Animals and Grief: A journal club discussion

In an attempt to keep up regular content… Apologies in advance for the depressing nature. To balance the depression, this post may also get a little nerdy.

Subi isn’t handling the loss of his best friend well at all so, me, being a librarian, turned to journal literature for answers. I should clarify that. Me, being a medical librarian, turned to journal literature for answers.


Shock of all shocks, Subi ate something. 

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of scientific research on the subject of horses and grief. PubMed, you let me down. Fine, PubMed hasn’t let me down (well, yes it has, but those issues run deeper). Anyway, turning to Agricola and a search that shames my research librarian’s heart, I discovered the follow article:

Dickinson GE, Hoffmann HC. The difference between dead and away: An exploratory study of behavior change during companion animal euthanasia. J Vet Behav. 2016;15:61-65. doi:10.1016/J.JVEB.2016.08.073

It’s somewhat canine focused, but does address horses. It confirms much of the research is anecdotal. And this was solely survey based instrument, but it’s something. I’ve pulled out some parts of the article (citation above from Journal of Veterinary Behavior — it’s an Elsevier article and likely isn’t available open access… if you’re having difficulty located a copy or accessing it through your library, email me)

Regarding horses’ reactions to euthanasia and death, a 58-year-old male veterinarian said that “I have noticed on many occasions that while leading an infirmed horse to a specific area in the pasture to be euthanized, other horses initially want to follow but are suddenly turned away when the horse to be put down ‘whinnies’ to them.” In the same way, a 54-year-old female veterinarian reported that on 2 occasions when horses were stable mates and very close, following euthanasia of one of the horses, the other horse walked within 12 or so feet of the body and started grazing. This veterinarian believes that “they understand being away and being dead the presence of the body allowed some level of acceptance” (63).

So much truth here. With Hayley, I never walked the boys up to her, but Subi knew. He possibly could see her body from the field. I’m sure he understood (Batt screamed for her, but wasn’t frantic). With Batt, I think he’s missing the closure which is why it’s so much harder. If we lost him at home, I’d have walked him over. If I had more time before the clinic, I’d have brought him over too, but I ran out of time. The acceptance phase helps so much.

Opinion on why animals exhibit behavior changes: “…the most frequent explanation was animal grief and empathy (i.e., veterinarians suggested that animals grieve loss similar to humans and are aware that an animal is ill and/or deceased, and they might even see the illness before humans do), followed by responding to the cues of anxiety, emotionality, and/or grief of the humans in the room…”(63).


Chewy sent me flowers

This is also true. Long term illnesses I think are easier to accept. Hayley vs Batt. The horses knew Hayley was sick. But Batt? Not so much. I’m not convinced he didn’t have gut issues (tumors) which could explain the chronic impactions, but that’s just me guessing here and I don’t think Subi would know THAT. I kick myself for not getting Subi over during the day to see him, but he wasn’t bad yet… And then it spiraled so fast.

Re: human emotions. I’m working so hard on this one to stay neutral and not let my emotions play out around him. It’s hard, but I’m trying. Especially because he is so sensitive. I carry treats instead and teach bad manners but it changes the focus and forces me to focus on something else instead. When leading to field, we’re back to our walk/halt/back/halts again to get brain engagement. Positive note? He’s starting to come to me in the field again when I call his name.

“With 29 years of practicing under my belt, I can sincerely state that I believe a bond exists between animals (both inner-species and cross-species), call me crazy, but I [have] seen genuine empathy in the animal world at times” (63).

1000% true. Not crazy at all.

…it is conceivable that changes in companion animal behavior witnessed by the veterinarians in our sample reflect expressions of grief. However, is an expression of grief appropriate to explain an animal’s change in behavior at the time another animal is being euthanized, or does grief result after death is realized and the playmate or pack member is no longer present? This question betrays a shortcoming in our research results in that it appears some veterinarians conflated explanations for behavior changes at the time of death with behavioral changes that occur after death (64).

In Subi’s case, it’s the loss/lack of his friend’s presence as he wasn’t there, but it’s definitely an interesting question and WHY more tracking should be done.

In humans, fMRI studies have successfully located grief within specific regions of the brain, with different brain regions associated with grief that is evoked by word sversus images (Gündel et al., 2003). If nonhuman animals are reacting to the chemical breakdown of the body or the release of pheromones associated with death, an fMRI study might be able to ascertain the neurobiologic pathway responsible for nonhuman animals’ death awareness (64).

Mostly including this because it would be nice to have SCIENCE to go along with the anecdotal stuff. I work with some faculty who do a lot with fMRI (humans) but it would be interesting on the animal side.

Connecting this all back to Subi. He struggling but after a long (well, 15 minutes which is a long time to talk on the phone with your vet when no one is bleeding) phone call with the vet yesterday, she’s convinced he’s grieving and just needs time. He’s smart enough not to starve himself even if he’ll only eat the bare minimum. We’re going to continue with the reserpine but can at some point switch to an anti anxiety if necessary. Add in ulcergard –1/4 tube (he’s on nexium so likely same difference). And stick to a routine. Possibly offer him Batty’s stall.


No one is interested in the picture me and Jimmy… lol

But, what she also mentioned that I never thought about before, is he doesn’t have the strongest personality. He’s always been the herd leader, but had always had a side kick. At his first boarding barn (even before me), it was the Subi and Ashby show. Then it was Subi supported by Josie. Then Subi and Hayley. Then Subi and Batt. So, he’s always had someone right by his side that he could push around (or push him around) or that worshiped him. Now he’s just him. Jiminy is just…Jimmy. As independent as they come. He doesn’t NEED Subi like everyone else did. Subi was codependent. But, it’s interesting to think about it that way.

So, in the stall each night even though he’d rather stay out, because that’s the routine. Hopefully eventually we’ll get there.

I did compromise and agree that dinner could be fed outside at 6pm. Subi likes that. And breakfast outside too. He likes that as well (though doesn’t eat as well for that meal).

**I have found several more interesting articles through the references but this post is really long… We’ll see if the journal club has a second meeting…**

Another day.

Continuing to post just to stay in the routine.

Sunday I forced myself to head out and ride and Blob was a good boy (though he wasn’t into the idea of working and I needed my trainer to get him out of his stall — better head space and I could have, but not that day). Not in the mood to do a real entry on my lesson, but I do have media of our final course. Video suggestion courtesy of my trainer. It was good because I hadn’t been willing to use my camera since Wednesday and the last photo was…not a good one (can’t delete it though). Having someone else use it? Much better.

Anyway, good boy Blob. We’re getting more consistent and I’m getting better with the darn changes.

Meanwhile, while uploading that, I found this video of Batty from Wednesday while we were waiting for the vet.

Wasn’t feeling good, but was happy enough to follow my husband around the round pen. The walked for who knows how long, just like this.

Subi is still…struggling. I’d feel so much better if he’d relax a bit. I left him this morning eating fancy hay under a tree in the pouring rain. No grain/pulp overnight or this morning (again) but he ate his breakfast at 6pm last night. Again. That seems to be when I can get him to eat breakfast. Outside. Under a tree.

Jiminy helps eat. Because he’s a turd. And is going to be 1000lbs after all this.


At least Jiminy WAS at a good weight? Subi bit him 4-5 times. Didn’t deter the little bugger. 


Thank you all for the kind comments. I’ll try and respond at some point, I’m just not ready yet.

I’m missing Batty so freaking much. Him and his big nose. The best selfie horse ever. I haven’t brought myself to go into his stall. Erik picked it Wednesday, but his buckets are still full of water (unless he emptied them today). We’ll eventually move Jiminy before winter, but not yet. I’m not ready and I need to scrub the walls.

Subi. Subi is struggling as much, if not more, than I am. He’s not eating and is anxious and stressed. This morning, he barreled past Erik out of his stall and galloped loose around the neighborhood for forever. Fine, 10-15 minutes. I’m sure my neighbors’ yards are torn up. He noticed horses across the creek and tried to find out how to get to them (they were screaming back). There is no easy way as they all involve steep hills and jumping creeks. He almost ran me down and crashed into trees. We’re talking blind panic. Finally he ran into his turn out. And continues screaming but stopped running as fast (exhaustion) and eventually stopped. We got Jiminy in.

I ended up calling the emergency vet number and talked to the on-call vet who happened to be an intern who was there with Batty and was prepared that Subi might not deal (I’m guessing they pushed this case off to an intern as it wasn’t critical). She came out, brought drugs, and even though he was calm, got him calmer. Then we started reserpine because, at this point, we both need help. He ate 3/4 of his breakfast at 4:45 outside which is something. I’m going to leave him out a little later tonight because he seems happier outside before bringing him in. I’d leave him outside completely, but he won’t eat hay outside and he’s grazing some but there really isn’t that much grass.

So ER vet call 3 this week.

Needless to say, I’m not coping to well and am considering giving up horses and taking up pottery. I can be the angry potter or something. But, part of me wishes I could react to all of this like Subi and just run around, out of control screaming or throwing things…

I just miss him so much. My heart is so broken. I still have to cancel the rest of his supplements, but I can’t yet because I need to give a reason why and it’s hard.

I hate this!!!!

Goodbye Batthorse

I wasn’t planning on posting yet, but it’s 3 am and I find I’m suddenly awake, traumatized, and crying my eyes out.

The last 36 (well, let’s include now and make it 48) hours have been a nightmare.

Batts came in colicky Tuesday night. Eating but not. I took vitals, gave banamine, tossed him out in the round pen for grass and ultimately watched him for hours, eventually changing to hourly checks. He ate soup overnight but 4am led to a vet call, more banamine, and an agreed 8am visit.

We tubed him and by 12:30 he needed more and vet was back out. More fluids and impaction was now described as major. Tube was left in for Erik and I to give fluids in 2 hours. We did, it was fine. 2 hours later, it wasn’t. We got him to clinic at 6:15 they tried more fluids but lots of reflux so they basically pumped his stomach. He blew through 2 sedatives while we were there. He was on IV and they hoped that would help. We left and he was down in the most gut wrenching position. My last photo of him. I won’t share.

Call came at 8:20. A 2 ring hang up. I wouldn’t let him suffered. His heart rate was sky rocketing. He was miserable. They kept him comfortable enough for us to drive over (15 min) to save goodbye. When we got there the vet said she suspected he might have ruptured.

He was a shell of himself. He was barely standing, legs shaking. He hung on for hugs, ear rubs, and kisses. I said enough. He wasn’t even him. We left the stall and he went down. Still, the rest was hard to see. I tried to just focus on his hooves until it was over. So much pain even though I tried not to let him suffer.

The interns brushed out his tail and braided it after it was all over and I’ve had Subi sniff it. He’d been screaming for his best friend.

My heart is shattered into 10 million pieces. I never wanted him to go like this. He was the best, goofy, treat loving horse ever. Always ready to explore, always ready to eat, always up for a hug or an adventure.

I just want to run away.

Blogging Bob: I jumped the barrels…

And I didn’t die.

Rode on Friday this week due to Halloween. It was cold and windy and all that. So we rode inside. The problem with riding inside was that there are these stupid evil barrels. And I didn’t want to jump them.


Bob didn’t see the point either

Supposedly no horse has had issues with them.

That wasn’t the point

I WAS having issues with them.

I went into a long discussion about rotational falls and dying.

I negotiated an extra ground pole.  Kids, always negotiate with your trainers.

I got over them. No one died.

I didn’t have to jump them again.

The end.

Blogging Bob: Indoors.

This week’s (last week’s) Bob lesson took place inside due to super high wind. After a day spent a fair hill and a couple hours spent contemplating cancelling, I reluctantly showed up to ride after a hasty nebulizer treatment. Because, it’s a perfectly good idea to go ride when you are completely exhausted and unable to breathe, right? (after quickly cleaning stalls)


Hermione met her long lost cousin this weekend.

So, I decided to ride mostly because I ended up running out of time and never cancelled.

Due to rain the night before, Bob didn’t get out (while I turn out in all weather, this barn does not). So, when I got on, he was a little gimpy and we spent about 10 minutes or so working out of it. We rode inside due to the high winds (up to 40 mph gusts…).

Eventually Bob was feeling mostly normally and we warmed up at the canter over 2 poles on the quarter line, alternating between  6 strides and 7 strides. This was also when I learned that lead changes are no longer optional. So, the one time we landed wrong when I didn’t quite collect enough for the 7 (and we fit it in but barely), and Bob also decided changes were optional, we continued cantering until I asked properly and he responded in kind. I learned my lesson, he…didn’t.

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Cornelia Dorr and Brush Dance

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Our exercise we started off with was basically a figure 8 over our 2 inside singles, a nice and easy inviting vertical with flowers and a tiny swedish oxer. While I spooked at the oxer, it rode fine but someone did NOT like getting his change after it… Theme of the night. We got it, reluctantly (left to right). The next couple of times it was a bit smoother. Then he had a temper tantrum about it the last time…

Next (by this point my legs were DEAD and I was ready to be done) we worked on the outside line. Bob was also finished here. So, first time through, I had to kick for the canter, circle (he them was convinced we going to the inside swedish oxer), the approach the line with almost zero pace. I guess I gave me trainer a heart attach as we came in with less than no canter, but I kept squeezing and Bob carried me over, continued cantering, carried me over the out (with the add), and we both died on the landing until I was made to keep cantering until I asked for the change… MEAN… We got in down the long side.

Finally we put everything together. So, upon getting a REAL canter, we actually cantered the outside line WITHOUT the add or the heart attack, then came over the oxer (the opposite way around to the vertical. We called it a day there. Bob was tired. I was tired.


So tired, so sweaty!

This all ended with a threat that it’s time to start jumping bigger fences. Crap.

I survived! Fair Hill 2019

Photos will be coming over the next several weeks assuming I ever go through them, but another year, another fair hill complete.

Paddy the Caddy and Erin Sylvester – Version 3

Paddy the Caddy and Erin Sylvester

This year was bittersweet. While I am looking forward to the 5*, this was the last 4* (old 3*) ever, and it just won’t be Fair Hill without the 4*. And the last Fair Hill on this side of the property. As they are constructing the new course/venue on the other side of the road (I drive by ever day on my way to work), it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. The one thing that I love about the current course about is the varied terrain. There are so many hills and drops and all that. The new course/area? It just looks…flat. We’ll see how it develops over the next few months. The arenas will be great. The rest? I’m reserving judgement.


Vandiver and Doug Payne

We could NOT have asked for better weather on Saturday. Sunny and GORGEOUS.


Polaris and Sara Gumbiner

We paid dearly for Saturday’s weather with the disaster that was Sunday. Cold. Rain. And almost no one was there for stadium. It was a complete washout and, if anyone knows the bus situation at Fair Hill on Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t see one bus hanging around Sunday following stadium. I’m not sure how the poor handful of people who parked over at the fair grounds (at least one lady was there) got back to their cars as the buses were MIA… It was that dead. I felt for the vendors.


QC Diamantaire and Sydney Elliott

But, it wouldn’t be Fair Hill without weather. Wednesday, rain for the jog. Thursday was cold with 40 mph wind gusts. Friday wasn’t much better. Saturday was gorgeous. And Sunday, pouring rain.


Classic’s Mojah and Megan Sykes

The courses on Saturday were definitely tough. In the 3*, jumps 5-7 took a lot of competitors out. Whereas the combination at 13 in the 4* was deadly. There was a point in the 4* that we probably went about 15-20 minutes without seeing a horse. But, thankfully, no one was seriously injured. The courses just were tough this year. Then the flags… I’m staying out of that one…


Carrick Finest Lad and Abigail Niles

Overall, another Fair Hill in the books. We’ll see what next year’s new beginnings bring!

More from Fair Hill!

I think I planned to update (and I will), but the young event horses almost killed me.

After getting there for a 7:15AM arrival and not heading out until 5:25 (last horse started at 5pm), I was so exhausted that I decided to do it all again today for cross country… I have so much video for part of Friday until I died and the sat down on a golf cart…

in the interim, can someone buy/kidnap/steel/borrow this horse for me? I want it.

5 year old Connemara stallion. According to his rider, he’s “15 hands on a good day.” 😂

Last video is worth watching. Yes, the peanut gallery is laughing…

Anyway, I’ll send you my address if you’re interested in sending him to me. K, thanks.

One more day! I will survive!

It’s Fair Hill time!

Thank you all so much for your support for my last post. I truly appreciate each and every comment!

But, today it’s all about Fair Hill! Leaving in a few minutes for Young Event Horse jumping phase over at the sawmill field and seriously hoping for better weather than the last 2 days…

Note the sandbags…

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YEH dressage @fairhillint

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Victim of the wind…

Can’t wait to see what today brings!

Struggle Bus.

I’m going to try and not make this a “woe is me” post because it’s not intended to be, not really. And not a medical post, at least not entirely, because this is a horse blog. But, it all really relates, sort of? Horse stuff further down.

Harry Potter desk characters taking up space on my cluttered desk

It’s starts with me. I’m falling apart. I mean, I fall apart every year at this time through spring, but this year is worse. Chronic illnesses just suck. My migraines seem to be as bad as ever (though it seems I have a week reprieve thanks to my month migraine injection… used to help more, but now a decent week is all I get). That combined with fall just makes things hard. I had a meltdown at the neurologist the other week where he suggested we try more (additional) medication and I just said no. So, I’m going to try Botox instead starting in December assuming insurance doesn’t have anything to say about it. I’m sick of drugs (though I’ll continue my millions I already take).

I f your going to spend millions, spend it on Biscuit in a box

Then add in my asthma taking a random turn for the worse. I guess it’s been getting bad for a while and I’ve been ignoring it (lack of oxygen probably explains my exhaustion), but really not being able to breathe is no fun. Finding yourself in danger zones in breathing tests is scary too. So more medication/changed medication and 2x/day nebulizer treatments (since I have so much free time) and we’ll see? Drs office wanted a follow up Friday but I’m not missing jump crew for YEH at Fair Hill for anything so Monday.

Add in random new food allergies (suddenly developed a soy allergy to add to dairy and gluten), I’m falling apart.

First vendor table the other week

Then there is Batt. He’s doing OK-ish. He’d be great if he could have ventipulmin daily but that’s NOT in my budget. Daily I’d be going through probably $600 worth/month and I can’t do that. I can’t do $300 worth of ventipulmin a month. So, I use it to get rid of the worst attacks, then hope the steroids do their job. We’re trying to get him consistent on prednisalone every other day, but every time I get him there, he has another attack and we’re back to daily plus ventipulmin. And the more you use ventipulmin, the more you need.

I need to order more steroids today to add to my growing vet bill. The only thing I haven’t tried is albuterol syrup. It’s cheap so that’s the last thing on the list. He’s also getting 30 Zyrtec (thank you Costco generic)/day down from his loading dose of 40 which seem to help much more than when he was on the 20/day. He also gets Air Power each morning.

Love him, but sometimes…

Right now he’s OK, but this brings me to the question, when is enough enough? I’m not there now, but if I can’t control with steroids and the occasional ventipulmin, I might be there because financially, he’s sucking all my money. Chronic illnesses suck and it’s not like this one is getting better, but rather worse. It’s a ticking time bomb between attacks. Now, if we go 6 months between attacks, great, but 4-5 weeks, that’s what’s killing me!

Do you have a limit? If it was just Batt, it would be easier, but… I could funnel lesson money into his medication, but again, for how long? Over time he’s going to build resistance and need more and more and more… I’m asking questions now while I’m not facing a decision (just this month’s 1k vet bill for his medication and a couple other things). But it’s not sustainable if he’s not manageable.

Favorite times of the year!

Anyway, depressing post. Positive? Fair Hill jogs start today! Not sure I’ll make it for the jogs before I have to volunteer, but I’ll be there for dressage tomorrow, YEH Friday, cross country Saturday, and Stadium Sunday! Looking forward to an exhausting few days!