Getting Outlived by your Horse

As horse owners, we are sometimes faced with difficult life or death questions regarding horses in our care. But we rarely ever consider the reverse: what plan do we have if our horses outlive us? This article describes how you can ensure that your furry and hoofed loved ones are cared for after you’re gone.

On New Year’s Day, my friend Sue sat in her old mare’s stall with her horse’s head in her lap. At 39, the former racehorse-turned-eventer couldn’t continue to outrun old age. She had had a few bouts previously, and Sue had painfully wrestled with whether or not to euthanize the mare. Philosophically, she was opposed to taking a life and preferred a natural end. But that day she made that difficult call to the vet; the horse passed on before he arrived.

As horse owners, we are sometimes faced with difficult life or death questions regarding horses in our care. We might debate what we would have done if we were Sue or if Barbaro had been our horse. But we rarely ever consider the reverse: what plan do we have if our horses outlive us?

Being a member of the U.S. military, I am often reminded by senior officers to update my Will. The first time someone mentioned it, I shrugged it off. I thought that since I was unmarried, didn’t own a house and didn’t have children that it wasn’t all that necessary. Besides, it was a morbid thought that I didn’t want to address.

But a fellow single female officer explained something very important.

“You have horses and cats,” she said. “Don’t you want to know that they’ll be cared for?” She explained that she had provisions in her will for her beloved dogs.

Her point struck home. I had come to own one of my horses because her previous owner died after a long bout with cancer. After his wife’s death, the husband sent the horse back to its previous owner-my then instructor who later sold the mare to me.

In another sad situation, my colleague’s friend, after discovering that she was terminally ill, spent some of her last months worrying about how she could place her horses in new homes.

Both situations ended up well for the horses, but they could have just as easily ended in further tragedy.

Because horses, like dogs and cats, are considered property, you can specifically address them in your Last Will and Testament. You can also bequeath money to be used specifically for the care of your pets to the designated person. (Don’t leave money to the animals because they are legally property and can’t receive money.) Since horses are more costly to maintain, you may also wish to get the approval of the person you wish to be named as new owner. Different states have different laws regarding the language required for Wills, so do some research about what your state requires.

In another case, I remember hearing a strange story about a horse owner who became unable to make decisions for his horses and was hospitalized. His companion grew tired of caring for the animals and gave them all away. When the owner recuperated and returned home, he discovered all of his horses were gone.

What provisions do you have to ensure that good decisions will be made on the part of your horses should you become incapable of making those decisions?

You can ensure via a Living Will that your wishes are undertaken for your horse’s welfare even if you are incapacitated.

There are several online sources that have forms you can create for a Will, Living Will or Power of Attorney.

It may seem a morbid thought now to consider, but once you’ve put to ink your decisions regarding the care of your horses (and dogs and cats!), you can feel better knowing that should you proceed before them across the rainbow bridge, they’ll be in good hands.

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