A PERIOD of box rest can be a trying time for owner and horse alike, agrees Arundel Equine director Paula Broadhurst, but adds: “Contrary to popular belief, vets do not prescribe box rest on a whim, nor to inflict torture on horse or rider. Unfortunately, to give your horse the best chance of recovery from an injury, a period of box rest may be essential. Turning your horse out in a paddock to “rest” is usually detrimental. The horse might walk 90 per cent of the time, but the occasional gallop, buck, or leap is the same as us resting a sports injury while still going to a 10-minute aerobics class once a week!
How to approach a period of confinement for the horse depends on the individual. Some horses are happier if they can see the other horses out in the paddock and others are more settled if they can’t see the other horses. Most horses will get worked up for the first few days, but will gradually settle and resign themselves to being kept in. You might be able to organise other horses on the yard to provide a rota of “baby-sitting” companionship for your horse being. Providing entertainment for your horse might also help. This can be in the form of hand-picked grass, salt licks, or hanging swedes or other treats up in the box. Also provide frequent small hay nets and divide hard feeds into many small offerings to help the time pass.
Sometimes due to the horse’s temperament it may also be necessary to use sedation to help keep it calm in the stable. Obviously if the horse is on box rest because of an injury and it is frantically walking, weaving, kicking, bucking and rearing, then it is likely to cause itself further harm and injury. The sedation most commonly used is Acetylpromazine (commonly known as Sedalin gel), which is licensed for use in horses and seems to provide several hours’ mild calming effect. It comes as an oral gel or paste that is easy for the owner to administer as required. Most injectable sedations have a short duration so are not really appropriate. In severe cases, where horses have become extremely distressed and fractious on box rest, some human medications may be applicable to use “off license” to provide a long-term calming effect.
Probably even more challenging than strict box rest is the controlled exercise programme required as the horse is brought back into work. It is extremely important that after being injured or having surgery that your horse is brought back into work carefully and slowly. Your own vet will provide you with guidelines specific to your horse’s particular injury, and advise you on how quickly and what type of controlled exercises you should be doing. Sometimes doing work over poles on the ground or raised can be beneficial for recovery from particular injuries.
Most horses will need some degree of sedation to commence a controlled exercise programme after a prolonged period of box rest. Once the new routine is established, it may be possible to reduce the level of sedation. Ideally, hand walking is better than going on a horse walker as many horse will play around once put loose on a walker and potentially exacerbate the injury. However, for some particularly difficult horses, using a horse walker is safer than trying to lead them — but sedation might still be needed to keep the horse quiet. Leading from another horse can be quite successful for conducting a controlled exercise programme and some horses behave better if ridden rather than being led.
Ideally the level of activity should be gradually increased until the horse is doing canter work before paddock turn-out is reintroduced. For some individuals, turn-out in a small paddock or pen can be commenced earlier, again probably initially using some sedation to limit the excitement caused by the change.
Ultimately a period of box rest after injury or surgery is often a necessary evil of owning a competition horse. It is not easy for either you or the horse, but to provide the best chance of a return to the previous level of performance we have to find a way to make it work.”
Author Paula Broadhurst’s Bluewood Taffeta produced her best-ever mark at advanced medium on her return to competition recently. A beneficial side effect of Blue’s confinement was that she at last put on the condition that her owner wanted to see.
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