I have heard whispers at breed association meetings, from farriers and vets, and the infamous 56 Thoroughbred posts on social media.

Someone got sick; someone passed away, and now someone’s horses have no place to go.

End of life planning for horses is never an easy topic. But it’s one that came up in two recent interviews on HN Reads: authors Melanie Sue Bowles and Fran Severn both noted the importance of having a plan for our horses’ twilight years and our own.   

“The idea of ‘Well, we’ll just sell the horse, or we’ll give it away,’ that’s like a guarantee for an unhappy ending,” explained Fran Severn. Her new book, Rider of A Certain Age, discusses returning to horses later in life. Because our bodies change and get more fragile as we get older, planning for that reality is critical for the well-being of everyone involved.

While Fran brings an individual perspective, Melanie Sue Bowles brings in the larger equine community. She is the co-owner of Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, the country’s oldest privately-run horse rescue. Her new young adult novel Liberty Biscuit is named after two donkeys that often caused mischief at the facility. 

“‘My grandfather can’t take care of his horses anymore. He’s got four. Can you take them?’ Those kinds of calls were endless,” Bowles told me on a HN Reads as we discussed her 30 years of rescue work. “Organizations and sanctuaries are in overload. Where do you think elderly unrideable horses are going to go?”

Bowles said that these talks with people were never easy or straightforward and that they must be approached with compassion, kindness, and a keen sense of reality.

For me, these conversations have cemented the fact that it’s better to have an emergency plan you never use than face a crisis we were too afraid to think about.

Since speaking with those two authors, my horse-owning friends and I have had long conversations about end-of-life care for our animals and us. Who is going to make decisions for them if something happens to us? Where will they go if they can’t stay where they are? What do we want their end-of-life care to look like? Is there money set aside?

These are not comfortable conversations, but they do come with upsides. Of course, they gave us a plan for the future, but there is also something profoundly connecting about discussing such a vulnerable topic with people we trust.