10 frequently asked questions (FAQs) and Answers about the Grieving Process after the Loss of a Horse

I lost my soulmare Belle de la Babinière 13 months ago. Feelings of remorse, regret, and inescapable guilt overwhelmed me. I felt intense anguish, despair, resentment, rage, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate…for weeks.

I survived.

I found answers to some of my questions.

Q: How long does the grieving process typically last after losing a horse?
A: It takes as long as it takes. Weeks, months, years, a lifetime…it varies from person to person. There is no set timeline for grief, and it can’t be rushed or forced. The grieving process is not linear, it involves ups and downs. While the pain may lessen over time, there may still be moments of intense sadness, particularly around significant anniversaries or specific triggers. It is crucial to allow yourself however much time you need to get over the loss of your horse.

Q: Is it normal to feel guilty after the loss of a horse?
A: Yes, it is common to experience feelings of guilt when grieving the loss of a horse. We may feel guilty for various reasons: We may question whether we did enough to prevent the loss or alleviate our horse’s suffering. If difficult decisions had to be made regarding the horse’s care, we may second-guess our choices and wonder if we made the right decisions. We may feel guilty if we believe we missed signs of illness or distress. It is important to remember that guilt is a normal part of the grieving process, it happens to just about every one, and to be compassionate with yourself as you navigate this tricky emotion.

Q: How can I navigate my overwhelming emotions immediately after my loss?
A: Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling, try not to suppress your emotions, acknowledge, accept and express what you feel. I tried not to cry when Belle died. I thought if I started, I might never be able to stop again. Then I found Washington Irving’s words: “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” I cried buckets. Sometimes it made me feel better, sometimes worse.

Q: How can I find support during this difficult time?
A: Seek support from other horse people, preferably people who have suffered and survived a similar loss, or join support groups specifically designed for horse owners who have experienced the loss of a horse, on Facebook, for example. People who do not love horses often do not understand why we suffer so much, and for so long. Don’t hesitate to get counselling if you need it: counselling services can also provide valuable insight.

Q: How can I cope with the intense emotions that come with losing a horse in the long run?
A: You walk out the back door, and you immediately scan the paddock, hoping to see your horse standing in its favourite spot. Weeks, months, YEARS after he/she has gone. Engaging in mindful activities like journaling (see Harnessing the Power of Affirmations in Journaling to Cope with the Grief of Losing a Horse) can help you express and process your emotions. I spent a lot of time with my other horses, although it was difficult at times to cope with their grief as well as my own. In retrospect, I think it has brought us closer together.

Q: Will I ever stop missing my horse?
A: In my case, the definite answer is “No. Never. Ever. ” It is normal to continue missing your horse as the days, months, and years go by. With time, the intensity of the grief may lessen, and you will be able to find solace in the impact your horse had on your life. As Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said, “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same.”

Q: How can I honour the memory of my horse?
A: You can honour your horse’s memory in various ways, such as creating a memorial, fundraising by participating in equine-related events, volunteering at horse sanctuaries, or contributing to equine charities. Choose a tribute that feels meaningful to you.

Q: Should I get another horse right away?
A: If, and when, to bring another horse into your life is a difficult decision. Taking time to grieve before you decide either way is essential. Grieving can be an opportunity to grow, to become a better person, one with more depth, so that when you say, “I know how you feel,” it will be 100% true. Growing as a person is a way of honouring your horse’s memory. “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern,” said Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I think Belle would want me to develop an understanding of life that fills me with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.

Q: Is it normal to have setbacks in the grieving process?
A: Yes, it is common to experience setbacks in the grieving process. Vicki Harrison said, “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” Grief is not linear, and there may be moments when emotions resurface intensely. Be patient with yourself and seek support if needed.

Q: Will I ever be able to love another horse as much as the one I lost?
A: It’s natural to wonder if you’ll ever be able to love another horse as much as the one you lost. Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell. While you may never be able to replicate the exact bond you had with your lost horse, you may find that, in time, you are capable of loving another horse in a different yet equally profound way. Continuing to love the horse you lost does not diminish the love you can give to a new horse. While it may take quite some time to adjust to the loss of a heart horse, building trust and rapport with a new horse, and creating a new bond, different but equally strong, can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience.

Even if it is very, very hard.

Making a difference in other people’s lives is my mission in life, so I created an online retreat to try and help others through this grieving process. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but it was also cathartic and I hope that Belle, wherever she is, is proud of what she has inspired me to do.

It’s called A Guided Journey to Finding Closure after the Loss of a Horse – I hope it may make a difference in your life.

“We must know the pain of loss; because if we never knew it, we would have no compassion for others, and we would become monsters of self-regard, creatures of unalloyed self-interest. The terrible pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind, has the power to soften uncaring hearts, to make a better person of a good one.”
Dean Koontz