Those two words you hope your vet will never say – box rest. While it’s a necessary evil to help your horse recover from illness or injury, it can be a particularly difficult time for both of you, particularly if he gets stressed easily or is used to spending lots of time in the field.
Horses are herd animals who are designed to live in social groups, travel many kilometres each day and graze almost continually, and being stabled for long periods takes away their ability to carry out these natural behaviours. However, there are lots of things you can do to minimise the stress he might experience during a period of box rest.
Plan of action
Talk through your horse’s diagnosis and his treatment plan with your vet and let them know if you think he’ll find box rest particularly difficult. Some illnesses or injuries can be made worse if he becomes stressed, so your vet may suggest other options.
Spread it out
Since your horse isn’t able to graze in the field while he’s on box rest, make sure you provide him with enough suitable forage so he can spend up to 18 hours eating a day. This may mean you need to provide him with more forage than normal. If you’re worried about him gaining weight, consider mixing some good-quality barley straw into his normal hay or haylage ration to bulk it out. Always speak to your vet if you have any concerns, particularly if your horse’s illness is related to diet in any way. There are also a number of slow-feeding solutions and small-holed haynets you can try to make his ration go further.
When trying to minimise the stress and boredom of box rest it’s important to change the things you provide on a regular basis. If the same toys or items are left in your horse’s stable day after day, they quickly become part of the furniture and offer little or no benefit. Change them on a daily basis and make the most of this opportunity to spend more quality time with him.
By doing everything you can to reduce the stress your horse experiences during box rest, you minimise the chance of his behaviour becoming difficult to manage and increase the chance of a speedy recovery, since mental and physical health are so closely related to each other.
Pick up your copy of September Horse&Rider, for more great advice on what you can do to help keep him entertained while he’s on box rest, on sale 26 July.