‘Responsibility Grief’ Weighs Heavily On Horse Owners

Researchers at the University of Nottingham have completed a study on how the horse-human relationship affects decision making around key events in a horse’s life, including euthanasia. The team found that many owners have enjoyed their horses for multiple years and consider horses part of their family, which makes end-of-life decisions particularly difficult.

Drs. Harriet Clough, Mandy Roshier, Gary England, John Burford and Sarah Freeman found that feelings of guilt and the burden of responsibility can take an “extraordinary” toll on horse owners. The research team created an online survey that targeted horse owners who had experience with both purchasing and euthanizing horses. It delved into their experiences and relationships with their horses. 

The survey received 938 responses; 870 of those respondents owned the horse, and nearly 94 percent of these considered the horse part of their family. These findings highlighted what the team called “responsibility grief.” These are the feelings of guilt and betrayal some horse owners have over making the decision to euthanize their horse. The scientists found this grief had both short- and long-term impacts on owners. 

The short-term impacts include being unable to make the decision to euthanize the horse at the correct time to limit suffering. The long-term impacts included feelings of guilt and responsibility months or years after euthanizing their horse. These feelings may affect future decision making for other horses.  

The team suggests further study to learn more about how this unique grief impacts equine welfare, and what resources owner need to cope.

Read more at HorseTalk

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