It was a huge relief to have this topic
discussed so directly. My colt has had panic attacks since birth,
despite my working with him just as I have all my other foals.
Now, as I face breaking him as a
2-year-old (my trainer attempted and returned him the next day), I've
been asking advice from horse professionals and veterinarians, but no
one seems to have encountered this issue in a horse. I've agonized about
euthanizing my colt (appropriately named Boo), but have wanted to give
him all possible opportunities as he is a highly intelligent, well-bred
AQHA reining prospect.
For anyone who has owned a horse like
this and has tried to work with them, the decision to euthanize is a
viable, responsible, humane one. There is little doubt in my mind that
the majority of these animals cannot make useful contributions to the
equine community and that they are a constant potential risk to
themselves and the humans that interact with them.
Many of the people in my community are
talking about the article "Unpredictable Fear" in the August
2001 issue of The Horse. There are so many training methods to
help horses overcome behavioral problems, build confidence, and even
teach a horse to "spook in place." I guess that's why I don't
understand how euthanasia might be the answer for this mare since
sacking out isn't. I agree that sacking out this mare might not be an
option, but that doesn't mean there isn't another alternative. You can
safely begin to re-train the mare on the ground where you aren't going
to get hurt. You can start to build trust and confidence there for both
you and the horse with the right program.
I live in an area where a lot of people
have horses and don't know the first thing about them. There's only a
handful of knowledgeable horse owners here; even fewer understand horse
behavior. They come to me often, but I rarely lend advice as they don't
really want to do what I would tell them anyway. They have already made
up their minds or will keep asking until someone gives an easy solution.
They lack experience and tend to take words from people--especially
I will let them know this topic will be
discussed again. Your further explanation (below) puts the article in a
Third-Year Competitor in Reining with the FRHA and NRHA; Level 2,
Parelli Natural Horsemanship Student
Thank you for your feedback. It will
help us do better in the future.
First, let me sincerely apologize for
upsetting you. I obviously did a poor job communicating some of my
points in the article. I actually agree with almost everything you said
in your initial message to me (some of which is printed above).
You're right that there are many good
behavior techniques and many people with an extraordinary ability to
help most behavior problem horses, and if your friends read the article
again, I hope they will appreciate that there were no direct
recommendations about the reader's mare, but only about my own
experiences with what I understood to be similar cases that everyone had
given up on. I felt a deep sense of empathy for her concern and
You are right that no one with so little
information should ever recommend euthanasia for a specific horse. I
meant only to comment on the question raised in the reader's inquiry,
and shared what I thought were similar difficult considerations. I
should have been more clear and direct that we should always exhaust all
medical examinations possible and affordable to rule out a fixable
I agree with you fully that many horse
behavior problems are man-made, and most of those can be fixed with good
horsemanship, time, and any number of popular techniques. I also agree
that it is our responsibility to fix those man-made behavior problems
whenever possible. I understood the writer of the question to say that
considerable effort had already been made over a long period of time.
My colleagues and I have been involved
with horses which people were ready to give up on, and have seen many
successful outcomes. But every once in awhile, to save suffering of an
animal for which the best of veterinary medicine and the best of
horsemanship, partnership, or whatever technique could not fix, and for
the safety of those involved or innocent bystanders, we have taken the
responsibility for euthanasia.
Our clinic is a referral university
veterinary hospital where we consult and/or take care of hundreds of
horse behavior cases a year, even adopt some and pay personally or out
of teaching budgets for further testing and therapy/re-training. We
sometimes do find physical causes--causes that no amount of behavior
therapy or any method could have fixed. Some poor horses had been
everywhere, to the best of the best, with a series of owners who had
spent a bundle in emotion and money, and still could not find the cause
or fix the episodes. Some end up at auctions or rescue organizations,
and then get sent off to unsuspecting new owners who get hurt trying to
Post mortem, sometimes a serious brain
tumor or other nervous system problem is found. It was undiagnosable in
the living animal. Unfortunately, veterinarians don't yet have the tools
to better diagnose these horses before euthanasia, or at least rule out
serious central nervous system disorders.
Like you say, there are a few people who
want or need to give up before you or I would, but in our practice at
the university, we meet mostly very caring, thoughtful people who are
struggling with decisions. They are trying to balance issues of
responsible ownership, safety, and humane care, and they are hoping
beyond hope for a diagnosis and solution to keep the horse alive.
Thanks again for your comments.