If your horse needs to be put on box rest for a long period, you’re probably inwardly groaning at the thought of keeping them sane and calm. Even the most mild-mannered of horses has been known to turn into a pacing, calling, stable-kicking creature when they’re faced with a long recovery period all by themselves.
Luckily, there are some tactics you can employ to make compulsory box rest a little bit easier on everyone involved. It might not be a straightforward and easy process, but getting it right is important.
What Is Box Rest? Why Do We Need It?
A horse is said to be on box rest or stable rest when they have to have extended periods of time with very limited movement. This is normally to recover from an injury, illness, or operation. There are lots of reasons a horse might need box rest. A horse with tendon or ligament injuries might need box rest for a long time, for example. So might a horse who had a major colic operation, or one who had laminitis.
Sometimes box rest is simply to keep a horse somewhere they can be easily monitored and treated. In other cases, the rest and immobility are crucial to recovery. This is often the case in leg injuries, as too much activity and movement can slow down (or stop) recovery.
Properly managing a horse on box rest is crucial. As horses are recovering, they often feel fine and sometimes try to push the boundaries. Just like equestrians wanting to hop in the saddle before their broken ankle is completely healed!
If your horse is a highly-strung type, they might become excitable, stressed, or plain bored. When this happens, horses often try to escape or start pacing or kicking at doors. Especially if they were used to being turned out before they had to start box rest. As you can imagine, this isn’t great for the recovery process. So being able to keep your horse calm and cooperative can often become a struggle. And who can blame them? There’s nothing worse than watching your friends do cool stuff while you’re stuck in your bedroom watching them—basically, they sometimes get the horse version of FOMO.
By all accounts, making sure your horse stays cool and calm the entire time they have to be on stable rest or box rest is really important. So how do you do that? The good news is, it is possible. The bad news? It’s not easy, particularly if your horse isn’t the most chilled-out equine around.
How To Keep A Horse Calm On Box Rest
When the vet recommends box rest, we all sigh internally. The struggle is real! Keeping horses still and calm can certainly be a big challenge, but with a few tricks up your sleeve and some careful management, you should be able to do it.
Your horse will likely start to get bored and frustrated after a few weeks. So your first job is to keep him occupied with something, like the horse equivalent of a Netflix binge or a great book. Spend some extra time grooming and being present with your horse, and add in a massage or two!
You can also consider getting some extra help in the form of stable toys, mirrors, and even a radio to distract them. Some horses love to play with toys like balls and stuffed treat dispensers, but others are completely disinterested in them. Still, it’s worth a try.
If you have a choice of stable, you may want to chat to the barn about which is most suitable. This will depend on your horse’s personality. Some love to be in a busy spot where they can see other horses coming and going. Some horses find this distressing, and would rather be in a quiet and peaceful spot. You could consider rotating a few companions in and out of a next door stable so your horse isn’t completely alone too, if they’re the sociable type.
Some people even put a companion in the stable with the horse – like a sheep, goat, or a mini pony. But this can come with its own issues, of course, and the last thing you want is for your horse to be kicked by a companion animal! It’s generally only recommended if you have a big stable and the two animals get along well.
Other top tips for box rest
While keeping your horse settled and calm is the main priority, it’s not the only thing to think about. Here are a few more tips to make box rest fly by.
- Choose bedding which is suitable for your horse’s injury and which will stand up to long periods of use without causing rubs or pressure points. Speak to your vet about the most appropriate bedding for this period.
- Encourage your horse to keep drinking enough fluids by soaking any roughage before they eat it, and freezing treats in water for them to lick at.
- Make sure you’re keeping the stable clean. Your regular routine for mucking out might not be enough if your horse is stabled 24/7.
- You’ll need to adapt your horse’s diet for box rest too. They still need to keep their gut moving to prevent colic, but will normally need to reduce their calories. This is to help prevent weight gain and also to stop your horse getting too hot while they’re cooped up inside. Speak to your vet about what diet they recommend, but prepare to cut down any grain or concentrates and feed mostly roughage. You may need to use slow feeder nets (or double net your hay) for horses who are prone to weight gain.
Finally, remember that if none of these tactics work and your horse is at risk of hurting himself, sedation is an option. Your vet will be able to advise the best option for you and your horse, and will work with you to find a solution which doesn’t leave your horse completely doped up, but which “takes the edge off” so they’re relaxed and content.
Have you ever had to manage a horse on box rest? Let us know what helped you get through it by leaving a comment with your best tip!