Friday, October 30, 2009
When to tranquilize a horse
I thought I would address this one after a couple questions regarding tranquilizing horses was put to me by a friend. So, when should you tranq? Whenever your safety or that of your horse is compromised. Simple as that. However, I am of the belief that tranq'ing a horse should always be a temporary measure (whenever possible). Obviously, there is the odd situation (such as having your horse's teeth floated with electric tools at the vet's office) where tranq'ing a horse is necessary at all times. On that note, I don't think it is always necessary to sedate every horse to have its teeth done, but most vets won't do your horse's teeth, particularly with electric tools, without sedating your horse first (or at least that's how it goes up here in Alberta, Canada, anyways). And for good reason. How do they know how your horse is going to react when they power up those dental tools? Their safety has to come first.
So what are some situations where sedating your horse could be okay as a temporary measure?
Farrier work if your farrier's well-being is going to be jeopardized by a fearful or disrespectful horse, it might be time to sedate your horse to have his feet done before they get into really bad shape. Keep in mind though that it should be a temporary measure - in the mean time, you can work directly on having your horse pick up his feet or indirectly on his general attitude.
Clipping there's the odd time it might be absolutely necessary to clip a horse but your horse won't allow it. Whilst working on desensitization and earning your horse's trust enough to clip him the next time, you can sedate him so as to clip him safely.
These are just a couple examples; I am sure there are many more. In my experiences with tranq'ing horses thus far, it does not solve the specific "issue" with the horse on a permanent basis, but it can make your work with said horse safer so as to successfully accomplish a particular task. I have never had a horse tranquilized myself, however we used to do it on a few specific horses at the track; one of which was Link, the Thoroughbred we purchased last fall. He absolutely refused to stand for the farrier and so would be sedated each time the farrier came around to work on him. At that time, while holding Link, I usually played with his ears in the hopes of desensitizing his ears to being touched (he refused to allow his ears to be touched, which could make for a lot of trouble while trying to trim him a bridle path!). It never worked. Not only did he remain a terrible actor with his feet (he would allow me to pick them or pack them, but that was it), he still wouldn't let you to so much as brush his ears when he wasn't sedated.
Sedating a horse does not work (in my experiences) long-term because you are neglecting the root of the issue. There is perhaps the odd situation I can think of off hand where sedating a horse and then working on them could actually progress their training (such as in "sacking out" or such perhaps), but that's just a theory to consider as a last resort. Anyways, it works on a temporary basis obviously because the horse is too dopey to react negatively. However the reason the horse did not want to be clipped/trimmed/shod/etc in the first place (usually) persists and thus when the horse awakes he will still be just as head-shy, clipper-shy, itchy with his feet, etc as he was prior to being sedated. On the other hand, it does not affect a horse adversely to sedate them to perform a task on them, then allow them to wake up. Thus far, when done properly, I have yet to see it destroy a horse's trust in a person or set a horse back in its training...because it really - in itself - isn't doing anything (either negatively or positively) in the first place. In the mean time though, work on the "trouble spot" from another direction. To be honest, after we purchased Link and brought him home, I never actually worked on his feet, nor on his ears, directly. Instead, I worked hard at earning his trust and respect. He now stands good for the farrier 90 percent of the time, and we're working on the other 10 percent by further "unwinding" him emotionally. I can touch his ears almost anytime (or spend a second or two before he gives me permission to touch his ears the times he doesn't allow me to immediately) and he will allow anyone he trusts to touch his ears (those he does not yet trust, he'll raise his head out of reach)...and I never have any problem clipping his bridlepath.
I would definitely consider tranq'ing a horse if yours or the horse's safety could be compromised during a procedure vital to the horse. No, the actual tranquilizing itself should not set your horse's training back, but neither will it likely help you on a permanent basis. So don't consider it a permanent solution, work on a more permanent solution in the mean time and seek professional help if you're stumped! Any experiences out there with sedating horses where it did or did not help?