On Losing a Young Horse

A heartbreaking open letter from Elizabeth Huxster.

Words and photos by Elizabeth Huxster


Horse Nation,

It will come as no surprise that breeding sport horses is an emotionally grueling endeavor. The expense, the anticipation, the fears, all making breeding difficult. The fear of conception, the fear of twins, the fears that your foal will be any less than perfect, the fear of delivery and the mare’s well being, all disperse when that foal is standing on the ground nursing.

And still, we have fears — maybe he has a congenital heart defect, maybe he will have a poor temperament. But then there are the hopes — maybe he will be fantastic with children, maybe he will be a record-breaking jumper, maybe he will have the kind of movement dressage judges can only dream of.

Reality starts to set in. He does have a remarkable temperament, but he isn’t quite as conformationally perfect as his mother. He probably will not be an Olympian, but still we hope and dream for our foals. We have grand plans for their training, for their careers, for their long and full life. We forget some of those fears we had when he was born and start to assume that we will get to ride them, to break them, to show them, take them fox hunting with his dam, teach him to use that broad back for side saddle, how to leg yield, and how to perform obnoxious little tricks we will regret later. We lose sight of how fragile they are. We geld them, we halter break them, we become accustomed to their presence in the barn.

We forget that tragedy strikes we you least expect it.

Losing a foal is one of the most heartbreaking experiences a horse owner can go through. Losing a foal after they have passed the dangers of delivery, when you least expect it, is especially cruel. You know their personalities, have seen their similarities to their parents and their differences. You have developed expectations.

I write to you today, Horse Nation, to remind your readers to cherish their foals and especially the ones you get to ride and take through their adulthood and retire to lush fields. Horses have the remarkable ability to capture our hearts and find new, original ways to break them. We have the unique privilege to spend our lives with them and occasionally have to make unimaginable choices.

I am deeply grateful to have had spent what limited time I had with Sonny, or Ferris as he was known, and deeply appreciate the effort my mother and veterinarian put into saving his life and giving it a peaceful ending.

Go hug your horse for me.

–A heartbroken reader


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