In Memoriam

THANK YOU to these horses we had the honor of caring for in retirement.  They have all since died, but left us with a wealth of knowledge and experience that we share in our classes.  These horses had the threat of euthanasia looming in the background in their previous home, but fortunately, the first three horses below were given the gift of retirement after serving as therapy horses for at-risk kids.  We were blessed to witness their transformation in living out their golden years on their terms.  To Thunder, Maya, Chaco and Patriot, THANK YOU!

1985-2015 (sudden, natural death)
years in retirement:  3 1/2 years

Thunder was retired to us at age 27 after he began to bite clients on a regular basis, as well as becoming overly aggressive with another horse at feeding time in his previous home.  When he arrived, his eyes were withdrawn.  He disliked being touched and had chronic diarrhea.

We honored his desires not to be touched, and instead, spent a lot of time observing him.  People  thought we didn’t love him because we rarely touched him, and we gave him a lot of space.  They couldn’t understand that for a horse, they don’t have a high need for physical touch like people do.

We allowed him to say “no” alot.  Hundreds of times.  Once he knew we respected his “no”, then he started to say “yes” on occasion.  And then a few years later, he started to initiate with his own ideas.  He opened the door to an entirely new experience of horses where they lead the way, instead of the human.

The brightness returned to his eyes.  With a diet better suited to his needs  and 24/7 turnout in a herd on acreage, the diarrhea disappeared as did the food aggression.

Just shy of four years in retirement, he died a quick, sudden, yet peaceful death one morning of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.


1997-2018 (death by euthanasia)
years in retirement:  3 months

Maya came to us with serious medical issues, but there were also many holistic treatments that hadn’t been tried yet, so we took her in, willing to give her a shot.  She struck up an immediate friendship with our other senior horse at the time.  Her health issues eventually caught up with her three months later, and we euthanized her simply because we did not know what else to do.  To our surprise, euthanasia was western veterinary medicine’s only tool.

She was so incredibly happy in retirement with our other senior horse, Chaco.  He took care of her, all the way through her death and post-death.  Her death by euthanasia launched our research into hospice care to a natural death.  It was because of her, that when Chaco started his dying process 1 1/2 years later, we were able to support him in hospice care to a natural death.  If she could speak, this is what she would say:

“We all live. We all die. Allow us to live. Allow us to die. You do not need to expedite our death. Our body already knows how to die. Let us have those dying moments. So much happens there that you cannot see, but only feel.

If we want something from you, we will let you know, but first you need to know what dying looks like and the natural shut-down process the body goes through. If we stop eating or drinking or start losing weight, we are preparing to go. If this is new to you, it can be alarming. It is easy for fear to take over. That is why it’s important to be educated on what dying looks like. Then you can distinguish between what is normal when dying, and what is us asking something of you.

When in doubt, observe, relax, breathe, feel and embrace what is happening. I know this is a tall order, but it’s where you can connect more deeply to us in our moment of passing from this world to the next. You do not need to fix it, nor make it go faster. It takes as long as it takes.

Some deaths are quiet and peaceful, others are dramatic with a lot of energy. A lot of energy does not automatically equate to being painful, but it can be disconcerting to the observer. If pain is involved, ask us how you can help. Do not assume we want you to euthanize us to get rid of the pain. All living beings are capable of feeling many emotions at the same time. Do not let pain blind you to all of who we are in that moment. We are multi-faceted and complex. We are more than just the experience of pain.

The biggest gift you can give us is to hold the space for our last moments on earth and listen to us. What we have to say may surprise you. You do not need to “figure anything out”, but rather, breathe, relax, feel and let nature take its course. It is called dying. It is normal. It is ok to witness it and allow it to happen. If we need something from you, we will tell you. Every being on earth will take this journey at the end of their life. Let us too.”


1982-2020 (hospice care to a natural death)
years in retirement:  11 1/2 years

Chaco came to us at 26 years old as a 24/7 chronic cribber, underweight and with a myriad of aches and pains.  We resolved all of those issues completely, and he went on to live to the ripe old age of 38.  The leader of his herd to the day he died peacefully on his own after two months in hospice care.  Our experience with him created our Horse Hospice Intro Class.  If he could talk, this is what he would say:

“You are amazing. You took me in when no one else knew what to do. And we know what happens when people get to the end of their rope – they euthanize us horses. But you didn’t do that. You connected with me. You saw me, even when I hid it from others. You were not distracted by my cribbing, or biting or pinning my ears at people when I just wanted to be left alone.

You gave me space just to be me, and let me do what I needed to do. You gave me a level of acceptance no other human was able to. You literally gave me my life back. Thank you is not enough to fully express my gratitude toward you. The English language does not have a word for what I feel toward you. It is so big, so all encompassing. The closest I can find is the love of God: unconditional and knows no bounds.

You knew no bounds with me. When it came to dying, you walked out on a limb to let me die on my own, not knowing exactly how it would all go. But you found the best kept secret of all: we don’t need to know. We only need to connect and come from a place of love for ourselves and then for the other.

God holds us and all of creation. Love is what will always connect us. I could not have asked for a better companion and advocate these past 11½ years. We will always be with each other in our hearts, and that love will never die. Thank you, Mary, and I love you from the bottom of my hooves to the tips of my ears. Thank you.”


1987-2021 (death by euthanasia)
years in retirement:  0

This lovely gentleman was our first experience with rehab, but unfortunately, was euthanized instead of being retired to us.  Here is his story:

Many years ago horses came back into my life as an adult when I volunteered for a therapy program for at-risk youth. It was life-changing for me. I learned how to train horses, trim feet, and then do physical therapy for a horse with a separated pelvis. This horse was also very fearful to the point where he was not safe to handle.

He was my introduction to learning how to train. I taught him solely on the ground to the point where kids were able to connect with him and have life-changing moments. For several years I trained him and watched him transform before my eyes. The connection between us grew. As I allowed space for him to express his fears and guide him to a place of calm, he trusted me, and I trusted him.

I advocated for a physical therapist vet to come and evaluate him so we could improve how he used his hips. Within six months of a very basic regiment, he reintegrated his hips with his body. It was so amazing I knew my new dream: rehabbing senior horses.

I left the program and started my life’s work of rehabbing senior horses. Over the years horses were retired to me, and I learned so much about what they needed to thrive in their golden years.

I always kept a space for this first horse to retire to me. Unfortunately, it never happened, and his physical therapy regiment wasn’t maintained after I left. As a result his hind end deteriorated. Nearly 15 years later, I got wind of his scheduled euthanasia before winter because of pressure from a vet simply because he was 33 years old, and not looking fat and sassy like the younger horses. I stepped back into his life and gave my hospice class for the staff. The execution was stayed.

I knew hospice care could be challenging for anyone, and horses don’t die on our timelines. I knew the day would come that euthanasia would come back on the table if they didn’t retire him to me first. Sure enough, the euthanasia day came back five months later. I couldn’t stop it, even though I knew he was connected to me, and would thrive in a different environment, even if it was only to have the time and space to die peacefully on his own. That had been my experience with previous horses, and I had no doubt that was possible here too.

I stepped back into his life one last time. He initiated with me, and we had a brief exchange. Everything I had learned in the previous 15 years since I left the therapy program, I downloaded to him in 12 minutes. When I was leaving, I could see his wheels turning that there was another way of being in this world. His curiosity was peaked.

One of the saddest days of my life was when he was euthanized several days later. I was powerless to stop it, and I couldn’t force anyone to see the life-giving possibilities I saw.

Sadly, this chapter has closed. As I grieve the loss of him and the loss of the opportunity to care for him in retirement, I now also speak freely of this horse that changed the trajectory of my life. His name was Patriot. We both opened each other’s eyes, and I will be forever grateful to him. Thank you, dear one. (photo from our training and physical therapy days 15 years ago).