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TIPS FOR THE STALL-BOUND HORSE

By Holly Covey

Artwork courtesy of Bit O'Horse Clipart

Got a stall-bound horse? Perhaps he must stay in the stall and be inactive for a period of time due to an injury or sickness, or the weather is keeping you off the trails or out of the arena. Here's a few ideas to keep your horse from being too destructive while shut in.

Long-term shut-ins need plenty to munch on, but not very much in the way of high protein or carbohydrates. Cut that grain down! They still can eat a little bit, but gradually reduce the grain to less than half. If feeding sweet feed, switch over to plain oats, too. But you may want to provide plenty of grass or timothy hay, as the longer stems provide less waste and last a little longer during the day. Arrange to hay the horse three times a day. Don't forget salt. Many commercial sweet feed mixes contain salt and minerals already added in. If you cut that grain down or switch to oats, he may not be getting the minerals necessary just from hay, so keep a salt block on hand.

If you bed on straw and don't give enough hay to a shut-in horse, he'll start to munch the straw and this lead to colic, as straw can create digestive problems. Consider switching bedding to shavings or sawdust; it will save on labor, too. There are other alternatives if shavings are not allowed at your stable: rice hulls, peat moss, and shredded paper are a few. Don't laugh, I've bedded on all three and they work fine. Peat moss takes a little more work to keep nice, however.

Hang two water buckets, if he is a big drinker, so that he always has enough. If he gets bored and starts splashing his buckets out, experiment with hanging them in higher, in different corners, or even outside the stall door, as long as he can reach it.

For diggers, get those rubber mats out! Or you can use the new plastic interlocking floor things, or even heavy canvas belting from a local sewage treatment plant! Works great! Just wash off and leave in the sun a few days to dry--there is very little smell and the pieces are usually 8-10 feet wide, just right for a stall, and are sturdy enough that horses cannot catch a shoe. If he digs only at the door, find a heavy mat, such as those the department stores use in front of their doors on rainy days, and put under the bedding.

If the horse has to be in some time, pull his shoes--that way he can't self-destruct if a shoe works loose and he gets rambunctious. Consider feeding such horses Quietex or a similar product to keep the high spirits down.

I have found that shut-in horses often get depressed. Keep your regular schedule: take him out to groom everyday, clean stall everyday at the same time, and feed regularly on a schedule. This goes a long way to keeping a depressed horse from really getting down in the dumps, if they have something to look forward to at the same time everyday. Keep your regular grooming schedule, too, just as you would when you rode. A bath once in a while keeps him feeling "in the swing" and hand pick some grass for him if you can or bring carrots and apples once in a while.

Bandage and reset everyday if the horse's legs start "stocking up". Hang a plastic milk jug from a hay string for him to bat at and play with. Give him a tetherball or commercial horse ball to play with in the stall. But watch out with road hazard cones or anything with a hard plastic base that can splintered or broken. They can cause bruising if the horse lays on them, or can actually cut the horse if he swings it against his body while playing. A real busy horse I bribe to quiet him with hay, because if the injury is severe enough to require him to be stall-bound, then bouncing around with a toy in there can't be good for him.

Use your horse's stall-bound time to teach him tricks or work on better manners, such as picking up his feet on cue, putting his head down to be haltered, etc. It's fun, doesn't hurt anything, and makes all your friends jealous when your horse bows, counts his age, etc.!