How to Sedate and Anesthetize Untrained Horses

Untrained horses—which can vary from feral horses to unhandled youngsters—can be challenging to sedate, so a veterinary anesthesiologist offered tips for other practitioners.
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untrained horses
Some untrained horses have been minimally handled and are accustomed to standing in cattle or roping chutes and often can be medicated, sedated, or anesthetized there. | Photo: iStock
Working with horses that have had little to no handling can be dangerous for both the animal and the human. It’s particularly challenging to get them sedated and anesthetized for veterinary or surgical procedures such as castration, said one veterinary anesthesiologist at the 2018 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in San Francisco, California.

“Untouchable horses may vary from truly feral horses in open range areas to unhandled youngsters in the clinic or pasture environment,” said Nora Matthews, DVM, Dipl. ACVAA, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in College Station. “All are potentially dangerous and require careful assessment of the patient as well as what facilities and personnel are available.”

She described three groups of untouchable horses: feral, minimally handled, and uneducated, along with the best ways to handle these horses for sedation, which vets use to reduce horses’ consciousness level and restrict movement, and general anesthesia, which they use to make horses fully unconscious and unable to feel pain.

Feral Horses

Truly feral horses live in a herd on the range without access to corrals, chutes, or fenced areas. Thus, the veterinarian typically must dart them with the sedatives. Darting in open terrain, however, has its dangers

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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