Are you having issues with one of your team who’s been restricted to stall confinement? This is a four part article which focuses how to address stall confinement problems. We’ll go over Location and Stall Maintenance, Feeding, Exercise, and Entertainment and Avoiding Bad Habits. We’ll go through…
- How to Keep Stall Rest “Comfy”
- Finding a “New” Balance in exercise and diet
- Stall Buddies for companionship
- and Toys and Treats to alleviate boredom and bad habits
Part 1 – Keeping Mandatory Stall Rest “Comfy”
At some point in their life, a horse will probably be placed on stall confinement for one reason or another. Extended stall confinement can be stressful for both the horse and the owner. After only a few days of feeling jailed up, a horse may “acquire” destructive behaviors such as cribbing, chewing, kicking, or pawing. In addition, many horses will show signs of extreme anxiety.
Unfortunately, long term stall rest is often not a choice, but a necessary evil. Horses are commonly placed on stall confinement by their veterinarian due to injury, illness, complicated pregnancy, rehab, or other medical reasons. Ultimately, the goal is for the horse to get back out to pasture as quickly as possible. However, the side effects of being shut in can be severe and include anxiety and the development of destructive behaviors. Owners must look for ways to “survive” the allotted stall rest with the least amount of physical and/or psychological damage to the horse or themselves. By taking location, feed management, limited exercise, and entertainment into consideration, it is possible to make this experience relatively painless.
- Location – The first factor that should be considered when a horse is on stall rest is the location of the stall. Although some owners may not have an option, do your best to see that your horse has a clear view of outside activities. This way, the horse can at least participate in “normal” daily activities as a spectator. If the horse is able to watch what is going on around him/her, it will help keep the animal’s mind occupied.
- Comfort – It is important to make sure your horse is as comfortable as possible in his/her stall. Owners must make sure the horse has space to stretch out and a clean, padded stall. Since the horse will be confined to a small area with little or no exercise for days at a time, owners need to make sure there is no additional strain to the horse’s body. Clean shavings and/or rubber horse mats are much better than concrete or packed dirt and will help avoid additional strain. If employees standing behind a checkout counter for four hours at a time are provided with padded mats to minimize discomfort, shouldn’t a horse that is going to be in a stall for an extended period of time be assigned the same care?
- Extras – Other option horse lovers might want to consider is setting up fans, misters and other comfort accessories, especially during the summer months. Fans will help dry the horse environment and deter the breeding of flying, biting insects. Misters will keep horses cooler in hot summer months. Heat lamps can be a comfort to both horse and owner during the winter months. Making sure the horse is as comfortable as possible will help the animal heal quicker and could also help prevent the horse from developing hard-to-stop vices.
Part 2 – Finding a “New” Balance
Once the horse’s stall has been set up, the next concern will be the horse’s feed. When a horse is on stall confinement, owners may also want to consider a change in diet, because of the reduction in activity level. It may be beneficial to reduce the horse’s feed or at least lower his/her protein intake. If the horse in question is athletic and ridden on a regular basis, he/she is more than likely getting a substantial amount of feed. While the horse is on stall rest, this “extra” feed could cause the horse to become “hyper” due to the fact that his/her body will not be processing the feed at the rate it was before. However, before changing the horse’s feed, make sure that the horse’s veterinarian is consulted. Sudden or improper changes in diet can cause more harm than good if it has not been approved by a knowledgeable veterinarian.
In addition to a possible change in feed rations, a new exercise regimen will probably be necessary. Whether the horse walks around a pasture/paddock all day or is extremely active, being stuck in a stall will greatly reduce their activity level. If approved by the horse’s veterinarian, light exercise can be a positive factor in the horse’s recovery. Depending on the horse’s injury, walking the horse for short periods, a couple of times a day can act as exercise and help break up the monody of being in a stall. If the horse’s injury does not permit any sort of exercise, it is still beneficial for owners to make sure that they spend time with the horse. An owner should spend 20 – 30 minutes a couple of times a day with the horse. This time should be spent with the owner petting, scratching, grooming, or calming the horse. This contact may help keep the horse from becoming antsy or anxious.
Part 3 – Stall Buddies
Even though location, cleanliness, feed, and exercise are quite important when a horse is on stall confinement, keeping the horse occupied is even more important. A bored horse is often a destructive horse. If the horse does not become too bored, then stall rest can actually be restful and not torment for the horse and owner. Boredom is the biggest downfall with stall confinement. This listlessness is what causes the horse to develop the bad habits you want to avoid. Just as dogs chew and dig when they are bored, horses may start to kick, rub, chew, and paw.
There are many to keep a horse entertained. Though not always an option, the easiest and most steadfast way to keep a confined horse occupied is by providing the horse with a “stall buddy.” This “buddy” can simply be another horse in the adjoining stall. If another horse is not available and you’re looking at long term stall confinement, some owners opt to purchase a goat for horse companionship. Goats are small enough that they can be housed in the stall with the horse that has been put on stall rest. In turn, the horse will have a constant companion. If this is something that you feel would work for you, be sure to introduce the goat to the horse over a small time period so they can get to know each other gradually, for the safety of both animals. In addition, make sure that the stall is large enough to comfortably accommodate both the horse and the goat. If a stall buddy is not an option, owners can also purchase toys and treats to keep the horse occupied.
Part 4 – Toys and Treats
Keeping a confined horse occupied and entertained is a must and stall toys and treats can help you with that monumental task. Owners can purchase pre-manufactured horse toys from most local feed stores. Some of the most common are Jolly Balls ®, the Jolly Mega Ball ®, the Horse Pas-A-Fier ®, or Jolly Apples. Owners can also cheaply and easily create their own stall toys by…
- hanging a milk jug, ¼ full of water or pebbles
- throwing an old feed bag into the stall so they can shred it
- if space allows, put an orange cone on the floor
Any of these will give the horse something to play with when he/she becomes bored.
Owners can also keep their horse occupied by providing salt or sweet licks. Some brand names for these treats are: Pony Pops ®, Himalayan Rock Salt ®, or Jolly Jumbo Licks ®. By keeping a horse on stall rest entertained, there is less of a chance that he/she will develop many of the vices that are caused by boredom.
If an owner follows the recommendations laid out in parts 1 – 4 in this article, most horses will get through their confinement with little or no complication.
Do you have tips to share about addressing stall confinement problems? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Saratoga Stalls is a premium national supplier of horse and barn products. For more information on custom barns or horse stalls please contact Curtis Gardner, CEO, at (800) 918-6765.