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Equine Health Resource

Stall Confinement or Stall Rest

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Stall confinement is a common treatment for certain types of musculo-skeletal injuries, including (some) tendon and ligament injuries, at least soon after injury. Horses in casts usually require strict stall confinement. Horses are usually also stall confined after abdominal surgery.

Restriction of movement in a small area helps prevent overload of weakened, healing structures.

In most cases, stall confinement is defined as restriction of movement to an area of 12’x12′ (4m x 4m). For a very large horse, the dimensions of the stall may be greater, perhaps 16’x16′ or even 20’x20′ (6m x 6m). Mares with foals also require a larger stall 12’x24′ (4m x 8m).

The period of stall confinement depends on the specific diagnosis and extent of injury.

YOUR VET’S ROLE

Your vet ensures that stall confinement is indicated, given the diagnosis. Short term (less than a week) confinement may be of some value for minor injuries, however long-term confinement is usually performed when a specific diagnosis has been reached and there is some evidence that long-term confinement is the treatment of choice.

YOUR ROLE

In many cases, you will be the one administering this treatment pursuant to your veterinarian’s instructions, and you need to do it correctly. It is important that you understand some of the stresses that are imposed on a horse by restricting them to a stall. Consider these factors, and be on the lookout for key problems.

Psychological factors: Horses are made to keep moving. When we restrict them, it is very hard on them physically and mentally. It may be helpful to provide a companion nearby – another horse or goat, and consider providing a stall toy.

Horses that are confined to a stall may have a higher incidence of intestinal problems. Always carefully monitor stalled horses for normal appetite and manure production.

Anticipate and address stall-bound depression, vices, and related conditions.

The stall must be kept clean and dry, and appropriate bedding provided.

In most cases, your vet will instruct you to do some amount of hand-walking and gradual return to exercise. If possible, getting horses out of the stall at least 1-2 times per day, for a few minutes, is helpful to their mental and physical state.

Consider Potential Side Effects & Complications

Stall confinement causes emotional and physical side effects. Some horses tolerate it much better than others. Over time, horses become anxious when kept in a stall due to the social isolation and lack of exercise.

Stall vices (stereotypical behaviors like weaving and cribbing) are likely to develop in horses confined for long periods. Some horses develop drinking disorders, especially excessive drinking of water (psychogenic polydypsea).

During stall confinement, I usually recommend feeding less grain and smaller amounts of hay more frequently. This can be accomplished with some styles of hay nets or slow feeders. It is usually helpful to provide a companion nearby - either another horse or goat. Some horses benefit from a stall toy.

Physically, a horse's system does not function well without movement. Confined horses have a higher incidence of Conditions Causing Colic.

Horses that are stall confined for long periods of time develop weak bones, tendons and ligaments. Great care must be taken to prevent overload of these structures when exercise is reintroduced. A gradual program of controlled exercise is usually recommended.

Strict stall confinement is more likely to result in adhesions of healing tissues and reduced function and range of movement versus rehabilitation protocols that involve forced movement.

Consider Reasons Not To Use This Treatment

Some horses become extremely anxious when they are stall-confined. Stall confinement is a poor option for these horses. In rare cases, long-term tranquilization is used to manage these horses.

Strict stall confinement may be a poor choice for tendon and ligament healing. Graded exercise protocols encourage healing without overloading the ligament and have been shown to be superior to either stall confinement or pasture turnout. Optimal tendon tendon requires some load and movement.

Is It working? Timeframe for effect

It can be difficult to know the effects of stall confinement, because you are not allowing the horse to move at speed and "test its healing".

The period of stall confinement is an investment in the horse's future. Talk to your vet about how to periodically assess the well-being of the horse and the healing of the injury. It may be wise to schedule recheck appointments to evaluate healing and management.

Questions To Ask My Vet

  • How much time should the horse spend outside of the stall?
  • How much hand walking should the horse have?
  • What can I do to minimize emotional stress of confinement?
  • After stall confinement is over, how do I recondition my horse to prevent injury?
  • How can I monitor my horse's physical & emotional well-being during stall confinement?
Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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