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Basic Horse Care: Keeping a Horse on Stall Rest

Sometimes it is simply unavoidable: While resting in a stall often leads to boredom in horses, isolated standing is necessary for some injuries. But when is that the case? Is the animal really not allowed to move at all? Then how do you deal with it? Do you also need to adjust the feeding? We will address these and other questions in this article.

What Does Box Rest Mean for the Horse?

If the vet orders the horse to rest in the box, this is usually the case after an operation or a serious injury. Because this is really just a necessary evil – if possible, the pit silence should be avoided as far as possible. After all, horses are herd animals and isolation alone is not good for them. In addition, they travel several kilometers a day in the wild – standing still goes against natural instincts.

But that’s not all: The animals quickly get bored of the box. The energy cannot be broken down properly, the head is not exerting itself enough and so some horses jump over. They start pawing and kicking the doors. They also like to play with feed buckets and anything that is not nailed down.

In order to prevent this, a quiet stall should not mean for the horse what many might initially suspect behind it: complete standstill. Instead, the horse can be moved around with many diseases. This should not only take place in consultation with the veterinarian but also take place in a strictly controlled manner. If you really want your animal to stand still as much as possible, you can still provide mental workload in the box – but more on that in a moment.

When Is It Necessary to Rest in the Pit?

We have already mentioned it: In most cases, the vet will be reluctant to prescribe a stall rest for the horse. But there are some illnesses and injuries for which this measure is simply unavoidable. We have put together a first overview here:

  • Fissure
  • Joint inflammation (only if it is very intense)
  • Plaster casts
  • Hoof abscess
  • Laminitis (especially at the beginning of an acute attack)
  • High fever
  • After an operation (especially on joints or bones)
  • Tendon injury

These injuries are also weighted according to their severity. Because it is not always necessary for the horse to rest in the box. If the animal is only slightly lame, the horse can definitely be moved. If the step is completely lame-free, you should definitely do that too. However, this should of course always be checked without the administration of painkillers – after all, the injury still exists, even if no symptoms can be recognized at the time.

By the way: For some highly contagious diseases (e.g. druse), resting in the pit is often prescribed. However, this is usually not due to the disease itself, but simply to the local conditions. If you can set up a quarantine paddock instead, this is usually a better option than isolating the sick horses in a box.

What You Should Definitely Consider

Our main advice: listen to your vet! Because he knows your horse and its individual circumstances best. So if he decides to stop in the pit, please keep to it. If, on the other hand, he says that you can or should move your animal calmly, you should also follow this advice. Discuss additional measures with your veterinarian that you would like to take – such as those that we present to you below. He or she may then give you further suggestions or even work out a plan with you.

If you bear this in mind, we now want to give you some general information on horsebox rest. As I said: You always have to be careful here because of course, we don’t know your horse and the specific circumstances. Most of the time, however, the following applies:

  • Movement is beneficial for healing: If you stand for too long, the musculoskeletal system can be additionally damaged, as the blood circulation and lymphatic drainage do not function optimally. Consequential diseases can be the impact here.
  • Weakness of muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons: Most horses lose weight when they standstill. Controlled movement and good post-recovery training can counteract this.
  • Mental workload is important: The right mental state is not only important for people. The healing processes in horses also benefit from it. So make sure that he/she has regular contact with other members of the same species (e.g. in the neighboring box), is busy, and feels comfortable.
  • Care as the alpha and omega: Standing in the box all the time increases the risk of thrush, for example. So keep the box clean and dry. In addition, the hooves should be checked and scraped out daily.
  • Feeding has to be adjusted: A lack of exercise and boredom means that the horse quickly begins to feed. In the worst case, this can even lead to constipation colic.

Moving: What Can a Horse Do While the Horse is in the Box?

We will now look in detail at how you proceed in these various aspects of horsebox rest and how you can prevent boredom and other diseases. Let’s start with the movement. After all, at first glance, this might seem contrary to the actual purpose of the pit rest.

In many cases, however, it is quite right and important that the horse be moved. However, we don’t mean grazing with the whole herd together – there are far too many risk factors and uncertainties here. Instead, you should develop a training plan that is tailored to your horse. This can include, for example:

  • (Step) lead by the hand;
  • Exercise on the treadmill;
  • Training in the horse walker;
  • Gear in the aqua trainer;
  • If necessary, register at the horse rehabilitation center.

The most important thing with all variants is that you always keep an eye on your animal and listen to its body language. So you can always adapt the training to the situation. The duration and intensity always depend on the disease, its severity, and its stage. Before the first paddock after a rest in the box, the horse should be able to let out some energy. This will avoid further injuries caused by cockiness.

Feeding: What Can a Horse Get When It is Resting in the Box?

The stall rest for horses always means that there is an excess of energy. After all, the ingested carbohydrates can hardly be converted because the body stands still. This is why it is so important that you adjust the feed according to the current circumstances – and ideally on day one.

So you should feed according to your maintenance needs. As described in our article on the amount of feed, this covers the minimum requirements (i.e. heat regulation, digestion, and muscle activity). As a rule, this means that you can completely dispense with the administration of concentrated feed or grain when your horse is resting in the stalls.

Instead, it is advisable to support the healing process with targeted supplementary foods. On the one hand, you can fall back on ready-made mixtures, but on the other hand, you can also put together your own. It is important that you adapt the feed to the disease or the affected area. The following content can be useful:

  • Herbs: Herbs can support healing depending on the part of the body;
  • Magnesium from grape seed extract, among other things: good for the muscles and the immune system;
  • Mash with e.g. wheat bran: stimulates digestion and can prevent colic;
  • Minerals (including manganese, copper, calcium, and phosphorus): especially beneficial for healing bone fractures;
  • Omega-3 fatty acids from linseed oil, for example, The lack of roughage often results in deficits when the boxes are closed;
  • Selenium: useful for tendon damage (especially in combination with magnesium, manganese, and vitamin E);
  • Zinc: Supports wound healing and strengthens the immune system.

Occupation for the Horse in Box Rest: Tips and Tricks

If you have adjusted the feeding and have followed your veterinarian’s instructions on exercise, it is still possible that your horse will be bored. Then it’s time to add some distraction and activity in the box. Mental tasks that set the gray cells in motion are best suited for this. Here are some initial ideas:

  • Hang up the hay net with tight meshes;
  • Place a branch in the box to nibble on;
  • Mount brushes for pushing on the wall;
  • Floor work exercises while standing still (e.g. swinging, crossing legs, clickers);
  • Engage in an extensive wellness program (most horses like long cleaning, but watch out for the injured areas and skip them if necessary);
  • Massages and acupuncture (it’s best to have a professional show you this first)
    Insert balance pads;
  • Apple fishing (put apples in a bucket filled with water).

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