“Let’s keep him on stall rest for 2 weeks.” As a horse owner, your stomach may sink when your vet says these words. While stall rest is sometimes necessary for an injured horse, keeping a horse inside for more than a day or two can be difficult. Horses are herd animals, adapted to roaming and moving around throughout the day. Even a quiet horse can grow bored and irritable when confined to a small space – even if it’s for their own good.
If your injured horse has been prescribed stall rest, here are some steps you can take to keep them healthy, entertained, and comfortable.
Hang a Slow-Feed Hay Net
Left to their own devices, a horse will graze for up to 17 hours a day. While your horse cannot graze in their stall, you can extend their eating time to better resemble natural grazing. Purchase a slow-feed hay net – one with tiny holes. Keep it full at all times so your horse always has something to munch on.
Horses grow bored far less quickly if they have something to eat. Continual munching is also better for their stomach when they’re stressed out and stuck inside. A slow-feed hay net will help prevent the development of gastric ulcers.
Provide Lickable Treats
There are several companies that make hanging, lickable treats for horses. One popular brand fits inside an apple-shaped holder. Hang one of these treats in your horse’s stall. Make sure it is not in a place where your horse can push it up against the wall to bite it. If it swings freely back and forth, they’ll only be able to lick it slowly. Such a treat can provide hours of entertainment.
If your horse is sensitive to sugar, look for a lickable treat made from compressed grain, rather than candy. There are also larger treat hangers that leave only a small part of the treat exposed and able to be licked.
Put Up a Mirror
If your horse has to be alone in the barn, consider hanging a mirror across from or next to their stall. Look for a non-breakable, plastic mirror for safety purposes. Some horses will see their reflection and think they are seeing another horse. This can prevent them from feeling so anxious when left inside alone.
Provide Balls and Other Toys
There are all sorts of different balls and bitable toys on the market for horses. Sometimes, it may take a little experimenting to find one your horse actually likes and uses. If your friends have some horse toys, ask if you can borrow one for the duration of your horse’s stall rest. Make sure you sanitize the toy first to prevent the spread of germs. This approach is more affordable than buying countless toys and finding that your horse really only likes one of them.
Another option is to make your own horse toy. Tie a piece of bailing twine through the handle of a plastic milk carton. Hang this in your horse’s stall. Some horses will bat the carton around or swing it from side to side.
Adjust Their Feed
When your injured horse is on stall rest, they’ll be getting a lot less exercise than usual. As such, they probably won’t need their entire grain ration. Continuing to give them their usual feed may cause them to become overly hot and irritable in the stall.
Usually, you still want to provide your horse with their full allotment of hay. The hay is relatively low in calories and will keep them busy throughout the day. However, you can likely cut their grain or concentrates back to just a few pounds, at most, during this time of reduced activity. If your horse is underweight or on a specialized diet for any reason, check with your vet before adjusting their feed during stall rest.
Ask The Vet About Hand-Walking
Your vet doesn’t want your horse independently bombing around the pasture, but they may be able to tolerate some hand-walking during stall rest. It will depend on the nature and severity of their injury. Ask your vet about hand-walking. If the vet does say hand-walking is okay, then make plans to spend time walking your horse each day. This small amount of exercise and change in scenery can make a huge difference in your horse’s personality during stall rest.
Be aware that many horses, when kept inside for extended periods, can become quite antsy when walked. Make sure there is always someone else on the property, for safety reasons, when you are walking your injured horse. Do not let your horse trot or canter; this could exacerbate their injuries. Often, walking them in a grassy area where they can graze will keep them calmer. If they’re healing from a leg injury, make sure you walk them on solid, even ground.
Consider Calming Supplements
There are a number of calming supplements on the market. If your horse is becoming overly anxious on stall rest, consider adding such a supplement to their regimen. Good active ingredients to look for include:
- Magnesium: This mineral has a natural calming effect and is commonly used as a mild sedative in racehorses and other sport horses.
- L-tryptophan: This amino acid is the one that makes people sleepy after they eat turkey. It can have a calming effect on horses, too.
- Thiamine: This is a B vitamin that plays a role in energy metabolism and can help keep an anxious horse calm.
Make sure the supplement you choose comes from a reputable company. Only administer as much as is recommended on the package. When in doubt, ask your vet to recommend a safe and effective calming supplement.
Horses who spend too much time in poorly ventilated indoor spaces are more likely to develop respiratory infections and allergy symptoms. So, be sure to keep your barn well-ventilated while your injured horse is on stall rest. Leave the doors open as often as possible. If you have windows that can open, slide them open, too. Some barn owners even like to hang a fan on the front of their horse’s stall for improved airflow.
Keeping a horse on stall rest can be challenging – for both you and the horse. But in some cases, stall rest is necessary for an injured horse to heal. Follow the tips above so you can get back to riding sooner. And don’t forget, once you’re back in the saddle, to check out the educational videos on our website to help with your common horse issues.