down the story–and impact—of your loved one.

How did your horse come into your life? What was she like when she was young? Did he like you straight off or did you have to win him over? What were his quirks? What made her unique? What was his favorite treat or activity? What nicknames did you have for her?

During the writing process, you’ll find yourself remembering things about your animal friend that you may have forgotten. You will laugh and you will cry—and both of these emotions are healthy as you mourn.

2. Do something you haven’t been able to do lately

Regardless of whether your horse lived to be elderly, or you lost him tragically young, he fundamentally changed your life in any number of ways.

The vast majority of those changes were wonderful, but if we are being honest, there are parts of horse ownership that can become a hardship.

While you recover from your loss, acknowledge those things you have not been able to do and make a conscious effort to embrace them once again.

After we lost one of our dogs, Alex, we loaded ourselves and our other dog, Simon, into the car and went on a weekend-long road trip.

road trip girl

Do something just for YOU (Source: Pixabay)

Alex had been suffering from a degenerative spinal disease for over a year and could no longer travel. As a result, we had all stuck close to home. For my husband and me, as well as Simon, it was a much needed return to an old favorite activity.

We missed Alex deeply, but we also needed to get back something we had sacrificed the previous year. It can be as simple as sleeping-in late, buying the new couch you’d been putting off, or going out for a nice dinner and a movie.

Think of something you had sacrificed to care for your horse and treat yourself.

3. Surround yourself with animal love

Upon losing a pet, many people avoid other animals for some period of time. If you need to do so, that’s OK. Consider, though, whether doing the opposite would actually be healthier.

Obviously, you will find no other horse that will ever replace your loved one. If you have had an animal companion, however, it’s likely that you’re an animal lover.

At this time, perhaps more than any other, it is important to embrace that love for animals.

Go to a dog park and enjoy being surrounded by the joyfulness of dogs at play. Or maybe visit a “Cat Café” in your local area. Visit a local horse show and simply watch from the stands.

Let your love of animals bring you solace.

Do not necessarily do this with an eye to bringing another horse into your life right away, but with the goal of letting these beautiful souls help you heal.

4. Consider becoming a pet foster “parent”

My mom lost her 12-year-old dog recently. They were inseparable, and she swore unequivocally that he would be the only dog she will ever have.

In the last few months, though, she’s begun warming up to the idea of fostering dogs from her local Humane Society. Even just considering it has brought some joy back to her face.

The idea of committing to a deep and personal relationship with another horse may feel uncomfortable and scary after a loss. But that’s not the only way to have animals in your life.

Often the thing that helps us step out of our pain is to help relieve pain we see in others.

There are countless horses in the world that need love and shelter to help them heal. Perhaps you can help heal together. What better tribute to your horse than to foster another and help it find its forever home?

Happier Days Are Ahead

The French philosopher Albert Camus said, “Happiness, too, is inevitable.” For our purposes, I would amend his sentiment to say “A return to happiness, too, is inevitable.”

Remember, your animal companion deserves your sorrow. Your loss is deeply personal and your grief completely valid. Acknowledge and accept your feelings. There are any number of things (including those mentioned above) that you can do to help move through your grief.

The most important thing is that you keep moving forward, no matter how slowly.

I have walked this road before. I promise you won’t feel this way forever.

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About the author


Angie is a freelance writer and unabashed animal lover who lives in New Mexico with her husband and their German Shepherd, Gustavo. She holds a masters degree in Clinical Psychology and spent a significant portion of her psychotherapy career working with adjudicated adolescents. The two passions of her life combine with great success when she introduced her first puppy, Simon, to her clients. His success with those clients as a therapy dog far outpaced hers as the therapist.