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Box rest and rehab - keeping them trim

HORSES will be horses so, let's face it, at some point you may be unlucky enough to have a horse that has to be on box-rest.

This can be anything from a few days to several months but what should you be doing with his feeding over this time? What about the dreaded rehab schedule, what is the best way to feed during this time?

CHANGE OF ROUTINE

Box rest represents a big change for the horse. They are suddenly confined to a small space meaning that his exercise is curtailed. This is after all the whole point of being on box rest!

He is likely to be isolated to a lesser or greater degree from his buddies and may find that stressful. If he has had an operation there may be bandages, dressings etc to deal with and of course the associated pain and discomfort.

This enforced situation means that his nutritional needs have also changed, sometimes overnight. Correct feeding can be an all important part of the healing process.

FORAGE FIRST

With the reduction in exercise comes a reduction in the amount of energy required. This means your horse will no longer require the same type or quantity of feed that he usually receives.

The most important part of your feeding regime, as always, will be forage. This should be fed ad-lib ensuring that your horse's digestive system is kept healthy and that his drive to eat is fulfilled, keeping his stress levels reduced.

If your horse is a good doer then your biggest issue will be trying to prevent them from piling on the pounds. Do not starve them but try to limit the hay that they are able to eat by using very small holed hay nets or even doubling hay nets, soak hay for a minimum of four hours (preferably 12) to reduce sugar (and therefore energy) levels.

This will mean that they can still fulfil their natural desire to be constantly munching, keep their guts healthy and relieve boredom without piling on weight. Small holed haynets will work well for Mr Average horse.

QUALITY PROTEIN

While energy requirements have decreased, the horse will still have a requirement for minerals (including trace elements) and vitamins. Its body will be trying to heal itself and/or fight off infection so requirement for these crucial nutrients may actually be higher than that of a horse that is out of work or simply on holiday.

The other nutrient that is important for the convalescing horse is quality protein (provided by soya and/or lysine, methionine etc).

The protein must be of good quality so that it can be utilised by the horse to heal any damage but also for later to rebuild muscles etc. This can generally all be provided by simply feeding a balancer pellet.

Select the appropriate one according to your horse's needs, low energy for good doers etc. Feed it alongside a bagged chaff product.

CONDITIONING FEED

If your horse will not hold condition on hay and balancer alone, then you will have to provide extra energy via what he is fed in his bucket.

Ensure that you are using a high energy chop (ie Alfa-A oil or conditioning chaff) and feed it as many times a day as you can.

It is even possible to leave your horse with a tubtrug full of chaff or dried grass as an addition to his hay/haylage.

This can also help to combat boredom. If your horse is still not holding condition then use sugarbeet and oil and try to avoid cereals.

These should not be required and may cause you problems with unwanted behaviour, especially once he starts to feel better!

REHAD TIME

At some stage you will get the ok from the vet to start to rehab your horse.

This can be an exciting time as you see the light at the end of the tunnel but soon can turn to trepidation as you realise that you have to gently walk in hand 500kg of horse that has been cooped up for weeks on end!

At this stage it would be unwise to start to give you horse any more feed, and you may need to investigate using one of the many calmers that are available.

Throughout the rehab period it should not be necessary to give your horse any more feed than he had whilst on box rest, and in fact once turn out is re-introduced you will probably have to feed less.

Gradually reintroduce his normal feed once he is back in full work and not before.

FEED THE BUGS

There are various supplements that may be of use for the convalescing horse. The first as already mentioned would be a calmer, this can help at the start of box rest until they get used to their new routine and when you start to hand-walk and/or ride.

There are many on the market and different calmers suit different horses. The second one which I would always advocate for horses that have had an operation and have therefore been subjected to some serious abuse to their digestive system (starvation and normally antibiotics and other drugs) is the use of prebiotics and yea-sacc.

This is to get their digestive system back on track as the poor old 'good bugs' in their gut will most likely have been affected by the fact that your horse has been starved and given broad spectrum antibiotics (which will basically wipe out bad and good bugs alike).

It is a worthwhile insurance to help your horse get back to being fighting fit.