Stall rest is often necessary for horses recovering from an illness, injury, or surgery. Not every horse is keen on this forced quiet time. A horse’s reaction to being confined depends largely on the individual’s personality. Regardless of how the horse responds, a change to the feeding regimen is likely necessary.

With less exercise comes a need for fewer calories, yet the horse needs sufficient nutrients to promote healing. Rarely will a horse be content with the amount of food you are offering. Either he’ll want more, or he won’t have much of an appetite and refuse to eat. Feed too much, and the horse can become difficult to handle and too active to facilitate healing. You need to figure out ways to keep him from becoming dangerous or so restless that he tries to tear the stall apart. However, if he eats too little, this adversely affects his immune system and overall health, which has negative impacts on healing progress.

Stimulating a Reduced Appetite

Appetite loss usually is a sequel to a surgical procedure or due to intestinal upset, illness, or intense pain. Sometimes all it takes is a good jump-start to get the horse interested again in eating. These tricks might stimulate your horse to eat:

  • A sloppy bran mash mixed with supplement (complete feed pellet or a small amount of grain). Not only is the combination tasty, but it also gets a little extra water into your horse.
  • A beet pulp mash (pellets soaked in water for 6-8 hours) provides fiber, calories, and fluids.
  • Carrots, apples, softened horse biscuits, molasses, sugar water or Karo syrup might be enough to generate interest in a bucket of food.
  • Handfuls of green grass or hand grazing are excellent appetite stimulants.
  • Alfalfa added to a grass hay is much like giving us a piece of chocolate cake with our dinner.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications may be needed if pain is causing your horse to back off food.

Reducing Calories

For a horse that is no longer able to be active due to confinement, it is wise to cut back the calories. Switching to an all-grass hay diet is a good place to start. Fiber is the most important ingredient for keeping horse intestines healthy and to curtail the risk of developing gastric ulcers. Here’s a few ways to cut back on calories without creating other problems.

  • Weigh the hay with a scale rather than “guesstimating” the volume so you feed an exact amount each day. The amount to feed should be calculated based on your horse’s body weight and your veterinarian’s recommendations. This amount varies depending on your horse’s condition and metabolism.
  • Cut out most, if not all, supplements while the horse is inactive unless he is a hard keeper that needs added calories to maintain body condition. If an all-forage diet is used, a balancer product might be needed to ensure the horse gets all the nutrients he needs for healing.
  • Feed small amounts of hay frequently throughout the day rather than in just two big meals. A “slow feeder” hay net helps slow intake so the hay lasts longer.
  • Provide stall toys to prevent boredom and reducing the changes your horse turns to eating bedding, dirt, or the structure. 

In all cases of forced confinement, converse with your veterinarian about what diet is most appropriate for your horse and his individual issues. You might need to be a bit creative to keep your horse happy and ‘healthy as a horse’ while in confinement. Once a routine has been established, he should settle in and get about the business of healing.