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Sedating Horses to Clip - Some Tips

Sedating to clip – a hairy job in more ways than one!


Hi there all – I have been asked about sedating horses to clip them quite a lot lately, so I thought I would explain some of the drugs used.

I have had to clip a lot of horses in my time, as well as sedating clients' horses.. obviously, the ideal situation is to spend some time training your horse to get used to clippers. Often using some small battery powered clippers (human ones, or little trimming clippers) are a really nice way to get your horse used to the vibrating sensation – you can just hold then next to the horse, then against the horse, stroke the horse with them etc. before moving onto horse sized noisy clippers. Don't be in a rush when acclimatising them – as with all horsey things, it's shorter in the long term to spend more time at the start to make it as stress free as possible. It's outside the scope of this to discuss fully but am always happy to chat with you about it if you are interested. Some horses just never get used to the feeling though – I find the ticklish ones are the worst as the scared ones chill out when they realise it doesn't hurt.

Firstly, you have the choice of oral or injectable sedations.


Oral sedation has the advantage of being able to do at your own convenience, without having to work (or pay) in a vet visit at the same time as clipping. Legally, any animal we prescribe for has to be seen to be under our care, so oral sedatives can't be prescribed without the horse having been seen – this can be done at routine visits (for vaccinations or teeth, for instance).


The 2 options for oral sedatives are ACP (Oralject Sedazine) or Dormosedan Gel (Detomidine Hcl).


ACP is fairly mild and it has a ceiling of effect (4- 10ml/ 450kg bodyweight). This means that if 10ml doesn't work, 20ml won't do any more but you will get more side effects. It's quite good for just taking the edge off nervous horses; some, however, get worse on it, especially aggressive types, and you can't use it on entire male horses. The tube comes in a 30ml size (so 3 + doses). It takes a good 1-2 hours to completely take effect so make sure you allow time for this – if you excite the horse in the meantime, it just won't work!


Dormosedan Gel contains the stronger Detomidine Hcl. It has to be given under the tongue and it takes 40 minutes to kick in. You need to wear impermeable gloves when you are administrating the drug and individuals with cardiovascular disease should not use as it can be absorbed across human skin. It's stronger than ACP but still not as strong as injectable options (in my experience). You must be careful when using it – read the packet thoroughly and dispose of safely.


You then move into the injectable sedatives. It's often easier to use these than to mess around with milder oral options and can work out quite well financially, especially if you book in on a zone visit day or in conjunction with other work to do. The main thing to keep in mind is that they don't take long to kick in and they don't last forever so my advice is – get the horse as clean as possible (wash the day before if possible) so your clippers have a good chance, have your overalls already on and have the extension lead and clippers set up and ready to go.



On average, a regular 500kg horse needing moderate sedation for a blanket clip will need approximately 3ml, with a top up 15 minutes later of another 3ml. Xylazine works well for first time horses or those that are a little scared. It's cheap and works very quickly but it doesn't last that long – about 15 – 20 minutes heavy sedation then a further 20 minutes mild sedation.


Horses strongly resenting being clipped or ticklish horses sometimes need a mixture of Dormosedan and Butorgesic. They are both more expensive drugs but they are very effective and you use a smaller amount of them. You get a good 35- 40 minutes of heavy sedation then around the same again of increasingly lighter sedation.


An average 500kg horse may take 0.5ml Dormosedan and 1 ml Butorgesic; if you know your horse is one of those REALLY resentful ones then we often have to go for a stronger dose straight off. It's really helpful if you know the dose of which drug worked last time if you have one of these gems – 1ml of Dormosedan works a lot better than 2 injections of 0.5ml but I would never give a horse 1ml straight off unless I knew that's what he needed previously. Writing the dose down in your horses vaccination card is a great plan..

Whatever sedation used, a lot of horses don't like having their faces and ears clipped in which case sensible use of a twitch may help. Never leave twitches on longer than 10 minutes and make sure you let the endorphins from the twitch kick in before you start.

Make sure you check the clippers are not getting hot, oil regularly and never forget that horses can kick very powerfully and very accurately, even when heavily sedated. Even when they look like they are going to fall over, they're that sleepy! Be careful!

Published Monday 30th of July 2012

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