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Discussing: Horses (warning: injury and death)

Horses (warning: injury and death)

In one of my stories there will be a v. sad scene involving putting down a badly injured war horse. How would such a thing be done in a world without guns, presumably trying to spare the horse as much pain as possible? In this case there will be a very bad leg injury (a shattered bone), such that the horse will die a terrible death of infection and pain, so putting him down is the only choice.

Thanks ahead of time for any help.

Gandalfs apprentice



Re: Horses (warning: injury and death)

Hi GA,

I  don't suppose calling in the vet with the green dream is an option? Maybe Aragorn had a middle earth alternative? Sorry to be yucky but I think cutting its throat would be the humane thing to do.  While there may not be guns in middle earth I'm sure there is no shortage of daggers and swords. Which brings me to modern day - what do you do when you don't have a gun or a blade?  (or a vet)



Re: Horses (warning: injury and death)


I've wondered since I first posted this question if firing an arrow into the brain wouldn't be the most humane thing. Slitting of throat is definitely not.

So far, googling has not brought me any answers.




Re: Horses (warning: injury and death)

I would drive a dagger through the horse's heart. I have seen that one in films.




Re: Horses (warning: injury and death)

Wouldn't you have to know equine anatomy really well for that to be a sure thing? In films, of course, it would look a lot better as compared to more bloody alternatives. My husband suggested an axe blow to the brain (yuck!).




Re: Horses (warning: injury and death)

A stab straight down with a dagger, severing its spine? Cutting an artery and letting it bleed out (it would be very fast)? And a professional cavalryman would have good knowledge of basic equine anatomy, I should think. Perhaps a professional butcher would be able to help.

If you don't mind my mentioning it, arrows aren't properly "fired", by the way; that seems to be a Gunpowder Era usage. Arrows can be loosed, or shot.



Re: Horses (warning: injury and death)

I can't remember if anyone's mentioned this, but I suspect the most humane thing would be to cut the throat. Not deep enough that it couldn't breathe, just enough that it would bleed out. In humans there are loads of of blood vessels going to the brain so neck and head wounds bleed an awful lot. I imagine death would be fairly quick for the horse, if a bit hard to look at for the human.

Also, if the blade is very sharp and smooth the horse would feel almost nothing at all. This is the reason why kosher slaughtering techniques were supposed to be so humane (at least for the time). I know I've received cuts that I didn't feel or even notice until someone pointed them out to me. If the cutting material is smooth, it won't rip the skin, it will just slice through it and that doesn't hurt that much at all.

On the other hand a stab would be pretty painful (even if just for a short period of time), and very hard to do. Hard enough on humans who are standing erect, but think about the shape of a horse. And if you miss and hit another organ there's potentially a much slower death (or no death at all).




Re: Horses (warning: injury and death)

I've gotten two answers to my personal email from knowledgeable people about this, and I will ask their permission to post the entire messages. In a nutshell, one says that the most humane thing is to cut an artery, either the jugular or one in the rectum, so that the horse bleeds out; the other says it's to thrust a very sharp long knife or sword into the heart.




Re: Horses (warning: injury and death)

I actually have a an RL (and, would you believe it, recent) story that might illuminate the matter. You may or may not be aware that in 2001 hundreds of thousands of sheep and cows in mainland Britain were slaughtered and burned in an attempt to contain an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (and this was them 'containing' it!). Most of the animals, as you would expect, were shot, but apparantly at the height of the cull, at the blackspot region in Northumbria, there was so much to be done that it was sourced out to people who didn't have gun licences (as is quite comman knowlege, very few Britains do).

A friend of a friend at the time had one of these jobs, and he claimed that- can you believe this- the approved way to cull a cow when you couldn't fire a gun was to calmly walk up to it and briskly hammer a long iron tent peg into the poor creature's skull! As cows are usually, apparantly, very trusting and rather dim, if you did it properly (through the forehead) apparantly they never had time to work out what he was doing- didn't even cry out in pain. Plus, unlike firing a gun, there wasn't a load noise that would frighten the others, so the entire heard could be done one after another!

Obviously horses are rather more skittish (and brighter) than cows, but I seem to remember an attendant can do just about anything to a lot of horses if he's calm, authoritative and stays where the horse can see him...




Re: Horses (warning: injury and death)

Madeleine has sent me some very helpful and well-informed answers to this sad subject. I've excerpted her comments below.

--Gandalfs apprentice

From Madeleine: 

I'm afraid an arrow wouldn't have the penetrating power to get through the skull of a horse, probably not even one fired by a crossbow.
I have a scene in one of my future chapters where a mercy killing of a horse has to be performed. The way it was done in the time before firearms got invented was to puncture the heart with a long dagger or a sword.
The heart of a horse is located in an angle of 90° behind the sternum. The thrusting has to be pushed in between the 3rd and sixth rib from the left side. To avoid any great pain the thrust has to be done in a single deep and powerful movement.
Certainly not a nice way to end the life of such a beautiful creature but the quickest and unfortunately common in a world of constant war and battle.
I wouldn't recommend the slicing of the jugular or the carotid. It is a cruel and slow death, especially for large animals like horses or cattle. It takes 5 minutes and longer before the heart has pumped all the blood out of the body and a strong animal will be conscious until the end. For this reason it is prohibited in Germany by law to kill any mammal by this method.
A deep thrust into the heart with a long dagger or the short Rohirric sword would kill the horse at once, as the heart would stop beating immediately. As the heart is a muscle there would be a single, but strong convulsion. A horse would make no noise.
I wouldn't mind if you made this information available for others. As my slightly bizarre hobby - medieval medicine - got around, I give all kind of "medical advice" anyway....



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