As if a serious injury isn’t stressful enough, many horses also have to endure stall rest while they heal. Some take their R&R in stride, but many others become stir crazy and difficult to handle. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to keep your horse happy, healthy and stress-free during this time.
Most horses are happiest living in a pasture, and most minor injuries will heal just as well with the horse turned out. Occasionally, however, a significant injury requires stall rest. Prolonged confinement can lead to stomach ulcers or vices such as cribbing or weaving. In fact research shows that confinement is one of the most common reasons for ulcer development. Vices that develop during stall confinement may persist even after the horse is turned back out. So what can you do?
1. The buddy system
If possible, provide stall rest in a stall or small pen where he can see out on all sides. Some stall-bound horses do better in a quieter area of the barn, while others prefer to be where they can supervise all the day’s activities. It often helps to put another horse or companion animal in a nearby stall.
2. Dietary adjustments
Keep hay in front of him during stall rest at all times. This keeps him occupied and lessens the risk of gut issues by providing a steady intake of forage. If your horse tends to be on the heavy side, you can always use a hay net with smaller than normal holes to slow down consumption.
Cut your horse’s grain portion in half, but do not decrease supplements. A confined horse does not need the extra energy grain provides; keeping him on his full ration will only make him more of a handful to deal with.
Add nutritional and digestive support so your horse will have the nutrients he needs to heal as quickly as possible. I like Simplexity Essentials for nutrition and digestive support, and Noni or Xango juice for extra antioxidants.
3. Boredom busters
No doubt created by frustrated riders with stall-bound horses, boredom buster stall toys are a great investment. Put hanging balls or lick toys in the stall to give your horse something to play with. Some horses like cones or balls with handles to bang around. You can easily make your own stall toys by hanging empty plastic milk jugs (see sidebar).
Handwalk your horse several times a day if this is permitted. Taking him to the arena to watch other horses or graze can have a huge positive effect on his mental attitude. You can also do some ground exercises to keep your horse limber and focused – always speak to your veterinarian about which exercises will help strengthen him, and which ones could exacerbate the injury.
4. Natural remedies
•Rescue Remedy can be added to your horse’s water during stall rest to help keep him calm. The homeopathic remedy Chamomile is another calming option. Herbal blends formulated for relaxation can be useful for high energy confined horses.
•If your horse starts to get irritable or goes off his feed, he may be developing ulcers. Products such as Succeed, UF, green clay or aloe/slippery elm are all good for healing and preventing ulcers.
•Get bodywork done to keep your horse comfortable during stall rest and help prevent compensation muscle spasms that can cause further lameness.
Last but not least, the time your horse must be kept on stall rest can be used for extra bonding. More attention to grooming and scratching those itchy spots can help your horse appreciate you more, and this will serve you well when training resumes.
Simple stall toys you can make on your own!
Here’s a great boredom solution for warm days. Fill an empty margarine or similar sized container with water (you can flavor the water with apple juice), drop in slices of your horse’s favorite fruits and veggies, and put it in the freezer until frozen solid. Remove the treat from the container, and place it in your horse’s feed bucket or pan. He’ll stay amused for some time trying to pick out the tasty snacks as the ice slowly melts. Be sure the treat pieces are small enough that your horse cannot choke.
Hanging empty clean milk jugs from your horse’s stall can give him something fun to bang around and play with. Some horses like it when the jugs are filled with something that will make noise, such as a few pebbles – just be sure your horse will not drive the barn staff crazy! You can also cut a few small holes at the bottom edge of the jug and place some healthy treats inside, making your horse work to get at them.
Bobbing for apples
Fill a separate water bucket with water, toss a couple of apples in and let your horse entertain himself trying to retrieve the fruit from the water. This activity should be supervised.
net If your horse is not particularly interested in picking at his hay all day long, tempt him by placing a layer of hay in the hay net, followed by a sprinkle of fruit/veggie slices, followed by more hay, and so on.
Madalyn Ward lives in Fischer, TX. More information can be found at: holistichorsekeeping.com, yourhorsebook.com, and horseharmony.com.