A guide to box rest
Horse & Hound|April 22, 2021
When a horse has to stay in the stable for a prolonged period of time, all kinds of problems can ensue. Gil Riley MRCVS advises on how to manage box rest
Gil Riley

MANY conditions or injuries sustained by horses, as with humans, can require a period of rest for weeks or even months. However, unlike with humans, we are unable to advise our horses to take things easy and that’s why stable (box) rest is such an important part of many a horse’s recuperation.

The duration and nature of the box rest will be individually tailored for each horse and will be dependent on the condition or injury sustained as well as their speed of response to the rehabilitation programme.

One of the most common reasons for box resting a horse or pony is laminitis. It’s vital that laminitis patients are totally confined to the stable on a deep bed of shavings so that the inflamed laminae are not put under any unnecessary strain while they are repairing.

“The stress of box confinement can lead to the horse’s behaviour becoming unpredictable”

A failure to do this can result in the pedal bone, ordinarily supported by the laminae, rotating or even sinking (foundering) and thus greatly increasing the seriousness of the original condition. A horse with laminitis must remain completely boxed for at least three weeks after first contracting the condition, after which gradually increasing turnout can be introduced if the horse’s condition has resolved.

Most horses post-surgery also require box rest as a fundamental part of the recuperation programme. All horses that have had colic surgery will be put on box rest to prevent the stitches in the body wall being excessively taxed. This minimises the likelihood of herniation of the intestine through the wound in the muscle layers along the midline of the belly.

Strict box rest in both laminitis and colic cases also requires rigorous control of the diet. In laminitics, a low-calorie diet or weight loss programme is a must. In colic cases, a major surgery can be followed by a period of at least 24 hours of starvation. This is then followed by a bran mash and then a high-fibre diet-fed little and often. Restricted diets can be hard with horses with reduced gut motility or gastric ulcers, so best ask your vet.

Unlike laminitis cases, colic surgeries can often benefit from a short walk out several times during the day to allow a pick of grass and to ease any fluid that may be collecting along the site of the incision – the midline along the belly – which is prone to fluid gathering under the effect of gravity.

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