Every horse person has had to deal with the pain of losing a horse, whether her own or someone else’s. If you are a boarding facility manager or owner, you know how the loss of a horse can affect not only the boarder, but everyone at your barn. A steady show of compassion at these times benefits everyone involved.
Of course, it’s natural to feel empathy for grieving boarders. But showing compassion at their time of loss is not only the moral thing to do, it’s also good business. If boarders feel they have the support of management during this difficult time, they are more likely to get another horse and keep it at the same facility.
“Through the years, I have had several boarders and friends who have lost their horses, and I have lost horses myself,” says Susan Dellinger, owner of Winners Circle Horse Farm in Oakhurst, N.J. “It’s a very emotional time whenever someone loses a pet that they connect with. Horses are so therapeutic in our lives that when one passes, we feel a great loss. Whether it be from old age, illness or injury, it’s never easy.”
As an owner or manager of a boarding facility, you can do a lot to help the grieving owner handle her loss. “Give the grieving owner a hug and tell her it is okay to cry,” says Rebecca Cagle, a professional equestrian life coach and author of the e-book, “Grieving the Loss of Your Horse: How to Survive Your Journey.”
“Send flowers and a sympathy card to show her that you understand her grief is real and you understand that her horse was important to her,” says Cagle. “Avoid telling her she can always get another horse, because it is too soon to think about that and it will cause more pain when her grief is new.”
Cagle recommends giving the owner time to replace the horse when she is ready. “Call to check on her every few days and tell her you care, and support her,” she says. “Take her out to lunch or dinner. Let her bring up the subject of losing her horse. Let her talk as much as she wants and needs to about her loss.”
Dellinger says she is usually present throughout the process of a boarder’s loss to help the owner. This kind of support is invaluable to a grieving boarder.
When a horse dies, the entire barn feels the grief. This is especially true of young boarders. “I try to explain to the children what's going on, so they understand,” says Dellinger. “If they have questions, I try to answer them to the best of my ability.”
Facility owners can take a number of steps to help boarders mourn the loss of a friend’s horse. These gestures not only go a long way to ease the grief of other boarders, but will mean a lot to the grieving owner as well.
Placing flowers in the horse’s empty stall is a good way to help show compassion for an owner and regard for the deceased horse. A bouquet of flowers helps ease the pain of seeing an empty stall where a horse once stood, and helps the grieving owner feel like people care about her and her horse.
Another way to help a grieving owner heal is to provide her with another horse to care for until she is ready to buy another one. A lesson horse, or a horse that belongs to another boarder but doesn’t get much attention, is a good choice. If the grieving boarder doesn’t want to ride, ask her to just take the horse out, groom it and take it for a walk around the barn. This small amount of contact with another horse can make a big difference to a boarder who is suffering this kind of loss.
“I have given horses to boarders who have lost theirs,” says Dellinger. “I know there is no replacement for their pet, but I try to help fill the void that was created when their horse died.”
A monthly barn newsletter provides another opportunity to show a grieving boarder that you care by including a memorial of the horse that died. Ask the owner for a photo and biography of the horse, and run these together to honor the horse’s life.
Other boarders can also be a huge support group for someone who has lost a horse. Boarders often have close friends at boarding stables, and they care very deeply when one of their own is hurting. For example, boarders may want to hold a tackcleaning fundraiser to help the grieving owner pay veterinary bills incurred while trying to save the horse. Or, in the case of children, they may decide to hold a small ceremony to celebrate the deceased horse’s life.
Whatever your boarders decide to do for their grieving comrade, it’s important that you support it. Provide them with an area where they can hold whatever event they choose to assist the grieving owner. Encourage any activities that will help the grieving boarder, and other boarders, heal.
You can never tell when or how your acts of kindness and consideration will come back to benefit you, but rest assured that they most likely will. “I am very fortunate to have compassionate boarders who are sensitive to others’ feelings,” says Dellinger. “The truth is, you never know when it could happen to you.”