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July 2006

Your Horse Barn
Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac
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Horsekeeping On A Small Acreage
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Miss Debbie Hill - "Zinger"

Zinger's Page

I had been watching my dear horse Zinger closely throughout the 2005-2006 winter. But it was during the last breath of winter that I realized the time had come to release her from her body.

Although many of us picture our horses grazing peacefully at pasture during retirement, the fact is, many very old horses aren't that comfortable on pasture, whether it is winter or summer. So for the last winter of her life, Zinger lived in our Senior Center, a specially designed sheltered pen. It has a rubber matted eating area under a large roofed area, a separate 25' x 16' sand stall and a very roomy turnout pen. The occupant of the senior center has the freedom to roam between the eating area, the sand pen (for a lie down and roll or just to hang out), and the exercise pen where the water trough and salt blocks are located. An ideal situation for a senior horse who isn't keen on enduring the harsh elements of pasture: including weather, bugs, and other horses.

One of the responsibilities of animal ownership is knowing when their life is no longer comfortable for them. We have to separate our feelings from our rationale. I needed to ask myself if I was keeping Zinger alive for her or for me. This is a very personal decision and I would not presume to make it for you. But perhaps something I might say will help if you ever are in the heart-wrenching situation I was in earlier this spring.

Zinger (AQHA Miss Debbie Hill) has been my friend for over 30 years. You have seen her in almost every book I have written. She is in our videos and has been in many magazine articles over the years. She is the dam of two very fine horses, "Doctor Zip" (Zipper) and Seeker, both of whom have appeared in my works.

Although Zinger's AQHA bloodlines were foundation cow horse breeding, she was very versatile. She was a ranch horse extraordinaire, a fantastic trail horse, great for ponying, and just super dependable and solid. During her teens, when I took an interest in dressage lessons, she piloted me through them and showed not only great tolerance, but talent and athletic ability that surprised many people.

She's a horse that has always been there for me. To think of life without her was just too painful, yet one morning when I went out to feed her, her spirit told me it was time. Her body had been trying to tell me for some time that it was weary.

Although it has been months since she has been laid to rest, I still can barely speak about it and my keyboard is flooded as I type this. However, in between these sad spells, I feel increasingly large spells of peace knowing it was the right thing to do.

I found myself avoiding the barn for weeks after her departure. It was not just that I would miss her nicker but also, in retrospect, I think I was a little bit hesitate to give my heart so completely to another horse. After all, it was only last fall that dear Sassy also was put down and I was barely recovered from that.

Well, as of a few weeks ago, I am back at the barn and things are very good. I see her wonderful attributes in Seeker and know that Aria is definitely Sassy's daughter. So life goes on.

Before the time comes to release the body of one of your horses, it helps to know your alternatives. Speak with your veterinarian to find out the options in your area for euthanasia. As far as what to do with a horse's body, here is an excerpt from the second edition of Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage.


From Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage, 2nd edition

Carcass Disposal

It is a fact of life that some day your horse will die. The options for disposing of a 1200-pound carcass are limited. Cremation is expensive and not widely available for horses. Rendering plants that handle dead horses are far and few between and it might be difficult to get timely pickup service. If you are lucky to have a large animal disposal service in your area, get a phone number and keep it current and available. Your veterinarian or farrier or agricultural extension agent should be able to provide you with contact information. And in fact, if you live in a suburban area, your best option might be to have your veterinarian arrange for euthanasia and disposal of your horse's carcass.

Burial at an animal cemetery is also an option, but an expensive one and not available in all areas, so if you have a large enough tract of land, the best solution is to prepare a final resting place for your horse on your own property. Local zoning and health regulations vary widely about animal burial, so check ahead of time.

Burial of dead animals should not result in contamination of ground water and the grave needs to be deep enough so as not encourage or permit access by vermin, scavengers or other potential vectors of disease.

If it is legal to bury a horse on your property, you will likely need to hire a back hoe operator to dig an 8 foot deep hole that is approximately 6' x 10'. This will ensure that there will be 3-4 feet of earth on top of the carcass. Locate the hole at least 100 feet from any water source and on high enough ground so that the bottom of the hole does not contact ground water.

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