Safe recovery from sedation

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When a horse needs to stand still for a tricky procedure, a short-acting sedative can be a boon to the veterinarian, horse and owner alike. After the procedure, however, you’ll need to do what you can to keep your horse from hurting himself until the sedative wears off.

As a general rule, the effects of sedation end about an hour after the drug is administered. The timing depends on many factors, however, and some horses will “come around” after 30 minutes, while other remain stupefied for an hour and a half. During that time, you’ll want to keep him from eating, moving around or interacting with other horses.

A stall is the safest place for a sedated horse to recover. But eating while sedated can lead to choke, so remove all hay and grain. Also take out any hanging hay nets and any feed tubs set on the floor that the horse might trip over. A sedated horse can safely drink, so it’s fine to leave water buckets in place. Once he’s in a stall, all you need to do is wait and watch him.

If a stall isn’t available, look for a small enclosure such as a round pen or dry lot---and again, look out for potential tripping hazards. Avoid grass paddocks or pastures: A groggy horse attempting to walk as he grazes may stumble or tip over. You’ll also want a space free of other horses. A sedated horse cannot safely interact with others, even if they are on friendly terms. With the horse standing quietly in such a space, stay close to monitor his recovery.

If a stall or grass-free pen isn’t available, your best option is to put your horse on a long lead rope and simply sit with him. Don’t tie him or put him on cross ties because he’s likely to lean on the ropes and may fall if they break. Even if the ropes hold, the halter can put pressure on facial nerves, leading to damage. It’s a long, boring job, but it’s better to hold the horse on a lead rope yourself. Leave your cell phone in your pocket so you won’t be distracted.

You’ll know your horse is fully recovered from sedation when he begins to act like himself again---knocking on the stall door for food or looking around to see where his friends are---and moves without hesitation or incoordination. At that point, he can return to his normal environment.