When is it time to say goodbye?

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We dream of a day when humans take responsibility for their actions and realize that horses are a privilege and not a right.” Author unknown.


Euthanized. Put down. Put to sleep. Gone over the rainbow bridge. No matter what words you use it all amounts to the same thing. Death.  On the morning of August 30, 2013 my beautiful horse Tommie lay dead on the floor of the indoor arena and I was the one who had made the decision that put him there.  How on earth had it come to this?

Let me start at the beginning. In January, 2008 I arrived in Florida full of excitement. I had a new horse,a wonderful seven year old Dutch Warmblood named Tommie. He was a laid back kind of guy and a good size for me.  He was, in fact, perfect for me.  We started our journey at USDF first level. Neither Tommie nor I had done anything remotely advanced before. It was an interesting journey with many times when we would take two steps forward and one step back. I think this is typical for a horse and rider both learning together.

Over the next six years we climbed up the levels and in March of 2013 we went down the centerline in Wellington, Florida for our first Prix St. George.  What a thrill!  And we placed in the class!  This was the fulfillment of a long held dream of mine and Tommie was my partner in making it a reality.  Just before we headed home, in April 2013, I noticed Tommie was looking a bit pudgy and his neck a bit cresty. He had always had a big neck so this did not immediately set off any alarm bells. I thought he would lose some weight on the thirty hour trip home so I did not worry about it. However when we got home and he had settled in to his routines I found he still was looking pudgy. My vet and I decided to do a fasting endocrine blood panel.  The result…he was hypothyroid.  No worries. There was a medication that was successfully used to treat this condition and I had several friends who had horses that had been treated and responded well.  A few weeks later Tommie had a minor injury to his left hind fetlock. I gave him some time off, he recovered quickly and we were back to our summer routine of lots of hacking, days off and some dressage work in between.  After six weeks on the thyroid medication we had the blood work repeated. Only a very small improvement so we increased the dosage of the thyroid medication. I was still optimistic. Then he colicked.

What horse owner does not dread that late night trip to the equine hospital with a horse that is colicking? All the blood work, rectal exams, ultrasounds showed nothing major. Everything in his intestinal system was working. So what was wrong? A gastric scope revealed the answer. Ulcers and gastritis.  How could this be? He had been on the gold standard ulcer medication for over two years. He had developed a resistance to the medication I was told. He could be put on another medication for six weeks to “reboot” his system and then back onto the gold standard meds. My vet and I examined his routines. He was given his hay in a nibble net to give him something to be nibbling on most of the time, his grain feeds were changed to only fat and fibre and he was already on a four small feeds a day routine. My vet and I consulted with experts at the Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. We were doing everything we could. Tommie improved and we all relaxed.

Then came the next round of blood work for the hypothyroidism.  This time the results were worse, despite the increased dosage.  What was going on? We increased the dosage again and tried to remain optimistic. Then Tommie seemed to have another minor injury this time to his stifle.  We had to put him on a very small dosage of anti-inflammatory medication.  In two days he colicked again. As I walked him in the arena I talked to my vet on the phone. This had all the earmarks of another ulcer colic. We could not give him any medication to help with the colic as it would just make the ulcer situation worse. “Do you think something is trying to tell us something?” I asked. “Yes, I think it is, “he answered.

At this point I had to accept the fact that I was not going to ship Tommie for a thirty hour trip to Florida and have him in a full training program and be competing over the winter. I knew the priority was to try to get him stabilized and give him the winter off and hope that in the spring he might be better. I began to have a sense that there was a cascade effect taking place with Tommie and my only hope was that somehow we could get it to stop. A day after the colic episode I was in his stall about to pick out his left front foot. Suddenly he wrapped his head and neck around me. Tommie has never been a particularly cuddly horse so this was a first. He wrapped his head and neck around my waist and just stayed there. I put my arm round his neck and we held each other for a few moments. Over the winter of 2012 -2013 Tommie had really become my therapist as my daughter had been very seriously ill and I would talk, out loud, to Tommie about everything that was happening. It was a very stressful time and Tommie listened to all my tales of woe. When he gave me this hug I felt he was thanking me for taking him into my confidence. I didn’t know it at the time but I think now he may have been saying goodbye.

A couple of days later things took a dramatic turn for the worse. Despite the hypothyroid problem he had never shown any signs of laminitis, no heat in the hooves, no sensitivity but now the barn staff told me that he appeared very lame on his right front. I went out to the paddock and he greeted me with a high pitched whinny. This was not like Tommie. A nicker might have been his usual greeting. I knew something was very wrong. When I called my vet he said we had to start a laminitis protocol immediately. The next day he came to x-ray Tommie.  I waited outside while he took the x-rays. When he came out of the barn I could tell by his face it was bad news. “He’s foundered,” he said.  He took me in to show me the x-ray images on his computer. I could tell it was bad; eight degrees of rotation on the left and almost 12 on the right.

My vet and I sat in the tack room and talked about what could be done. But in my heart I knew nothing could be done. I had a horse that had foundered and would be in increasing pain and with his gastric situation we could not give him any medication to kill the pain. I was between a rock and a hard place and I knew the only answer was that I had to let him go. My vet gave me information on corrective shoeing and the slim possibilities of correcting the rotation. He also told me that should I choose to euthanize my insurance company would most likely not pay out unless I waited five more days and took a second set of x-rays. If they showed more rotation they might consider a claim but if there was no more rotation they would ask for corrective shoeing. I could hear everything he was saying but the words flew over my head. I was going to have to make the decision to end my horse’s life. How could I wait for five more days when he was already in real pain? How could I contemplate a year of corrective shoeing done every three to four weeks on a horse who could not take any painkillers?  I am lucky that I owned Tommie outright. I did not have to consult with a syndicate to see if they would let him go in peace and not get the insurance money. I alone could make the decision. I could do what I felt was right for my horse. I could let him go.

I spoke to the insurance claims adjuster and my vet had been right. They would not pay out if I choose euthanasia now. They wanted to wait the five days for a second set of x-rays. While this may appear heartless I reminded myself that insurance is a business, it is not a charity. The claims adjuster was very sympathetic but she had to follow the rules.  I told her I was going ahead with euthanasia. I would not see my horse suffer. I owed him that.

The next day the barn was closed and my vet came first thing in the morning. I was supported by my husband and my daughter. I spent time in the stall with Tommie giving him a final grooming. His coat was so beautiful and shiny. How could he look this good and be so ill? Then I looked at his stance. Front feet out in front of him and he was shifting the weight from one leg to the other. I took him out for grass to wait till my vet was ready in the arena. The walk across the gravel to the indoor arena was painful for him. I knew in my heart I was doing the right thing. But inside my head a voice was screaming.  “My horse, my horse, how can the fates take my Tommie from me, this is not fair, NOT FAIR!”

My vet explained exactly how everything would go.The moment Tommie fell to the ground I knew his spirit had flown away and he was free. After my vet had made the final checks he stepped away and quietly left the arena. I knelt down and put my hand on him. Later my husband told me he could hear me sobbing from outside the arena. I do not remember that. I only remember the feeling that I had a huge gaping hole in my heart. Tommie had gone on over that rainbow bridge and left me behind.

I know there will be people who read this who will think I should have tried other medications or alternative remedies. I can only say to them that perhaps I could have. But in my heart I knew that, although he was only thirteen years old and in his prime, his time had come. He knew it and I knew it and it was my responsibility as his owner to spare him suffering.

We dream of a day when humans take responsibility for their actions and realize that horses are a privilege and not a right.”


Leueen and Tommie . Prix St. George . Global Dressage Festival 2013

This post originally appeared in Horse Hero and also Barnmice.








15 responses to “When is it time to say goodbye?”

  1. docummins Avatar

    Anne – I hurt as I read about Tommie. You are right. You did the loving, right thing to do; however, the Immediate response is doubt. What would I do without Tommie (Dakota in my case)? Yes, after 6 years I still hurt and cry. I feel it was somerhing I did or didn’t do. I’ve carried that guilt with me for so long. I need to let it go.

    I am sorry that Tommie had problems, but thankful that he had a mom (mum) like you to hear his cries and know what to do. I like you did not get reimbursed from my insurance company because I knew his colic was to the point that he would not make it to his vet (1 1/2 hr trip to Tryon). And because of the distance, he would want to lie down. I couldn’t put him thru that. I , too had to so good-bye in his prime of 13 years. I am truly sorry for your lose.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      And I am sorry for your loss as well.


  2. Tonia Avatar

    Bless you for listening to your horse. They tell us what they need, if we listen. My heart hurts reading this post and I am so sorry for your loss, but I’m also deeply inspired by your true friendship to your equine partner and the selfless way you handled this hard situation. What a lucky guy that he ended up in your hands. In the wrong hands could have had to endure many years of pain and discomfort.

    A dear friend of mine had to euthanize her beloved Friesian stallion a few years ago…he was also in the prime of his life and had only scratched the surface of his full potential when he colicked, seemingly out of nowhere. He was scoped and they found massive bloody ulcers. Friesians are typically very stoic and laid back by nature so no one knew he had been living in pain until he finally colicked as a result.

    My friend and our wonderful vet did everything they could for him for several days hoping he would pull through. She even made arrangements to take him 4 hours away to the best available vet clinic in the region. On the day they were to leave, she asked me to take him for a walk around the farm before she loaded him in the trailer. I did, walking him (slowly, as he was weak) past all the different pastures and horses. My friend bred him here, so this was the only home he’d ever known. As we walked, this normally quiet and stoic horse began whinnying loudly to every horse we passed. They whinnied back, many coming up to the fence lines to greet him. By the time we’d made it back to the trailer and my friend, I was crying. “You need to come hold your horse,” I said to my friend. “He’s saying his goodbyes.”

    One look at his eyes and she knew he was asking to be allowed to go. There was so much pain and yet so much clarity there. She immediately called the vet over and they took him into his pasture and gave him the shot.

    I can’t tell you what a presence at our barn he was, that big black stallion. It has never been the same farm without him there. He was gentle enough for kids to handle him, and oh-so spectacular under saddle. I miss him, and I’m heartbroken for my friend, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she did right by him.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Bless you for sharing this beautiful story. Yes he was saying his farewell to the others. It brought tears to my eyes and then I read your comment aloud to my husband and at the end he was tearing up as well. Your friend did the right thing and that black beauty will remember her for that.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. lessonsofanewrider Avatar

    I found myself getting teary eyed and somewhat emotional while reading this. I can’t relate on a horse-owner’s level, but I can relate to the fact that I fell in love with two horses (one of which I was making plans to buy) and both had to be put down exactly 1 year of each other.
    At the end of the day, any horse-owner who loves their horse to the moon and back will do anything for their horse, including choosing euthanasia. How hard it is to put a beloved animal down, at least you know in your heart of hearts that Tommie is no longer in any pain. ❤
    Thank you for sharing your story! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      I’m sorry to hear you also had a connection to horses that had to be euthanized. It is heartbreaking but it is good that they do not have to suffer. My vet has told me that he has seen horses ( usually race horses) that are suffering but the syndicate that owns them wants to see it go as long as possible so they can be sure to make an insurance claim. Fortunately I did not have to do that with Tommie. Thanks for your comment and all the best with your riding.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. If it is summer, there must be Horse Shows! – HorseAddict Avatar

    […] I was very touched by the kindness of these friends. As I looked at the marker yesterday I felt a large lump in my throat.  He was a wonderful little fellow my Tommie. To read more about him take a look at “When is it time to say goodbye?” […]


  5. youngeventhorseblog Avatar

    This post is devestating and one I can empathise with all too well.

    My horse Snitty was the same, not overly cuddle or affectionate, but when he foundered due to mechanical overloading the way he called to me in the paddock still haunts my dreams.

    There are far more things worse then death, I wish people understood that.

    Big hugs xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Thank you for your sympathy and understanding. It broke my heart to loose Tommie but I was so grateful that I owned him outright and could make the decision to put him out of his pain. So sorry to hear about your experience. It is heartbreaking to loose them but as the saying goes better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Elizabeth (HorseLover4Ever) Avatar
    Elizabeth (HorseLover4Ever)

    Very touching… 🙂 But also sad… 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  7. shelie27 Avatar

    Touching, post. I cried a few times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Thank you. I remember crying a lot when I wrote it. The memory of Tommie still tugs at my heart.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. shelie27 Avatar

        I thought to myself, you were probably, crying.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. What’s God got to do with it? – HorseAddict Avatar

    […] Moving on from that, I had a very nice gelding who injured his back in a paddock moment of frivolity. Nothing rare or unusual there. I later sold him as it was clear he was not cut out confirmation wise for the higher levels.  That was when I got my Dutch gelding Tommie.  I had him for six wonderful years and we went up from first level to the Prix St. George together. Along the way, he developed ulcers and had to remain on ulcer medication. Then came a thyroid problem that did not respond to the usual medication. Then resistance to the ulcer medication. We tried everything. Veterinary opinion was that this was “unusual” and “difficult”. Then he foundered.  I would not put him through any more and had to say good bye to him.  For the whole story on Tommie please see: “When is it time to say goodbye?” […]

    Liked by 1 person

  9. liascott Avatar

    We cannot explain to them what is happening, or what the options are, and give them the final choice … I have often wished that we could. But I always look at the potential outcome, relative to the effort it would require … I agree that many would judge you, but in my eyes you made the only right decision for you and Tommie. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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