The United Horse Coalition offers a free database of resources available to help horse owners who have fallen on hard times.  If as a horse owner, you have come upon a temporary situation in which you need access to resources or assistance, the UHC has provided a listing of safety net programs and other resources to help you get back up on your feet.  These programs can help temporarily in the form of hay and feed, veterinary assistance, gelding clinics, training, help with behavior issues, and more.  The UHC Equine Resource Database also contains resources to help you responsibly rehome your horse.


For a variety of reasons, there comes a time in many horse owners’ lives in which they are no longer able, physically, or financially to provide care for their horses. Sometimes the horse is very much wanted, but an owner’s circumstances do not allow them to keep their beloved horse.  It is important to note, that not all horses at risk or in transition have suffered from neglect and abuse.   Owners may become ill, or have a change in their financial capability to care for a horse.  A rider may outgrow their horse both in size and skill, and in turn a horse may also be better suited for a career change depending on age, temperament, and soundness.  It is incredibly common for various reasons for a horse to change hands frequently throughout their life.

*If you find yourself in a situation, in which you want to keep your horse, but need temporary assistance until you can get back on your feet physically or financially, there are various safety net programs available to help. Please visit UHC Safety Net Programs and Resources for more information.

Horse owners should feel a moral obligation to make sure their horse in transition ends up receiving proper care and treatment. Legally, as a seller, you must share anything important you know about the horse’s behavior and physical condition. If the horse is healthy and of a reasonable age, it is always best to find a suitable new vocation, owner, or home, rather than have to euthanize the horse. On the other hand, if the horse is old and not in good health, or suffering, then the most humane decision may indeed be euthanasia – this is a decision between you and your veterinarian.

In most cases, there are 4 options available to owners: sale, donation/gift, surrendering to a rescue/sanctuary, or euthanasia. The options available to you may be based on the health, soundness, age, training level, and temperament of your horse. Some options have strict criteria for qualification; not every horse is suitable for every job.  For more information visit our Resources for Owners section.

Private Sale
Selling your horse to another person enables you to meet and perhaps develop a relationship with the buyer. There are many ways to advertise your horse for sale,  including classified ads in your local paper, horse magazines, websites, feed and tack stores, shows or rides in your area, or by directly contacting other horse owners and letting them know you’re marketing your horse for sale. Prices and conditions vary by sale and by region, so be aware of standards in your area. Also, in a private sale, you might have the option of putting a buy-back agreement into the sale. So if the new owner decides to sell the horse, you’ll have an opportunity to buy the horse back. Please remember to disclose any health problems, limitations or vices that your horse might have when selling him, this will help to ensure that your horse is well-matched in the new home, and lessen the chance your horse could be put into a situation where it becomes at-risk.  You may also want to consider microchipping your horse so that you can be contacted and given the opportunity to purchase or receive them back should a situation arise that warrents it.


Although Auction is another option for selling your horse, we do strongly encourage owners to pursue other available options first. Local sale barns or fairgrounds can provide you with auction dates.  Additionally, some auctions are advertised in newspaper classifieds or at feed and tack stores, and on various websites.  We do want to caution owners to be aware of the types of animals that are being sold at various auctions, and to do their due diligence.  Almost all “horse auctions” involve the sale of horses to individuals who want to buy a horse for various purposes, such as racing, showing, stable horses or recreational riding. Many of these horses have “reserves” or minimum bids that must be paid for the sale to be completed. Indeed, at many the seller can speak to the auction company and set a price below which the horse would not be sold; it would be returned to the seller. Other sales do not have such minimums and the horse is sold regardless of the bid price. At livestock auctions, dealers are purchasing horses to take to facilities that will process the horses for meat to be shipped overseas for human consumption, and it is important that all owners be aware of this possibility when they send their horses to auction.

An increasingly popular form of horse “ownership” is leasing. Provided the horse is sound with a good disposition, many people are interested in owning horses that would prefer this try-before-you-buy option.  It provides an opportunity for potential owners to see how a horse would fit into their lives.  As leasing grows in popularity, so do the forms of lease payments. You can loan the horse in exchange for boarding and daily care, or you can create another lease deal with the lessee.

A retirement facility can be compared to an assisted living facility for people. The staff is trained in caring for the health issues facing older horses and those with injuries. More often than not, retirement facilities house horses that are no longer used for riding and working. Not only elderly horses but horses that have ailments but are still comfortable to walk and graze. Their daily routines should include lots of turnout with buddies and good, quality attention. Of importance, a good retirement facility should have plenty of pasture. A key issue with elderly horses is that they need room to move around to combat arthritis — horses standing in box stalls will stiffen up quickly. Another thing to take note of is if specialized care is offered – such as custom feed, special medical attention, and an educated staff that understands the needs of your horse.  Retirement facilities are not free for the most part. The owner pays a monthly board bill just as you would at any boarding facility. There are retirement facilities in which you can donate your horse, but you would no longer own him or control what happens to him. Most of these are for specific breeds. In some cases, horses must be at least pasture sound — some may go on to second careers, while most spend the rest of their days eating grass. Unsound or “pasture pet” horses are only accepted for retirement at some facilities with a yearly tax-deductible donation for the on-going care of the horse.

Surrendering your horse to a Rescue or Sanctuary:

If you are in a position in which safety net programs are not an option, and you are unable to pursue other placement options due to limited resources or the horses suitability for a particular program, the next best course of action would be to pursue placement of your horse in transition through reputable Equine Rescues and Sanctuaries. Even if a rescue does not have physical space to accept the horse, they may offer direct placement services or other available options to find a suitable home without entering the rescue directly. Rescues and Sanctuaries can often network to keep a horse who is in a transitional phase, from reaching an at-risk state.

There are many different Rescues and Sanctuaries available to choose from Nationwide, with as many different missions and policies regarding the horses they take in. Although the UHC does not endorse one particular facility, it supports the Care Guidelines for Equine Rescue and Retirement Facilities, developed by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). If you’ve decided to find a Rescue or Sanctuary for your horse, we strongly encourage you to read these guidelines and ensure the facility you’re considering operates by them.  The AAEP guidelines were intended for rescue and retirement facilities, but any facility that accepts horses should adhere to the basic principles outlined in these guidelines.

In addition, we have also included a list of important questions you should ask before re-homing or surrendering your horse in order to ensure that your horse is placed with the best-suited organization.

Therapeutic Riding Centers:
Therapeutic riding centers are found in cities and towns across the nation. These centers provide a variety of equine activities to people with physical, emotional and learning disabilities. For individuals with special needs, equine-assisted activities have been shown to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, motor development, as well as emotional well-being.  The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), a national non-profit organization, accredits many of these riding centers and certifies their instructors. Horses are valued partners in the human–equine relationship that is therapeutic riding. Because the horses must interact with individuals who often have profound disabilities, these riding centers are highly selective when accepting horses into a program. Many of these horses are donated, volunteered or leased by horse owners in the community.

The breed of a horse is not a critical consideration — different breeds offer different builds needed for a wide range of activities, including riding, driving, vaulting, and interaction on the ground — the most important aspect is the individual horse’s suitability for equine-assisted activities and therapy.

While minor health issues may be acceptable, horses used for therapeutic riding programs must be sound enough to work regularly. To the casual observer, walking in an arena with a disabled person looks like an easy task for a horse, but it is not. The horse must be physically able to carry a person whose weight may be unevenly distributed. In addition, the horse must also be able to deal with situations such as quietly walking up to a ramp with a person in a wheelchair and standing perfectly still while the person is being assisted in mounting the horse.

Prior to accepting the donation of a horse, most therapeutic riding centers will:
• Evaluate the horse’s conformation
• Evaluate the horse’s health using a thorough veterinary check
• Examine the horse’s gaits and way of going
• Assess the horse’s attitude, reliability and adaptability to new situations

Many programs require the horses to go through a trial period at the center before they are accepted.  Only a select number of horses meet the strict qualifications set forth by these riding centers. You can find a NARHA-affiliated therapeutic riding center near you on their website,

Colleges and Universities:
Many colleges, universities and private schools across the country have equine programs and accept donations of horses. These horses may be used for a riding program, breeding program, or needs associated with the curriculum of a pre-vet or veterinary degree.

Schools with an animal science department that includes an equine research component or a veterinary school may accept your horse to be used in teaching/research to benefit medical advancements in the equine field. Once the property of a university, you will (generally) not be able to place restrictions on the use of that horse. It is certainly acceptable to inquire about the type of research undertaken by that particular school.

Academic programs have varying requirements for the horses that are accepted as donations. In some cases the school may lease the horse for a certain period of time. As in any other legal agreement, be aware of all the legal details and potential liabilities associated with a lease.

Potential donations to be used in the riding programs are often evaluated using stringent criteria as far as soundness, disposition, amount of training and age. Institutions that have very strict donation requirements generally want the horse for the long-term. Schools that accept any and all donations tend to have a high turnover rate of horses within their program.

Horses accepted as a part of a university breeding program must meet breed and quality standards.  Just because the horse is a mare, it doesn’t mean that she is destined to be a breeding animal. Some schools specialize in a specific breed of horse — there are major universities that currently specialize in Arabians, Thoroughbreds, American Quarter Horses, and Morgans. Other school programs may be known for a specific equestrian discipline, such as hunters or reining horses. A horse that doesn’t fit in one
school’s program may be an ideal candidate for another.

A Home for Life?
Many people assume that when a horse is donated to an educational institution, it will spend the rest of its life there. Once a horse is donated it becomes the property of the institution and may be sold immediately or at a later date to raise additional funds for that program.

Do your homework! Before donating your horse to any organization, make sure you understand and are comfortable with, their policies. The most important thing you can do is research the organization so that an informed decision is made about your horse’s future.

Mounted Police Units:
The mounted unit pursues a fourfold mission that consists of traffic control, crowd control, community relations, and prevention of street crime. Public relations is a mounted unit forte. Seldom is public attention so magnetically drawn to police as it is to an officer on horseback. The expertise of mounted unit officers in crowd control is also renowned. Officers are used extensively at concerts, demonstrations, strikes, entertainment events, public celebrations, and the numerous assemblages that take place throughout the year. It has been estimated that one mounted officer on horseback has the effect of 10 officers on foot, depending on the demeanor of the crowd. The mounted unit has therefore earned the reputation for being in the vanguard whenever the police department is called upon to ensure the order and safety of large throngs of people.

What types of horses can be donated? Every mounted police unit has specific requirements but generally these apply:
• Sex – Geldings only
• Age – 3-9 years
• Height – Minimum of 15.2 hands, preferably taller
• Color – Solid darker colors with minimal white markings
• Conformation – Good withers; sturdy legs and feet; strong bone and muscle
• Health – Must be sound and in prime working condition; negative Coggins
• Horses with vices such as kicking, biting and cribbing would be disqualified

Prison System:
Some retired horses spend their days in the prison system. Not only does your horse benefit from the care but the inmates benefit as well. Many inmates have never been around large animals and building a bond with an animal helps teach them empathy and compassion. It’s a great learning experience for the inmates to see and treat the ailments that come with horses that have been around the block, and each horse gets that special attention it might need. For many horses it’s their last option, as many non-profit retirement facilities don’t have the staff to treat lots of special needs cases, so it can be viewed as a hospice situation for the horses.

Finding a new home for a horse is not always an easy job and various equine facilities play a role in providing care or finding new owners for horses. Whether an owner is searching for the perfect retirement farm, looking to find their horse a new job in therapeutic riding or in the mounted patrol, or if they are in need of placement with a rescue or sanctuary, there are questions every owner should ask before giving up care and control of their horse.

In order to ensure that your horse is placed within the best-suited organization, please consider asking the organization(s) the following:

  1. Does the organization subscribe to accepted guidelines for operating such facilities, such as the “Care Guidelines for Rescue and Retirement Facilities” prepared by the American Association of Equine Practitioners?
  2. For Thoroughbreds, is the organization accredited by the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance?
  3. Is it an entity exempt from federal tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code?
  4. Does it file IRS Form 990 and forms required by the state? Will the facility provide copies?
  5. Does it have a mission statement and a board of directors? Who are they?
  6. How long has the organization been operating?
  7. If it is a facility that will use the horse, how will it be used?
  8. Will the facility allow you to walk the property, including entering barns?
  9. Does the facility appear to have adequate feed (hay, pasture, grain) for the number of horses on the property?
  10. What are the physical characteristics of the facility, including barns, pastures, shelters, and fencing? Does the facility have ample room for horses to graze and/or move about? Do the horses have adequate shelter?
  11. Is the organization’s agreement with the owner for free lease or donation or something else?
  12. Will the horse stay at the facility or be placed into foster care? If the facility uses foster care, how are foster homes screened?
  13. Does the organization have an agreement regarding the use, boarding, or care of the horse?
  14. If it is an organization that adopts horses out, what are the requirements for adoption? Does the facility follow up with the new owners to ensure the horse is being properly cared for?
  15. Does the organization have a policy against breeding or restrict the horse’s use in any way?
  16. What is the organization’s post-adoption policy on breeding and use?
  17. If this is an adoption facility, are stallions gelded upon entry and before adoption?
  18. What becomes of the horse when the adopter or the user no longer wants the horse?
  19. Will the organization automatically take the horse back?
  20. Will the organization advise you before your horse is transferred to a new owner?
  21. Can the original owner ask for the horse back?
  22. Will the facility provide routine and emergency veterinary, dental, and farrier care?
  23. Does the facility provide training/re-training for the horse?
  24. Can owners visit their horse at the facility?  Can owners visit the horse at an adoption home?
  25. Have any welfare charges been brought against the organization?
  26. Does the facility euthanize horses that cannot be placed? If so, will the facility notify the owner beforehand?

Many people are confused when it comes to the topic of rescue versus retirement regarding the subject of horse welfare. What is the difference between a rescue and a retirement facility?

I. Rescue

  • Oftentimes neglected or abused horses
  • Emergency care
  • Horses removed from owners or abandoned
  • Horses may be adopted out when recovered from trauma
  • Programs funded by donations, non-profit
  • “Owner Initiated Surrenders” are not generally accepted unless horse is at risk.

II. Retirement

  • Older, pensioned horses
  • Injuries that make them unsuitable for work
  • Maintenance care needed
  • Horses are privately owned
  • Private boarding facilities, for-profit

Supply and demand — they are the ingredients that form the foundation for nearly all successful business models. Markets are sound and profitable when there is a healthy balance between the two. The theory holds true for the horse market as well. Often, however, owners may not be aware of the demands that exist for horses that may be “unwanted” by some, but desired by others.

The purpose of this chapter is to show some of the many programs already in place by horse breed organizations and other groups, in which horses are needed by participants. From trail riding enthusiasts to horse show exhibitors, people are searching every day for horses that fit their lifestyles and interests.

By understanding the activities encouraged by breed organizations, owners of some unwanted horses might find a good fit, and a good market, among people seeking horses for organized shows and recreational events.

Following is a listing of some of the most popular programs and activities underway today and some true-life stories of unwanted horses that developed into champions.

Competitive Horse Shows:
Nearly all horse breed associations offer opportunities for friendly competition. Although a horse may be retired or reaching advanced years of maturity, horse shows offer outlets to help keep the horse active and involved. The registries offer several different disciplines with classes ranging from leadline to saddle seat pleasure to barrel racing. A horse owner can often find a way to keep horses involved for a long time in the variety of disciplines offered in the showing world.

The majority of breed registries in the United States host local shows. More competitive riders enter their horses in national and world championship horse shows. The events are qualifying or non-qualifying, based on each association’s standards. Contact the specific association you are interested in to find out more information on how to become involved in showing and what various other programs they offer.

The United States Equestrian Federation ( is the national governing body for horse sports in the U.S.

The following organizations offer both competitive and noncompetitive options to keep your horse active.

Horse Breed Association Programs
American Hackney Horse Society
American Morgan Horse Association (AMHA)
American Paint Horse Association (APHA)
American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA)
American Saddlebred Horse Association
American Shetland Pony Club
Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC)
Arabian Horse Association (AHA)
International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association
International Friesian Show Horse Association
Missouri Fox Trotters Horse Breeders Association
Palomino Horse Breeders of America (PHBA)
Paso Fino Horse Association
Pinto Horse Association (PtHA)
Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association
Welsh Pony and Cob Society

Wild Horses and Burros:
One aspect of the unwanted horse situation that the coalition does not want to forget is the tens of thousands of America’s wild horses and burros that are managed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM has offered these horses for adoption for years under the Adopt-A-Wild Horse Program, but herd sizes continue to grow at a faster rate than horses are adopted. This is a growing part of the issue of unwanted horses, and a private organization has been
created to help deal with this situation.

The Mustang Heritage Foundation is dedicated to helping increase the successful adoptions of America’s excess Mustangs and burros. The Mustang Heritage Foundation works with the BLM and other adoption-oriented programs to find quality homes for these animals. In addition the foundation has created training programs designed to involve knowledgeable horsemen and horsewomen in the gentling of Mustangs prior to adoption. The organization is also committed to creating a more marketable horse through improving selection and expanding and enhancing training programs for critical mustang age groups.

Mustang Heritage Foundation

Although many require a knowledgeable trainer/handler, with proper re-training, ex-racehorses are suitable for myriad horse-related activities. They have been successful at all levels of competition in multiple disciplines, including eventing, show jumping, barrel racing, dressage, trail riding, endurance, and roping. They also make excellent pleasure riding horses and companion animals. Those interested in providing a home in which to extend the useful life of an ex-racehorse can find information through the following organizations:

American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA)
The Jockey Club
National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA)
United States Trotting Association (USTA)

More Information:
For an extensive listing of breed organizations and other groups that offer programs and activities
for horses, see the Horse Industry Directory published annually by the American Horse Council. You
can reach them at (202) 296-4031.


Euthanasia is a term derived from the Greek words “eu,” meaning good, and “thanatos,” meaning death. Euthanasia means “good death.”

Horse ownership undoubtedly comes with numerous responsibilities, and owners must be prepared to make good decisions regarding the health and welfare of their equines on a daily basis. One of the most difficult and emotionally draining responsibilities is determining, with the help of your veterinarian, the appropriate time to end a horse’s life. It is a good idea to have a plan in place before you, as an owner, are faced with such a decision, because often times these situations arise in the form of an emergency and a decision must be made quickly.

Euthanasia is a term derived from the Greek words “eu,” meaning good, and “thanatos,” meaning death. Euthanasia means “good death.”

Horse ownership undoubtedly comes with numerous responsibilities, and owners must be prepared to make good decisions regarding the health and welfare of their equines on a daily basis. One of the most difficult and emotionally draining responsibilities is determining, with the help of your veterinarian, the appropriate time to end a horse’s life. It is a good idea to have a plan in place before you, as an owner, are faced with such a decision, because often times these situations arise in the form of an emergency and a decision must be made quickly.

In accordance with AVMA’s position on euthanasia of animals, the AAEP concurs that euthanasia is an acceptable humane procedure once all available alternatives have been explored with the client. In certain cases, euthanasia should be regarded as a responsible treatment option. The AAEP supports euthanasia when that choice is best for the horse and in accordance with the role of the veterinarian as the animal’s advocate.

The AAEP recommends that the following guidelines be considered in evaluating the need for humane euthanasia of a horse.  The attending veterinarian is able to assist in making this determination, especially regarding the degree to which a horse is suffering. Guidelines are listed below to assist in making humane decisions regarding euthanasia of horses.

A horse should not have to endure the following:

  • Continuous or unmanageable pain from a condition that is chronic and incurable.
  • A medical condition or surgical procedure that has a poor prognosis for a good quality of life.
  • Continuous analgesic medication and/or box stall confinement for the relief of pain for the rest of its life.
  • An unmanageable medical or behavioral condition that renders it a hazard to itself or its handlers.

The following euthanasia techniques are deemed acceptable by properly trained personnel:

  1. Lethal dose of barbiturates (intravenous)
  2. Gunshot to the brain (prior sedation should be considered when possible)
  3. Penetrating captive bolt to the brain using an extended bolt designed for euthanasia (prior sedation should be considered when possible)
  4. Lidocaine hydrochloride 2% (intrathecal)with the horse in a surgical plane of general anesthesia
  5. A concentrated solution of either potassium chloride (intravenous) or magnesium sulfate (intravenous) with the horse in a surgical plane of general anesthesia
  6. Alternative methods may be necessary in special circumstances under the discretion of the veterinarian.

The choice of euthanasia technique should take into consideration local laws and regulations, the experience and training of the veterinarian and the final disposition of the horse.  In some jurisdictions, the use of pentobarbital may be discouraged due to the potential for environmental residues.

Prior to euthanasia, clear determination of the insurance status of the horse should be made as an insurance policy constitutes a contract between the horse owner(s) and the insurance carrier.

Read the AAEP’s Guidelines on Euthanasia Here.

Revised by AAEP board of directors in 2021.


(Taken from AAEP:

If you and your veterinarian agree that euthanasia is the best choice, it is important to prepare as best you can. If you are able to make the decision in advance rather than in an emergency situation, making prior arrangements will ease the process. These guidelines might help:

  • Decide when and where the procedure will be best carried out, bearing in mind that arrangements must be made for removal of the body. Choose what is most comfortable and practical for you, your veterinarian, and your horse.
  • If you board your horse, inform the stable manager of the situation.
  • Decide whether you wish to be present during the procedure. If you cannot or do not wish to be present, you may want to ask a friend to stand in for you. Decide what is right for you. (If you are unfamiliar with the procedure and are unsure what to expect, discuss it with your veterinarian.)
  • Be aware that, for safety reasons, your veterinarian may not allow you to be touching or holding the horse during the procedure. You will, however, be able to touch and be with your horse afterward.
  • Make arrangements in advance for the prompt removal and disposal of the body. Check with your veterinarian and/or the city or county health department. Many municipalities have ordinances prohibiting or restricting burial. Removal to a rendering facility or pet crematory may be required.
  • Explain to members of your family, especially children, in sensitive but honest terms, why the decision was made to euthanize the horse.
  • Allow yourself to grieve. Finding a support person to talk with can help you work through this difficult period (see below).
  • If the horse is insured, notify the insurance company in advance so that there are no problems with claims. While the veterinarian will provide you with any required documentation, the rest (notification, filing, follow-up, etc.) is your responsibility.


Given the affection we have for our horses, dealing with their deaths can be extremely difficult. But dealing with your emotions honestly and going through the grieving process is important for your emotional well-being.

To help you deal with your grief, there are local and national counseling organizations, such as the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine’s Pet Loss Support Hotline, (530) 752-4200.  Your veterinarian may also know of resources in your area that can help you, so don’t be afraid to ask.


Death is an inevitable part of life. Your horse, like all living creatures, will not live forever. Ideally, your horse will remain healthy and happy into old age and will die a peaceful, natural death. However, it is wise to give some thought to other possibilities.

By thinking about what you would do in an emergency, or how you would act if your horse were to develop a painful or debilitating condition from which recovery was unlikely, you can be prepared for whatever happens. Be sure to share your thoughts and wishes on this issue with others, especially those who may be caring for your horse in your absence, such as your barn manager or neighbor, and your veterinarian. Doing so may spare your horse needless suffering if a severe illness or injury were to occur
when you could not be contacted.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the following euthanasia techniques are deemed acceptable by properly trained personnel: (taken directly from the AAEP website.)

  1. Lethal dose of barbiturates (intravenous)
  2. Gunshot to the brain (prior sedation should be considered when possible)
  3. Penetrating captive bolt to the brain using an extended bolt designed for euthanasia (prior sedation should be considered when possible)
  4. Lidocaine hydrochloride 2% (intrathecal) with the horse in a surgical plane of general anesthesia
  5. A concentrated solution of either potassium chloride (intravenous) or magnesium sulfate (intravenous) with the horse in a surgical plane of general anesthesia
  6. Alternative methods may be necessary in special circumstances under the discretion of the veterinarian.

The choice of euthanasia technique should take into consideration local laws and regulations, the experience and training of the veterinarian and the final disposition of the horse.  In some jurisdictions, the use of pentobarbital may be discouraged due to the potential for environmental residues.

Prior to euthanasia, clear determination of the insurance status of the horse should be made as an insurance policy constitutes a contract between the horse owner(s) and the insurance carrier.

Revised by AAEP board of directors in 2021.

Arrangements must be made for removal of the animal’s remains following death, be it from natural causes or euthanasia. If the horse dies or is euthanized at an equine hospital, the hospital can take care of this for a fee.   In other cases, the owner of the deceased must make arrangements, keeping in mind that in most states, it is the legal responsibility of the attending veterinarian to ensure the carcass is properly disposed; therefore veterinarians must possess specific knowledge of their area’s regulations. If the owner does not follow local statutes, he or she may unintentionally cause legal problems for their veterinarian.

First and foremost, carcass disposal must be done in a manner that does not cause harm to other animals or humans. regulations vary greatly from state to state with regard to animal species. Local agricultural extension offices are a useful resource for this type of information. There are several commonly used methods of equine carcass disposal, including burial, landfills, composting, incineration, rendering and biodigesters.


Regulations on horse burial vary from state to state and within states, from locality to locality. Many jurisdictions require the burial site be no fewer than 100 yards from wells, streams, and other water sources, and in some locales, it is illegal to bury a chemically euthanized horse. Generally, a trench 7 feet wide and 9 feet deep is sufficient, with at least 3 to 4 feet of dirt covering the animal’s remains.  In order to accomplish this, one needs access to a backhoe, which can be rented for a fee between $250 and $500, depending on the location.


Landfills are an alternative to burial. Keep in mind that not all municipal landfills accept animal carcasses, and those that do, do not necessarily take horses. Additionally, some landfills that accept horse carcasses will not take the remains of a chemically euthanized animal. Costs can be higher, but tend to be between $80 and $150.


While incineration/cremation of a horse carcass is very expensive, it is one of the most environmentally friendly solutions to body disposal. Cremating a 1,000-pound horse can cost between $600 and $2,000, depending on location and the current price of propane. The incinerators are regulated by strict environmental laws at both the federal and state level, thus providing control over air pollution. As the ashes pose no environmental threat, they may be returned to the owner and buried or may be sent to a landfill.


Rendering is an effective, affordable and environmentally safe method of livestock carcass disposal.  The carcasses are “cooked” to destroy pathogens and produces end products such as bone than can be used in animal feeds. Rendering companies will normally pick up the remains and charge a fee ranging between $75 and $200, again depending on location. Only 50 percent of the states have rendering plants, the majority of which are concentrated in the Midwest.


Composting, a controlled, sanitary decomposition of organic materials by bacteria, has recently gained popularity. It is performed in covered trenches or piles that must be located away from runoff and drinking water supplies to avoid contamination. The combination of vegetative material and moisture results in temperatures reaching at least 130°F, which, over the course of time, kills most pathogenic viruses and bacteria. It takes approximately 9 to 10 months to compost an intact horse carcass, and the end product is a spongy, odorless substance that can be used for soil supplementation.  Livestock composting is legal in every state except California, but even in states where the practice is permitted, it can be limited by carcass weight. Information on composting and its availability in your area may be obtained from your respective state’s Department of Agriculture.


First developed in 1992, the biodigester is a machine similar to a pressure cooker. Using alkaline hydrolysis, biodigesters rapidly kill any potentially harmful wastes in the carcass. The machine can turn a 1,000-pound horse carcass into an aqueous solution of peptides, amino acids, sugars, soaps and powdered bone, all free of harmful pathogens. The remains are, in fact, sterile, and pose no environmental hazards and can therefore be disposed of at a local landfill or be used as fertilizer. This method is becoming a popular method of carcass disposal with veterinary colleges and industrial research facilities. The veterinary colleges at the University of Florida, Texas A&M University, Colorado State University, and the University of Minnesota are just some schools that own and use biodigesters. The US Department of Agriculture also owns a machine. While the initial purchase price is costly, the operating costs offer significant savings over time and are more environmentally friendly than using commercial incinerators. For example, the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory purchased a biodigester for $900,000 but estimates that they can dispose of a carcass for
$0.25 per pound, as opposed to $0.75 per pound using an incinerator.


Plan ahead. It is important for all horse owners to think about and plan for the day their horse’s life comes to an end. It is not something fun to think about, but death is inevitably part of life and dealing with it cannot be avoided. Enlisting the help of your vet and barn manager and relative, close friend, or neighbor, come up with a plan in the event your horse becomes ill or debilitated, or an emergency arises. Write it down and make sure it is easily accessible if you are unavailable should anything occur. Planning ahead may spare your horse needless suffering. It will also help you make sound decisions during what will be a very difficult time. Insurance: If your horse is insured, be sure that you know your policy’s requirements regarding euthanasia. For an insurance claim to be valid, companies often require prior notification and
permission (except in extreme cases). Most insurance providers require that they be kept informed from the start of a horse’s medical condition, especially if euthanasia is a potential outcome of the illness. In case of an emergency, it is up to the policy holder to notify the insurance provider. Some policies even require a second opinion before a horse is euthanized, but it is always up to the owner and veterinarian to decide what is best for the horse.

Euthanasia: The Most Difficult Decision

Difficult though it may be to contemplate, there may come a time when, for humane or other reasons, you need to consider euthanasia for your horse. Choosing whether, or when, to end a beloved animal’s life may be the hardest decision you ever have to make regarding your horse’s welfare. However, it may be one of the most responsible and compassionate things we can do for our horses.

Equine Euthanasia: How Do I Know it’s Time

It’s never an easy decision to make, but perhaps the most compassionate thing you can do for a horse that is extremely ill, severely injured, lame, or dangerous is to have your veterinarian induce its death quickly and humanely through euthanasia.

Our Mission:

Through industry collaboration, the UHC promotes education and options for at-risk and transitioning horses.

Owning Responsibly:

The United Horse Coalition is a broad alliance of equine organizations that have joined together under the American Horse Council to educate the horse industry about the issues facing horses At-Risk, or in transition. We seek to provide information for existing and prospective owners, breeders, sellers, and horse organizations regarding the long-term responsibilities of owning and caring for horses, as well as focusing on the opportunities available for these horses.

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