Most owners have had to deal with a period in time when their horses and ponies have had to go on box rest – most likely to recover from an injury or illness.
It can be an extremely stressful time with the pressure of keeping them happy and contented in a completely different routine to what they are used to.
The key thing to remember is that their diet will need to be adapted accordingly. Feeding a high energy or high calorie feed when the horse isn’t exercising or expending these calories can lead to weight gain.
Also, the diet will need to be changed accordingly to maintain digestive health and keep equines as calm as possible and not excitable.
Any drastic changes can sometimes upset normal intestinal movement and the bacteria, which can lead to more serious issues such as colic.
Fibre is going to be crucial in keeping the digestive tract moving and functioning correctly. Providing adlib forage inhibits the horse’s natural instincts to graze and inside the stomach, fibre will soak up the acid that is constantly being produced.
Concentrate feeds should be divided up in to smaller meals coupled with fibre and fed throughout the day. Cereals and high starch feeds aren’t passed or digested easily through the digestive system and don’t absorb the acid as fibre will.
Because your horse or pony is not currently being exercised and not out in the field this means their activity level is extremely low and they will require fewer calories.
Keeping the same amount of calories, which are no longer being expended can lead to weight gain so as a general guide; the hard feed should be reduced by 50%. Any less and it might be worth discussing with an equine nutritionist to understand if you may need to feed anything else to provide essential vitamins and minerals.
It also depends on the temperament of your equine. Some may gain weight because of the lack of exercise; others may be a little “stressy” and lose weight due to loss of appetite and change in their routine.
Carrying out a body condition score to monitor any changes and using a weight tape to measure is important. When you see your horse daily, any subtle changes are less noticeable compared to a weigh tape that is more reliable in such instances.
How to combat boredom
Put yourself in your horse’s shoes – imagine being stuck in one room for a long period of time. Would you get bored? For horses it is no different, especially if their normal, daily routine is spending up to eight hours in a field.
Boredom could lead to some extreme cases of stereotypical behaviours like crib biting, box walking or weaving.
A horse’s most natural habit is to graze, so adlib forage is key. Some horses can eat their hay extremely quickly so consider a small-holed haynet or two to make them work a little harder.
Naturally horses are herd animals – a companion next to, or opposite can alleviate stress. Studies have shown regular grooming sessions can also relax our equines.
Stable toys or hanging carrots can stimulate them to play and some equines benefit from having a mirror in the stable or a radio playing softly in the background.
As your horse will be confined to a more naturally dusty area for longer, soaking hay, using a dust-free bedding and keeping up with de-cobwebbing and ventilation will help with any respiratory issues.
Staying hydrated is extremely important to avoid compaction so for a fussy drinker add some Fibre-Beet to flavour the water – this could encourage them to drink.
Horses can make around 50% of their amino acids that are the building blocks of protein. Protein is essential for healing and repair and therefore these should be supplied in the diet.
Antioxidants are also key to fight free radicals around the body. Did you know that our Cooked Linseed is packed full of natural antioxidants and high quality protein?
Talk to a qualified nutritionist or to a member of the British Horse Feeds team to discuss any feeding queries regarding box rest.