Surviving stall rest/rehab

My wonderful mare has injured her suspensory, and we are staring down a few months of stall rest followed by a rehab protocol. I have the support of a great vet and boarding facility, and my fabulous trainer is working to help me figure out an alternative plan for riding/competing.

I’m looking for tips from my fellow Cothers: first, tips on making the stall rest more bearable for my social, smart, type-A mare, like toys that work particularly well, particular wraps, whatever. Second, tips to use this time to improve our bond - I am already thinking grooming and clicker training but open to other ideas. And third, any tips in general for how to best use this time.

Thank you all in advance!

Mine likes the Triple Crown Tether Treats! They’re great since a lot of other similar stall toys are pretty high in sugar etc and she’s an easy keeper. I also like the Jolly Hay Ball, I stuff it with hay and hay pellets so they kind of trickle out. Could also put a treat ball in a big grain dish so then she rolls it around to get the hay pellets but it doesn’t roll too far in the stall so she’s not moving too much

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Sorry to hear about your mare! Front or hind suspensory?

Mine is also on stall rest currently; she’s finishing her 4th month next week. I bought some portable stall panels and tried to set her up so she could be outside during the day and see her friends, but we couldn’t keep her calm out there. She’s now inside and the barn staff puts up her stall guard whenever someone’s around. She enjoys watching the traffic, getting pets, and treats. A rutabaga up on a string in her stall keeps her entertained, although she’s gotten to demolishing them quickly. Her hay net is always available.

I can’t say for certain if this was because of or exacerbated by the stall rest, but her scope did show ulcers recently. I’ve read that the stress of stall rest can cause or worsen those.

We were hand walking from the start, but I’ve been hand grazing and reading about/trying some basic massage work with her. Between evening chores, icing, and working - she’s out of her stall probably 2 hrs a day right now. The days are a slog sometimes, but we’re getting there.

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Thanks so much, @deweydee! Great advice. It’s a front suspensory injury.

We survived by trying to keep a routine that was like a regular day. So, after breakfast, turnout in a teeny tiny medicine paddock. Even an hour (while I did the barn and watched him like a hawk) made him feel he had been out.

The Amazing Graze was also super useful. I hung one of Uncle Jimmie’s Hangin’ Balls and that worked great - but one day my husband walked past it when my horse bumped it and he ended up with a black eye … which of course I told everyone was from Uncle Jimmie’s hanging balls. He didn’t appreciate that.

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@starsandsun, I like your sense of humor! And I ordered an Amazing Graze last night while I was doom spiralling, so I am glad to know it worked for you!

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It really does! I just used timothy hay cubes and he loved it. He got that twice a day, and with a tiny bit of outdoor time, the days really did go by more quickly than you imagine. Are you able to get any micro-paddock time?

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Firstly, very sorry to hear of your mare’s diagnosis. Fingers crossed for an uncomplicated recovery.

Definitely pick up clicker training. I picked it up for one horse on stall rest and it was so transformative for both of us. I came away as a much better trainer too. For high reward treats in the perfect size for clicker training I like Manna-Pro goat treats - mine loved the apple/licorice flavor. Banana chips from the grocery store broken into thumbnail size pieces were another fan favorite. I mixed it up regularly so he never got clicker fatigue.

One of the most genius things I’ve seen recently for a rehab set up was 4-sided round pen panels stuck in the middle of a paddock, with hay bags on both sides. This kept the rehabbing horse in the vicinity of his herd mates, and kept his herd mates occupied near him. This won’t work for every set up but one of the biggest hurdles I see people with soft tissue injuries go through is return to turnout, trying to keep the horse quiet.

For my own guy on stall rest we basically turned his stall into a narrow and short run-in, it kept him much quieter. Otherwise he paced and stall walked, which was bad.

Eventually we just chucked him out for Dr Green for a year. He made a full recovery from a total suspensory rupture, and campaigned as a low level eventer for almost two decades after. This was before PRP and Shockwave.

Oh and, lots and lots of haybags and slow feeders. If you can get the Porta-Graze or a similar thing, go for it… but there’s nothing wrong with cotton hay nets stuffed to the brim around the stall too.

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Reserpine. It is a calmer like none other. It is inexpensive and easy to give.

(reh-SUR-peen)

For some reason it seems people usually have to ask for it. But I’ve never heard of a vet hesitating to prescribe it.

My highly-over-anxious stressed not-healing-well gelding became a chill Jimmy Buffet laid-back enjoying-the-flowers kind of horse with the help of reserpine.

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I’m going to echo ideas already said:

Corral panels to make a stall-size medical paddock.

The Amazing Graze.

Lots of hay.

Ulcer management- Abler or even just nexium.

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I love the clicker training idea for challenging her brain and having something to work on together. I have one of Alexandra Kurland’s books if you want to borrow it. Also there are Hillary-Clayton-approved stationary stretches and core exercises you can do to maintain some basic fitness. Are you allowed to start handwalking fairly soon or does she need total rest?

One other thing I like to do during stall rest if the vet and horse are okay with it is pull shoes to kind of let everything reset.

Funny story about that… two decades ago when my retiree was 6 he lived at the barn where @SadieRidingHorses now boards (under different ownership). He also had a front suspensory injury, as well as EPM because he could never just do one bad thing. Two of the paddocks there had an aisle about 12’ wide between them and the very nice BM set him up with a little stall-sized paddock using the two fencelines and two panels. This worked well for a while until one day she found him grazing loose outside his paddock. She was a bit mystified because the panels were still secure but she put him back inside. Same thing happened the next day but she saw it out of the corner of her eye. My naughty dressage horse was waiting until he thought no one was watching, then jumping 4’ from a standstill with a torn suspensory! Not to prance around or anything…just to eat better grass. The good news is that despite his best efforts he did heal 100% and went on to be a GP dressage horse. He had many other issues over the years but at least the suspensory never bothered him again.

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We survived stall rest and rehab with 2x daily hand-grazing, a stall in the busy part of the barn so she got lots of attention and stimuli and could see and talk to other horses, slow-feed haynets, and the “Calm-Shen” herbs from Whole Horse Herbs. She blew through reserpine, but the herbs really helped take the edge off and keep her fairly tranquil during the 6 months of no turnout.

She really appreciated getting out to hand graze. She would immediately start talking to me as soon as I walked in the barn. Grazing and “head-down” time is mentally soothing. I would try to get her out for 30-45 min at a time, taking my morning calls while she grazed and then again after PM grain. We would handgraze while other horses were around - turnout, riding, etc. Many times she would stop grazing for a while and just come and hang out by me, standing with her head over me while I sat on the mounting block. I became one of her “herd”. We also started letting her hang out in a small pen made from panels about a month before graduating to paddock turnout.

Don’t neglect the bodywork - think about how stiff we are after a week in bed! Monthly sessions while she is in the stall and the when she starts rehab, 2x a month. Stall rest is tough, best of luck!

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Do not hesitate to tranq if needed - it will save BOTH of you a lot of stress. You can always decrease it later as the horse settles into their new routine.

Slow feeders. Lots of hay through tiny little holes. I have a portagrazer, and have the small-hole nibble nets. You can even net the hay then put it in the portagrazer.

Hand grazing as much as possible. I would go once a day in the mornings to hand graze, and hired someone to get her out in the evenings. I think that routine really helped her feel like she was still getting out. I also would put her in the cross ties as much as possible (e.g., when picking out her stall) just so she got as much time out of her stall as possible.

Clicker training for sure. Lots of silly tricks you can teach while on stall rest.

Learn to do some body work - Masterson method is a great place to start: lots of free videos online, super gentle, horses love it. I just signed up for Equine Bodywork Online (there’s a sale right now!). Not sure I’m 100% sold on it but it’s giving me lots of ideas. I’ve always considered bodywork something I pay someone else to do, but this has given me time and the opportunity to try a few things myself. Pony seems to be really enjoying it, and it’s been great for our bonding (I still have professionals come out to do the real work, I just try to fill in in between visits).

If allowed per vet, get some foam cushions (like the SureFoot pads) and play around with those (this might be something that waits until later in recovery). Some people buy cheaper human version online (I just ordered some from amazon - tbd how well they hold up). Similarly, standing core work, carrot stretches, etc to keep some core fitness up (again, if allowed per vet).

This is a great time to really get to know your horse’s body - where they hold tension, how they hold tension, and how to help them release it. My horse has been recovering from hindlimb PSD surgery the last few months and I’ve really enjoyed the journey in learning more about this (despite the frustration of the injury and all the stress associated with it). It’s been very interesting exploring different modalities, and getting to know her at a much more intimate level.

I know I’m going to emerge from this a better steward of her health and physical well-being. It sucks, and I’m sorry you have to go through this, but this is a great opportunity to slow down, and really “hear” your horse.

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Oh wow I haven’t thought about reserpine in a long time. I think my vets discontinued using it - I know that in many it can cause explosive diarrhea, but I know that doesn’t last too long.

Echoing others, plenty of tasty treats to distract, a new routine with something that mimics normalcy, would be great.

Getting to know your horse in a different way … that brings back memories.

Give her some time to make her own decisions. Without turnout they miss that. Opportunities with hand-grazing, let her lead you.

I allowed mine to explore the farm while I followed on a longe line. He figured out that this was his chance to check out things he never was able to get close to before. The longe line game me control to save him from his bad ideas.

We forget that our horses actually know a lot less about their barn & farm environment than we do, because (in most cases) they don’t have access to wander. Some horses may not care. But mine wanted to see the back sheds and sniff cracks and holes here and there.

Horse found a ground-level mouse hole that he visited every time he could. The poor mice, no idea what they thought when giant horse sniffs came blasting through the hole.

I also did this in the arena – this horse wanted to sniff every aspect of the jumps. The standards, the poles, the decor. When did he ever before have that chance? It was so interesting.

It was especially interesting when the horse began lifting the poles in his teeth, taking them off the jump and carrying them away! He wasn’t great at understanding to find a balance point but that didn’t stop him. I didn’t even know he could open his mouth wide enough for this, but he just shoved the poles between his front teeth. Some poles were on the ground already, he dragged those around, too. I’ve got video of this somewhere. There have been a few other people who said their horse liked doing the same thing when they could.

After all those years of jumping, I had no idea that he secretly wanted to re-do the poles. LOL

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With my guy, we never stopped turnout (all horses in the barn were turned out). Instead he started out in what we called “the velociraptor paddock”. Small and very secure. When he was still bouncing too much, we went the chemical route. Reserpine didn’t work for him but Trazadone did. That allowed us to do hand walking with more safety as well.

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I just want to say thank you for all of your kind, wise responses. It’s been a week, with getting this news while kicking off the new year at work. I am traveling for the next four days (work) and it’s killing me a little bit to not be able to see her myself everyday (even though I know she is in very good hands).

I ordered a Portagrazer, and I will talk to vet about tranq options (though she has been pretty good, if not VERY EXPRESSIVE about her feelings, so far). I am still processing and working through the rest of your wise suggestions, which I hope to implement into our daily routine. I also got her a new gate for her stall so she can supervise the barn operations during the day when the other horses are turned out. And I started a spreadsheet to log her daily care, because spreadsheets always help.

All a very long-winded way of saying, thank you for the thoughtful responses, and please keep them coming!

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If you are wrapping, I highly recommend investing in these EquiCrown compression wraps:

I am also dealing with a suspensory (hind for us) and my vet wanted me to keep her in wraps 12 hours a day. I also was dealing with an injury of my own that made wrapping difficult and uncomfortable. These are so great - easier to put on, perfect job every time, and in my opinion do a better job than standing bandages. (Talk to Donna at EquiCrown if you want the pitch on how the compression fabric improves circulation, etc.)

I am no longer under vet’s orders to wrap every night, but I am still using them (with her blessing). My mare is in a medical paddock during the day and stalled overnight and she tends to stock up fairly easily with that kind of limited movement. Using the wraps every night keeps her legs looking good.

I also put her BOT boots on between dinner and night check, when I put on the EquiCrowns. Not sure how much they are helping, but I have them and figure they can’t hurt.

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@Pico_Banana thank you for the recommendation! Those are intriguing.

Sorry you’re going through this. A few suggestions from my sadly extensive experience:

1 - As was suggested, a small, moveable stall for outside where she can see others and eat some grass is amazing. Use Ace if necessary to extend the time she can comfortably be there to an couple of hours. I had one who could last up to 3 hours of happy munching with Ace and it was a lifesave for everyone’s sanity.

2 - Better living through pharmacology. Reserpine. Ace. Dorm. Use whatever you need to and your vet approves. Magnesium helps some. I know some people have had luck with Depo. Don’t shy away from something just because it sounds strong. I had one 5yo that after 6 months of stall rest, needed Dorm just to be handwalked. It kept everyone safe and him moderately sane.

3 - I’ve never tried this, but a friend put a shatterproof mirror in her horse’s stall. It worked like a charm.

Good luck!

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