Deal with box rest

Horses have accidents or injuries, just as we do. According to the insurance company Petplan, the fourth most common type of health problem in horses is desmitis.(1) Desmitis is the inflammation of a ligament most commonly in a limb causing lameness. The general treatment for desmitis is box rest, with a program of walking across 6 to 8 weeks, obviously your individual treatment will vary. But if you consider this, then the chances are at some point in your life with horses, you are going to end up with a horse on box rest.

Interestingly the second most common health problem is gastric ulcers, which can be trigged by box rest. So, ensuring good mental and physical health of your horse on box rest is crucial to prevent a knock-on effect being caused by the initial problem.

Keeping your horse active and mobile while on box rest, may be a challenge, but using some routine of stretches can be very beneficial. Stretching is a good way to keep your horse’s brain engaged, helping to prevent boredom. “Similarly dynamic mobilisation exercises (DME) have led to an increase Multifidus CSA in horses on box rest.” (2) The stretches put together in “Activate Your Horse’s Core” have been proven in field tests, so these may be a good starting point.(3) Though, remember as usual to consult your vet, or trusted professional if you are unsure of the suitability of any of the stretches for your horse.

Beware of overfeeding your horse while on box rest. It is easy for your horse to gain weight while he is confined, and extra weight will not help his recovery. Equally starving your horse can contribute to gastric ulcers, so it is a fine line between the two. Feeding a little and often, if possible is the ideal scenario. The current recommendation is to feed during the day, horses seem to be able to cope without food better at night. (4) So, if you need to limit your horse’s intake give him less food at night and more during the day.

Remember all horses are different and what works with one horse may not work with another. If you are struggling to keep your horse in good mental and physical health while on box rest speak to your vet, it may be possible to adapt the box rest routine to better suit your horse.

1. (2018). The Top 5 Most Common Health Conditions in Horses | Petplan Equine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 May 2018].
2. Tabor, G. (2018). The effect of dynamic mobilisation exercises on the equine multifidus muscle and thoracic profile. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 May 2018].
3. Stubbs, Narelle & Kaiser, LeeAnn & Hauptman, J & Clayton, Hilary. (2011). Dynamic mobilisation exercises increase cross sectional area of multifidus. Equine veterinary journal. 43. 522-9. 10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00322.x.
4. Group, B. (2018). Gastric Ulcers | B&W Equine Vets. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 May 2018].

Box rest boredom

Box rest can be a very stressful time for both you and your horse. Often the box rest has been created by an accident or injury. So, you have the worry over that, and how the injury will heal, as well as the worry about how your horse will cope with being on box rest as well. Remember box rest is a turn of phrase, it does not necessarily mean that your horse can never leave his stable – make sure that you discuss with your vet what the limitations are. Horses, just like us, are individuals and you know your horse better than anyone. If you are concerned about how your horse will cope with being on box rest, please talk to your vet.

One of the main concerns about box rest is that your horse will be inclined to put on weight, which won’t help if he is trying to recover from injury. Balancing out restricting feed with preventing gastric ulcers can be a tricky balance. Make sure that his bedding is comfortable and is not causing him to stand at a strange angle thereby placing more strain through his joints.

Keeping him mobile is a massive part of his recovery. There are various ways that you can do this. Simple mobilisation stretches are a great way to encourage gentle movement, as are baited stretches, provided that they are appropriate for your horse. Walking in hand can be an excellent way to help keep your horse healthy during box rest. Though discuss this with your vet and consider the nature of your horse. If he is going to be rearing and spinning while being led out then it probably won’t help his recovery!

Massage or grooming will be of great benefit to your horse. In the old days all grooms would strap their horses every day, essentially giving them a massage and giving the grooms the opportunity to know their horses inside out. In our fast-paced modern world, we consider grooming simply flicking the mud off so the tack doesn’t rub. If your horse is injured and you can’t ride, you can spend that time massaging and grooming him. This will improve your relationship with your horse, as well as helping him to heal.

Box rest can be difficult. Spending some time working out things to keep your horse entertained and building in mobilisation and massage time into your day, will help you to keep him happy and healthy during his recuperation period. Just remember that when you start riding again he won’t be as fit as he was and to start slowly and build up the work in small increments.

Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today.

Box rest boredom!

By Lizzie Hopkinson


It is very difficult when our horses are on box rest. One of the main things I notice about getting older, is that time goes much more quickly. Six weeks as a child was an incredibly long period of time, and I remember the days passing in agonising slowness while my pony was on box rest. Nowadays, as an adult, I can cope better with periods of difficulty.

The first step is acceptance. There is no point raging about whatever happened to get you to this point, nor wishing it hadn’t happened. The quicker we accept our position the quicker we can adapt to our new scenario and find solutions to the problems that will inevitably arise.

For example, if your horse is on box rest and needs trickle feeding during the day, while you are at work. Consider different options, ask around your yard, someone may do you a favour in return for something else. There may be someone you can pay to pop in and look after your horse. If you are too busy being angry about your situation you won’t manage to find a solution.

Make the best of it. You might love riding your horse best of all, but time spent walking out with him, massaging or grooming him is all part of the relationship that we build with our horses. You never know it may strengthen your relationship with him. If you aren’t confident with massaging your horse, take this opportunity to learn a new skill. Horse Massage for Horse Owners book and DVD was produced for people who wanted help learning to massage their horses. Just walking with your horse even for 10 minutes will have a beneficial effect on fitness, your horse’s and yours!

Time will pass. Annoying but true. Don’t think about 6 weeks of box rest, just tackle one day at a time, or one week at a time. As with many things, breaking the challenge down into bite sized chunks will help us to deal with it. A day on box rest is far less daunting than 6 weeks, and before you know those days stack up into weeks and weeks into months. Time is a great healer, and time does always pass, and as long as you follow the advice of the professionals that you trust to care for your horse, your period of inactivity will pass and soon you will be able to ride again. Take the time to do stretches and mobilisation with your horse which will help his core strength. This will help him out when you start riding him again. And spend some time concentrating on your core strength so that you can hold yourself up when you get back on, which will help your horse out while he is getting fit again. Just remember to bring your horse back into work gradually, so that you don’t end up back at square one!

Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today!

Photo by Anna Kaminova on Unsplash