Large animal wounds

Stall rest management

Horses aren’t good at self-protection. If you provide them space, they will run, buck and kick if they choose. This could result in reinjury or further damage to a healing injury. Stall rest helps to control the activity and stress a horse puts on an injury.

Optimum healing requires controlled exercise. Often horses needing stall rest require hand-walking to slowly go back to work. There are a few tips to keep the horse happier and to help ease this process. Offer these to your clients to encourage compliance.

Stall rest suggestions

Provide natural light and fresh air

  • Consider using outdoor stalls or pens the size of stalls. Natural light and fresh air can make a horse feel better.
  • Use indoor stalls with windows to the outside or near a low traffic door left open

Keep the environment healthy

  • Make sure the clean the bedding often
  • Provide extra bedding, particularly for concrete floors and if the horse lies down
  • Ensure good airflow to reduce the risk of respiratory problems
  • Use fans, flysheets and repellents to limit insect annoyance

Feed for stall rest

  • Eating is a great way to pass the time as long as the calories are appropriate
    • Adjust the diet to a lower calorie level if weight gain is not needed
    • Use a more mature (lower energy) grass hay as the backbone of the diet
    • Provide a ration balancer to ensure appropriate minerals and vitamins
    • Slow feed hay nets or feeders are great for making meals last longer
  • Limit carbohydrates to decrease the restlessness associated with the sugar boost
    • Use fat calories instead; fat may also provide a calming effect

Provide company

  • Have buddies stay inside too – switching companions can minimize the stress on the friends
  • Add a stall mate – goats and chickens often work well
  • Have the humans at the barn stop by and say hi whenever possible
  • Hang a radio near the stall

Provide something to watch

  • Place the horse in as stall near a wash stall or farrier area so there’s always something to watch
  • Keep the horse’s needs in mind. Some prefer more activity while others prefer some down time.
  • Placing the horse near a high traffic area can be a negative if the other horses are using the space to go outside

Provide something to do in the stall

  • Make the horse work for a treat
    • Horse popsicles: freezing carrots or apples in an ice block
  • Toys
    • stuffed animals, playground balls, traffic cones
  • Unbreakable mirror

Maintain the current routine as much as possible (grooming etc)

  • Regular activities are reassuring

Provide something to do outside

  • handwalk or handgraze the horse if permitted (and get friends to help)
  • pony the horse while riding another, as more exercise is permitted

Teach new skills

  • Groundwork can challenge your horse’s mind and let them learn something new.
    • Make sure to keep groundwork within reason of your horse’s injury.
    • Teach them to ground tie, get them used to obstacles or work on walking showmanship.
  • Add stretching exercises
    • Stall rest can be hard on joints and tendons
    • Massaging joints or stretching can loosen up your horse and help them feel good

Take a break

  • Ask a friend to assist you or hire a caretaker
  • Consider a rehabilitation barn

Monitor the horse

  • Monitor manure for moisture, appetite and attitude
    • Stall rest can make horses more prone to stomach ulcers, while changes in activity make them more prone to colic.
  • Consider using omeprazole

Transition to turnout carefully

  • Horses will be excited on their first turnout and overexercise is likely, as are battles to reassert herd position
    • Don’t feed breakfast until they are outside
    • Turnout with only 1-2 other horses at first
    • Sedate with acepromazine
    • Turnout during the heat of the day when everyone is moving slower
    • Supervise turnout the first few days
    • Turnout for short periods of time at the beginning
    • Start in smaller area such as a small paddock
      • Round corners encourage running; the arena may not be the best bet
    • Avoid lush grass paddocks to minimize the risk of laminitis from the abrupt change
  • Recondition carefully  -the horse will have lost muscle tone
    • Continue stretching
    • Avoid tight circles and repetitive exercises for the first month
    • Plan for 3 months of gradual return if stall rest lasted more than 3 weeks.

Horses can also be given anti-anxiety drugs. These drugs often have a low safety threshold so care is needed with original dosing. Overdosing can lead to anxiety.  Reserpine is a human drug often used for horse sedation. The main side effect is diarrhea, which isn’t common. Other products (B vitamins, magnesium sulfate, herbal combinations) can also help.

Boarding at a rehabilitation facility can make sure the horse isn’t the only one on  stall rest. These barns are used to restrictions and usually have plenty of company inside. Sometimes the new environment helps make the transition easier. The staff will be more familiar with rehabilitation care and can better follow treatment instructions.

Check in with your client. If they get too frustrated, they will just turn the horse out. There may be a middle ground between stall rest or total turnout that is safer.

After stall rest, plan for recheck radiographs and ultrasound to make sure the horse builds up work as fast as possible without causing reinjury.

From: Stall rest, how to make it easier, UMN extension

Key Takeaways

Stall rest if often required but is hard on man and beast. Explain why it is needed and work with your client to encourage compliance.



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Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.