Veterinarian-prescribed stall rest can feel like a prison sentence, leaving the equine inmate cranky, bored and hard to handle. There are some simple ways to provide enrichment though, and turn unfortunate circumstances into opportunities for learning and bonding.
1. A comfortable environment
First, make sure your horse’s stall is clean and spacious, with ample bedding, good ventilation and an interesting view. If possible, set up a small pen outside during the day. As long as he has clean water, food, shelter and clearance from the vet to travel between the stall and pen, the change of scenery can really improve your horse’s outlook.
2. Say no to solitary confinement
Horses were not designed to be alone, so give him a buddy. Having another horse close by that he can see (and ideally touch) will significantly reduce your horse’s stress. In a pinch, a pony, a mini, a donkey or even a goat can provide companionship.
3. Keep the healthy snacks coming
Horses are foraging machines. Eating constantly gives your horse something to do and keeps his digestive tract in good working order. There are several options for slow feeder nets and toys that you can stuff with hay and healthy, low-carb, low-sugar treats to keep him busy. Under supervision, a game of bobbing for apples is quite entertaining, as is licking a block of frozen water with chunks of apples and carrots as hidden prizes.
4. Provide entertainment
There are all kinds of stall toys available for purchase and lots of ideas online for making your own. These include balls, pylons, stuffed toys, puzzles, mirrors and tasty licks. Pique your horse’s interest by keeping a selection on rotation.
5. Learn something new
Familiarize yourself with the basics of clicker training. Positive reinforcement is a rewarding way for horses to learn a wide range of behaviours. Use this time to work on ground manners and make your horse easier to handle. For example, you can teach him to back up or move over when you enter his stall, to lower his head for the halter or bridle, to stand patiently, to lift his feet, to take oral medications or needles. He can also learn to smile, hug, bow or touch objects. For the most part, if you can dream it up, then break it down into small steps, he can learn it!
6. Stretch him out
Being on stall rest means moving less than normal. You can help your horse feel good with gentle stretching. ‘Carrot stretches’ are a good way to increase your horse’s range of motion through his neck and back in particular. Warm up his muscles first by going for a five- to ten-minute hand walk. Do each stretch one or two times, holding for only five seconds at a time. Make sure to consult your vet first so that you don’t do anything to jeopardize his healing.
7. Rub him down
Book a massage session for your horse to help release any tension he may be holding in his body. Ask the therapist to show you some simple relaxation techniques and add them to your grooming routine. Light touch in the right places can be very soothing. You might also consider other forms of bodywork such as Bowen, reiki, craniosacral, T-Touch or the Masterson Method.
If you are considerate of your horse’s needs and take the time to engage his mind during recovery, even a stall rest sentence can translate into positive experiences and strengthen your connection.