For most of us, our horses are more than just "horses". They're friends,
pals, companions, pets. Every time we saddle our favorite mount for a day's enjoyment we
become more attached to the horse. Very few of us can maintain a horse for weeks and
months on end without becoming emotionally attached. Even trainers, teachers and breeders
whose business it is to work with horses every day and are among the first to counsel,
"horses aren't pets, they should not be treated or considered one", will also
admit that they've had a favorite horse that they hated to part with at one time or
For some of us, the
parting of an equine friend is only through death. We seldom think about that death as the
horse is brushed and groomed. We fail to notice the gradual ticking of time as the horse
beings to gray, the areas over the eyes begin to sink, the back sways and he begins to
"slow down". And when we do think of death, we mentally push it aside very
quickly as if by avoiding the thought -- we will never be faced with it.
But the matter of death is one that everyone
must face. As with humans, the better prepared one is the easier the trauma of death will
be. It will not eliminate the emotional stress and tears but having a plan will help when
that day does arrive!
Whether the death is natural or humane makes
no difference. The question of how to remove and dispose of the body must be decided.
Ideally one would like to be able to bury a
deceased equine friend in a corner of his favorite pasture. By the tree under which he
used to stand in the afternoon sun and spring rains. Or by that favorite trail that you
both used to ride so often. Or just beyond the large rocks where the trail widens into a
meadow where you used to sit for lunch while your friend stood quietly by -- waiting just
for you. But what we would like and what the law allows can be very difficult, impossible
to achieve and heart wrenching.
Most horse owners board horses in public
stables. So the thought of a burial in pasture may be impossible unless the owner's
permission is obtained. And then it may not even be permissible with the private land
For pasture burial, a backhoe and operator
have to dig the grave. Depending on the site, costs can run from from $250 up. Plus just
getting the horse to the grave can be difficult especially if the horse is injured, too
sick to walk or already deceased.
In addition to pasture burial, a lot of
counties and cities won't allow it. Local health departments can frown on pasture burials
so to be on the safe side, contact them before a grave is dug. The health department can
require you to exhume a buried horse and remove the carcass from the premises. Their
primary concerns are ground water contamination, whether the carcass is buried deep enough
to prevent the possible spread of air-borne diseases, unpleasant odors and flies. Flies
and odors are especially important if the animal is to be buried close to a housing
development. People often move to the country for its atmosphere but when that atmosphere
includes flies and possible odors, they can have a complete change of heart!
The quickest and easiest way to dispose of a
horse is by contacting a livestock hauler. (They can be found in the yellow pages of the
phone book). Or call a tallow plant -- there's one in San Jose, CA (see BAEN's business listings). They can tell you how to dispose
of the carcass. Some will only take live animals. Others will take deceased animals if
notified in a certain time span.
Landfills, dumps or garbage sites will not
take dead animals over a certain weight -- usually only dog or cat size. and 90% of those
in California will not take any deceased animal because of ground water contamination.
Landfills, dumps or garbage sites are "not designed to bury dead animals in. They
accept only household trash", one official stated.
For some owners, the though of burial
includes a funeral. There are animal cemeteries that will accept horses for burial. And
then arrange the funeral complete with casket, graveside services and ground burial. The
price can range from a few hundred up into the thousands of dollars but if the animal is
cremated, a niche for an urn will run about $200 and up.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals in Oakland will bury a horse provided it has been cremated. The Memorial Gardens
and Columbarium both include equine remains along with Charlie-O, the Oakland A's famous
mascot mule of the 1970's. Finding a cremation site is the hitch. The University of
California at Davis may cremate with the ashes returned in an urn (Editor's note: When
we contacted US Davis at the time of publishing this article, we were told that they do
not perform cremations. See notes below for contact info. for
businesses that do perform equine cremation).
If one wants to remain with the horse
"through time and eternity", a human can be cremated and then the ashes buried
with the animal. Human cemeteries will not accept animal remains unless placed in the
owner's casket at time of death. But a person can be cremated and buried with an animal in
most pet cemeteries.
The Warm Springs Pet Memorial Cemetery in
Fremont which opened in December 1972 has equine burials in what is referred to as the
Garden of Noah along with three human ashes in urns placed in pet burial sites. Although
there are no grave or headstones for the equine they are "remembered" on a large
Wall of Remembrance which includes history, picture and dates of foaling and death. (Warm
Springs Pet Memorial Cemetery is now full and a call to Information did not turn up a
phone number for them. Bonnie uses them in this article as an example of how some pet
cemeteries may handle equine remains).
For information on how to dispose of a horse
who has died on public lands, such as a federal or state park, click
One of the most difficult decisions a horse
owner has to make concerns the old or sick horse that has to be put down. I know, I had to
make the decision with SAM (see Horsetalk Archives).
If the horse dies on his own, nature has taken its course. The horse and Mother Nature
made the decision. But when the human owner must be the one to make the decision between
life and death, it has to be a decision made only in the best interests of the horse and
not for the convenience of the owner's feelings. The decision can be made a lot easier if
one always remembers the well being of the horse -- comfort, quality of life and even
A horse in his own mind has no thought of the
future. Tomorrow is something a horse does not plan for. He only knows the present -- now.
The pain. The suffering. The difficulty moving. The impossible tasks of lying down and
The human owner tends to attach memories,
feelings, emotions, love and even guilt to that decision of life or death. But all those
memories, feelings, emotions and love have to be pushed back and the horse looked at
logically. Clinically. With his well being as the first priority.
Sad as it is and even though we don't want to
think about it, death will be at the barn door. But if one prepares for that day it will
be a lot easier. It will not be any less emotional. But it will be less stressful. And
there will be no guilt. Especially if one remembers that the final decision was based on
the HORSE'S well being and is made for the horse's future. Not for the owner. But for the
HORSE. Hold fast to the thought that the future is for an equine friend who would ask no
less from you, his owner, than compassion and a freeing from pain and suffering...
cremation and burial
Cemetery and Crematory for Pet Animals
1905 Hillside Blvd., Colma, Ca 94014
Pets Rest offers pick-up service; charges are
based on the distance traveled. At the time of publication of this article, cremation for
a horse was quoted at $1000, not including pick-up. There is an additional fee to witness
the cremation. Other services include lawn burials, urns, markers, and monuments. Visit
their web site for more information. A print brochure is also available.
San Jose Tallow
According to a BAEN
visitor who has used their services, San Jose Tallow will pick up the horse's body,
transport it to their facility, cremate the horse and return its ashes to the owner in a
hand-made oak box measuring 1'x1'x1', at a cost of $800.
San Jose, CA
Eagles Nest Pet Cemetery
Eagles Nest offers horse cremation and
interment of cremated remains. At the time of publication of this article, we had not
received information from them regarding pick-up, pricing, or other burial services.
The SPCA's crematorium was remodeled a number
of years ago and is no longer large enough to handle equines. However, a columbarium is
available for your horse's cremated remains. Call for pricing and information.
Bubbling Wells does not perform equine
cremation, but can provide you with a burial plot for your horse's cremated remains. Call
for pricing and information.
Pementel (large and small stock, removal only)
for other businesses offering dead stock removal services, or ask your vet for a
recommendation. If you know of other removal or cremation/burial providers in northern
California, please send us the details so we can add them to our directory.
of a deceased horse on public lands
If a horse drops dead on a trail
in a highly populated area, your only choice is to contact the agency in charge of that
trail, usually park staff. Explain the situation to them and they will often haul the
carcass off. Some parks will take it to an area for burial, others will call a stock
hauler to remove the body but regardless of how it's done, it will cost you money for
removal, hauling and burial.
If a horse dies on National
Forest lands, one has to contact the local ranger office. It used to be that any large
animal including horses were simply stripped of their tack and left where they went down
for Mother Nature to take its course. If the carcass was close to a campground, picnic
area or trial head, the carcass would be moved back into the forest. But now the disposal
of the carcass depends a lot on where the horse died.
If the animal goes down in a
wilderness area, a local ranger office may take pity on you and allow it to remain where
it is if the carcass does not hinder trail use. But if the local ranger wants the carcass
removed, it will have to be butchered out and then packed out on horseback. Since chain
saws or mechanical tools cannot be used in a wilderness area, such a task can take a good
day or two plus the though of having to cut up one's favorite saddle horse into chunks of
meat small enough to pack out can be more than an owner can handle.
Outside wilderness areas, the
removal of a dead horse differs. On National Forest lands where other trail users
"may be offended by the sight of a dead animal, bears may be attracted to the site or
quick removal is necessary", the local ranger office has to be notified. That office
will then contact a qualified blaster. The blaster's job is to blow the horse up! With up
to or over 100 pounds of dynamite placed on, over and around the carcass, the fuse is lit
and the horse blown to pieces. National Forest Service logic, no "large pieces"
to attract bears, mountain lions which in turn would endanger human life. There is one
caution to this procedure. Before lighting the fuse be sure to remove the iron shoes from
the horse. If not, someone could get hit with flying shrapnel.