Many horses become an extension of the family. Riders and their kids grow up loving their favorite horses and they become part of everyday life. When one of these beautiful, strong, sleek animals passes away, you may want to bury your favorite horse to honor his long life of service and affection.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Do You Bury a Deceased Horse?
- How to Give Your Deceased Horse a Funeral or Memorial
- Frequently Asked Questions: Burying a Horse
- Other Burial Alternatives for a Horse
Burying a horse, however, might be easier said than done. Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in giving your horse a proper burial at the end of its life.
How Do You Bury a Deceased Horse?
Burying a deceased horse takes careful planning and orchestration to do it right. Take a look at the steps you’ll need to take.
Check state and local regulations
Once upon a time, you could bury or dispose of a dead horse on your property without asking a soul. Today, it’s not that simple. State and local regulations might have a lot to say about burying a horse.
Laws vary widely from state to state and county to county, so check in with your specific state and local laws first. Typical regulations you can expect to encounter include:
- Outright bans on horse burial on private property
- Restriction of burial to horses dead less than 24 hours
- Regulation regarding the distance from houses and wells that the burial can take place
- Requirement of permits for burial
- Requirement of property tests to determine the level of your water tables
Some horse owners will decide to bury a horse on their property without contacting local authorities, thinking they have enough land and plenty of open space. However, if authorities find out, you may have to pay fines and exhume the horse for proper disposal, according to local regulations.
You can start by checking with your local extension office. They’ll either have the information necessary or can point you to the proper department of agriculture that can provide the answers you need.
Borrow or rent a backhoe
Once you’ve checked the local laws and have all the permissions in place, you can dig the hole. Unless you own a backhoe, you’ll need to borrow or rent one. If you live in a rural community, you might find a neighbor willing to let you use it. You might also find a local handyman who can dig a hole for a sum. If you can't use either of these options, go to a local farm equipment center where you can rent one for a couple of days.
Dig a hole for burial
In general, digging a hole seven to 10 feet deep will satisfy state and local regulations. Expect most states and counties to require a minimum of three to four feet of ground cover from the body of the horse to the surface. To stay safe and keep smells to a minimum, the deeper, the better.
Prepare the body and lower the horse
Some states require you to slit the abdomen to encourage the breakdown of the carcass and eliminate gaseous buildup. Once you do this, you can lower the horse into the hole.
To lower the horse, you can choose a method that works best for you. If you have a fork attachment, you can slide the fork under the horse, lift it, and navigate it over to the hole. Another option involves tying the front legs together and back legs together with a long length of rope. Loop the excess rope around the backhoe and drag the horse into the hole.
Cover your horse with a layer of lime
You can purchase hydrated lime in bulk. You should plan to cover your horse in two inches of it before covering it with dirt. Lime helps speed up the decomposition process.
Backfill the hole
At this point, you’ll want to backfill the hole with dirt. You’ll also need to grade the dirt, as you’ll initially have a mound and leftover dirt. Grade the dirt until you have a smooth, even surface over the place where the horse was laid to rest.
How to Give Your Deceased Horse a Funeral or Memorial
For especially beloved horses that functioned as family pets, holding a funeral or memorial service makes total sense. Whether you gather around your horse’s grave, join together in your backyard, or hold a memorial service in the barn, you can do several things to honor the memory of your horse.
Invite friends and family members
Ask close friends or family to come to the event. Ideally, those attending will have known your horse or are horse people themselves. You want to invite those who understand why you’re honoring your beloved pet in such a special way.
Share memories about your horse and provide time for guests to share their memories. This will help set the tone for the funeral or memorial service. It'll also remind everyone about your wonderful animal.
Read a poem
If you struggle with knowing what to say, consider reading a poem or sharing one or more horse loss quotes. If your children were also particularly close to the horse, have them read a special poem or quote during the service.
Play a song
Is there a song that reminds you of your horse or one that you feel encapsulates its unique personality? Play it during the service and share why the song is so meaningful to you.
Have a guest book
Encourage those in attendance to sign the guestbook and write down a memory they have with your horse. This is especially meaningful if those who are invited spent time with your horse in any way.
Hold a memorial activity
Consider holding a pet memorial activity for your guests such as planting a tree, painting a picture, or planting flowers around the grave.
On attending a horse funeral
If you’re going to a horse funeral, consider bringing along a horse memorial gift for the person who lost a favorite animal. If you would rather donate to a cause in honor of your friend’s horse, choose one of the horse owner’s favorite charities or pick from a list of popular memorial donation ideas instead. Either way, your kind gesture will mean a lot.
Frequently Asked Questions: Burying a Horse
The thought of burying a horse often comes with questions about the process. Read three common questions horse owners ask.
How much does it cost to bury a horse?
The cost to bury a horse varies widely depending on required permits (or the lack thereof), whether you need to rent a backhoe, where you’re located, and whether you’re the one doing all the hard work.
If you plan on hiring someone, expect to spend $300 for the hole and horse placement. If they also backfill and grade, you’ll need to add more to the total. Prices can vary widely depending on where you’re located, with less expensive options available in rural areas and prices for these services at a premium in areas where the equipment is less prevalent.
How deep do people typically bury a horse?
Most states require a minimum of three to four feet of ground cover between the body of the horse and the surface. A six- to seven-foot hole will provide this depth for most horses. For especially large equines, you may have to dig deeper.
Can you bury a horse on your property?
The answer to this question depends on your state and local regulations. Some states allow it, others do not. Check your local extension office for regulations and guidelines.
Other Burial Alternatives for a Horse
If burial isn’t a feasible option for you, there are several alternatives to burial.
Crematories that offer horse cremation typically provide private and communal cremation. In a private cremation, the horse gets cremated separately and the cremains go to the family. In a communal cremation, the horse gets cremated with other pets and their ashes get scattered over private ground together by a member of the staff. Expect to pay $1,200 to $1,500 for cremation services.
If you receive ashes back, you can choose to turn some of them into a pet keepsake to keep your beloved equine near you forever.
Some companies will remove your horse and properly dispose of it according to local ordinances for you. Service fees vary widely but this may be a good option if burial is not an option and you don’t have a removal method.
Horse rendering is a method of recycling your horse’s carcass and breaking it down to be used in other products. Rendering plants are largely in the Midwest and available, they may pick up your horse and remove it for a fee.
Some landfills will accept horse carcasses, though this varies from location to location. Some will accept horses but will not accept those that have been chemically euthanized.
Burying Your Horse
Giving a beloved horse a proper burial is important to many horse owners. As long as the proper guidelines are followed, a successful burial and funeral can take place in the privacy of your own property.
- Coleman, Sarah. “What to Do After Your Horse Dies.” Horse Ownership, Horse Illustrated, 16 November 2015. horseillustrated.com/horse-resources-what-to-do-after-your-horse-dies.
- “Equine Cremation.” Cremation, Pet Cemetery, 2021. petcemetery.org/cremation/equine-cremation.
- “Horse Disposal Options.” Horses, Extension, 31 July 2019. horses.extension.org/horse-disposal-options.