When a Horse is Dangerous, Traumatized or Chronically Ill: What YOU Should be Thinking of if You are the Owner

Some situations that are very hard for animal lovers to process and truly understand:

* Letting an animal have unmanaged pain and reduced quality of life is not kind
* Some animals are absolutely dangerous
* Some animals are so traumatized, every single day is a fear filled nightmare

Some people struggle with helping animals and staying within the bounds of reality while they help. When you move forward with actions that are for a perfect world, while we actually live in a flawed one, animals are not served well.

At Heart of Phoenix, we do not pretend we live in a perfect world where we look through rose colored glasses and only find idealistic outcomes. We work in a very real world where we have the ability to give mercy and end suffering, be it pain or fear related – sometimes both, actually.

We make decisions for human safety and quality of life for animals daily. Some of those mean just more training, more time, surgery or medication – sometimes it means euthansia.

This stallion below was picked up many years ago. He was bottle fed, never castrated, taught to rear, treated more like a small dog and to look at people for/as food in a way that created a very bad situation.

When he came to us, within days, he broke a volunteer’s leg, then he picked up a trainer with bared teeth, shook her and tossed her like a rag doll. He went to one more trainer, after this, where he continued to attempt to kill, until the decision was made to euthanize him.

I only wish we had made it soon, but you live and learn to do better. I wish he had been raised by someone who made him a normal, safe horse. But he wasn’t, and 20 years later, fixing those mistakes was not possible.

He could have killed someone. He nearly did. While we did the right thing, it taught me that placing lives in danger to try to “demand” an ideal outcome is not fair to anyone: not the volunteers or the horse.

Horses aren’t naturally predatory. When that happens, many things have gone very wrong in their past and possibly even in utero. They aren’t typical horses that are living happy lives. They cannot be handled in an emergency, live in a herd, receive routine vet and farrier care safely or be hauled if needed.

We haven’t ran into many predatory horses, thankfully.

We have encountered horses, through genetics gone wrong before birth and actual human created trauma, who quake with fear at the sight of humans day in and out – horses that never respond to training or many kind interactions over time. There are some that never release that fear of what either is or could happen any moment. Seeing this can be heartbreaking – that overblown flight instinct, but this type of response can mean a handler, farrier or vet isn’t safe when try to give needed care, whether it is an emergency or routine. It also means each time a horse needs handled, the horse is put through trauma.

Sometimes people suggest Sanctuary situations for horses like this; it is vital to realize there are very few well funded and ran places like this. And even if one can be found, domestic horses require handling at least several times a year, at the very least. . .it means vetting, farrier care, dental care needs to be done safely, and it means multiple times a year, that horse will be terrorized by everything happening to him, if he is one like we described above.

Horses like these usually don’t process and retain good experiences, for various reasons, and each day, the sight and handling from people creates an “I’m on fire” response that never lets up.

Horses usually have great intelligence, curiousity and ability to learn. A horse living in terror, lacking some of those things, is not a horse with quality of life. A horse isn’t dreaming of tomorrow, they live for “today” and when each day is full of fear, we do not believe that is kind to the horse. Euthanasia is a mercy for the few out there like this.

While we have seen the intense flight horse far more often than predatory horses, it is also rare for a horse to not make progress and eventually realize people can be safe and kind. It is just important to know it can happen, so be fair to the animal, if you encounter one like this.

Lastly, what we actually see the most are horses living with chronic conditions that greatly reduce life quality with owners that do not realize the suffering their horses are going through because of the emotions their person has wrapped up in them. Sometimes owners are asking to turn these types of horses over to us, sometimes not.

Horses are born to roam, move freely and have their senses, all while being prey animals that know they must disguise their pains or reduced abilities because their survival mechanisms demand it. There are conditions that can absolutely be fairly managed and leave horses with good life quality, but there are times they cannot.

What we hope is that animal lovers come to realize quality of life trumps quantity EVERY SINGLE TIME for our 4 legged friends. They aren’t planning their lives for the next year, week or day. They live in the today, sometimes the yesterday. They aren’t worried about how we or their herdmates will go forward without them, about their goals for the future, all their plans later down the line, and because of that, make sure if you are a caregiver to a disadvatanged animal, you are make choices for them that hold the quality of life they have now and are likely to have in the near future front and center.

It will mean tough choices for those of us caring for them because we ARE humans and mistakenly project how we would feel onto the animals we love very much, but they really depend on us to do what is best for them, even when the choices are very hard on us.

One thought on “When a Horse is Dangerous, Traumatized or Chronically Ill: What YOU Should be Thinking of if You are the Owner

  1. Such super important sentiments to share, especially from someone who can be the option many owners choose over having to make that very hard decision. I have been there trying to find that fine line, especially with chronic conditions … I have two now that I am weighing where that line is. We value life so much that we believe it is the goal at all costs – but ask some humans who suffer with mental or physical illness and you often get a different answer. If there is pain, mental or physical, and we cannot determine a clear end to it, we owe them release from it.

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