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Equine Sedation
 By Winniefield Park   •   2nd Aug 2018   •   602 views   •   0 comments


One aspect of the pregnancy check I watched a vet perform recently that really bothers me is the sedation. I hate seeing horses sedated. There is some internal fear that creeps in on me when I see a horse standing with its head drooped, its lower lip slack, swaying like a sapling in a wind. I really hate having to hold a horse while it's sedated. The horse I was holding bumped her head against a wall, and I felt like she was ready to buckle, perhaps topple over on me (because Iíd be too dumb to jump out of the way). Thankfully, sedation is not an everyday thing with the average horse.

When are horses sedated? Your horse might be sedated once a year, or as often as it needs dental work. For some horses, this might be more than once a year, depending on how they wear their teeth. Some horses might not need sedation for this. Using manual, and not power dental tools, one of my daughterís ponies would stand to have his teeth floated. But, this isnít the case with all horses. Having their mouth opened wide with a wedge or speculum and then having equipment whirring and grinding away against their teeth is something a lot of horses object to. So, to make the job faster, easier and safer for all involved the horse is sedated, and tied securely.



An internal check might warrant sedation. Not all mares need sedation the vet told me while they are being pregnancy checked. Experienced broodmares may accept the examination without sedation. But if there is any reason to check the colon or other internal structures sedation is used. Some vets use sedation when gelding colts rather than putting them right under and have them lay on the ground.

Some people sedate their horses for things like trailering, air transport, mane pulling, injury treatment, hoof trimming or another procedure or situation that will cause the horse distress and make it a danger to itself and handlers. Often, an owner will be able to administer the sedation themselves, after instructions from a veterinarian. These will often be low doses that will wear off quickly after the grooming or travelling is done. Itís important that you get it right, because you certainly donít want to be riding a horse that is even a little sedated. There are drugs that will bring a horse out of sedation faster, but these have their risks, just as any other drug does.

For longer time periods, such as when a horse that needs quiet stall rest, a tranquilizing drug may be used. This is less common, but it can make the difference between a horse that heals well, and one that re-injures itself. And these drugs arenít a substitute for good training and handling either. Trainers that use these drugs to quiet horses are taking a shortcut. These drugs have also been used by unscrupulous sellers too. Iíve seen horses go quietly through an auction pen that I knew hadnít been trained properly. This, of course, is unacceptable.

The most well known sedating drug used in animals is Acepromazine, also commonly known as ACP or Ace. But just because itís well known and often used doesnít make it harmless. Opiates are used on horses in combination with other drugs to sedate and kill pain. It takes a long time for a horse to recover from this type of sedation. Alpha2 drugs are common. The vet I observed used two, Romifidine and another I donít remember the name of. Each drug had specific effects, and each controlled either the horseís back or front end.

After a horse has been sedated, you need to make sure it doesnít eat, and that it is a safe place. It could choke on incompletely chewed food, or hurt itself trying to move around while still groggy. It also should be kept separate from other horses while still sleepy. Just how long it will take to come fully out of sedation depends on the horse, and drugs used. For many though, a half an hour is sufficient. Some will take longer, so itís best not to rush.

If youíve watched movies or read stories where a horse still reacts violently after being given a calming medication, the reaction is not entirely fiction. Iím thinking of the scene in the movie International Velvet. Itís not common, but did in fact happen to an Olympic riderís horse during a flight. Once a horse is panicking, the drugs and other restraints donít work as well. Thankfully, this is rare and weíve improved how we travel with horses.
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