“What helped me get through the difficult time was having an amazing support team around me," said Jessica. Photo © Jessica Wolf Hart

Tips for Dealing with Grief When Losing Your Horse

Dealing with grief and loss of any kind is usually gut-wrenching, unbearable and extremely difficult. The loss of a horse is no different. They were your once-in-a-lifetime partner, they’ve taken you places you only dreamed of going, and now they are no longer physically with you.

We spoke with an exhibitor who recently lost an extraordinary horse and shared her personal story about what helped her cope. Jessica Wolf Hart lost her amazing show partner, Diva (Skips Sudden Reward), her “unicorn” and her once-in-a-lifetime teammate who helped her to earn Top 10s at the Congress, a Novice Achievement Award in western pleasure and multiple circuit awards in the Open, Novice Amateur and Amateur Divisions. With Jessica’s advice, we’ve put together a list of tips that may help to deal with grief when you lose your horse.

Lean on Your Support System

Relying on your trainers, friends and family during this time is crucial. They can handle coordination or small details such as paperwork while you focus on managing the situation. Jessica confirmed, “What helped me get through the difficult time was having an amazing support team around me. When Diva passed away unexpectedly, my horse show family and husband stepped up to the plate and handled all the things I could not.” Without help, the situation may feel more overwhelming than it is. Lean on others and allow them to help you in whatever way feels right to you.

Say Goodbye if You Can

Whether it is sudden or something you know is inevitable, the death of your horse is an excruciatingly tough situation to experience. Jessica told us, “They let me focus on saying goodbye. I know not all situations give you the opportunity to do this, but if you have the chance, I would recommend taking the time to do it.” Saying goodbye may help comfort you and give you the closure you need to cope. Take comfort in the fact that you’ve made the best decision with your horse in mind, even if it is the toughest.

Take Time to Heal

Especially during hard times, it is easy to jump right back in with both feet first. Especially equestrians – we are taught that if you fall off, you get right back on. Sometimes, however, that isn’t the best approach and you will need time to let your heart and your mind be open to moving forward. Jessica gave us some great advice, “I took the time to heal. I think sometimes we focus on being strong and putting up walls that everything is okay, and we want to jump back into things, but we don’t always let our hearts heal. I took some time off and away from the barn. That short break helped me come back with a larger appreciation and love for riding and horses.”

Honor Your Horse in Your Own Way

There are no rules when something like this happens and everyone deals with grief and mourning in their own, personal way. Perhaps a public tribute feels appropriate to you, honoring your horse by placing an ad in a publication or posting about it on social media. Or it may feel better to you to keep the experience close and personal. The memories and bond you share with your horse are essential and cherishing those is the best way to honor your horse.

A saying from an ad honoring Diva said, “Goodbyes are not forever.
 Goodbyes are not the end.
 They simply mean I’ll miss you. 
Until we meet again.”

Julie Hoefling was born and raised in Akron, Michigan but now resides in Cave Creek, Arizona with her husband, Jerry. She works at Central Garden & Pet (Equine Division – Farnam) as a Brand Manager over grooming, wound, and leather care. Julie shows her horse, Shady Impulse in the Level 1 Amateur Western All-Around events under the guidance of Ryan and Andrea Kail.