Feeding an Easy Keeper on Stall Rest

A nutrition expert offers advice on preventing weight gain and boredom while a hefty horse is on stall rest.
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feeding an easy keeper on stall rest
Using small-hole, slow-feed haynets are an excellent way to slow hay intake. There are numerous manufacturers of these nets and they come with holes in an assortment of sizes. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Krishona Martinson/University of Minnesota

Q.My easy-keeper just got put on 30 days of stall rest with 15 minutes of hand walking twice a day due to a possible soft-tissue injury. He’s the kind of horse that requires regular exercise to stay fit and trim and eats on the low end of what’s recommended for his size and activity level. His diet prior to stall rest included orchard grass hay and a ration balancer. He’s bored in his stall and hoovering down his hay and feed. I’m concerned about him gaining weight because that could add stress to his injury. How can I keep him from gaining weight while on rest while also keeping him entertained?

—Nicole, via e-mail

A.Confinement and rehabilitating easy keepers can be a real challenge. You’re right in wanting to minimize weight gain in order to control stress on the soft-tissue injury as well as wanting to minimize the risk of boredom while he’s out of work.

Typically, when calories need to be cut, grain (concentrate feeds) should be the first thing to go. So, it’s tempting to remove the ration balancer. However, this is needed to ensure his diet remains balanced and is providing enough essential nutrients, such as copper, zinc, and vitamin E, which a hay-based diet might lack.

Ensuring adequate copper is important because it’s needed for collagen formation, and that’s the foundation of the soft tissue you want to heal. Therefore, I would avoid reducing his ration balancer amount unless absolutely necessary. Should it become necessary to reduce the ration balancer you could switch to a ration balancing supplement rather than a feed, which will have fewer calories.

Nutrient Intake Matters for Healing

Calorie reduction is going to be from reducing the amount of hay being fed, which I dislike doing. Plus, it sounds as though you’re already feeding the low end. I’d become diligent about weighing the hay you’re feeding, so no extra ounces sneak into his feeder.

Stall Rest Infographic TN
INFOGRAPHIC: Staying Sane on Stall Rest

Calculate your horse’s body weight, too, and make sure that you maintain a hay intake of 1.5% of estimated body weight. You can go as low as 1% of body weight, but I am always loathed to do that and would not suggest it unless absolutely necessary. I’ve seen horses become destructive and begin stereotypic behavior such as wood chewing and eating bedding at such low intakes. Gastric ulcers and other gastrointestinal issues are also a greater risk on such low intakes.

Slow Down Feed Intake

The trick is therefore to figure out how to make the reduced ration take a long time to eat in order to keep the brain and gastrointestinal tract busy. This is where the numerous slow feeders on the market are very beneficial.

Using small-hole, slow-feed haynets are an excellent way to slow hay intake. There are numerous manufacturers of these nets and they come with holes in an assortment of sizes. You can start with a moderate size hole and get increasingly smaller holes if needed to slow down intake. Dividing the day’s total hay into as may small meals as you can manage will also help. However, this can be unrealistic depending on your lifestyle. For this reason, I like automatic feeders that can be used to feed hay pellets. You could also use one to dispense the ration balancer.

Take-Home Message

Maintaining an easy keeper on stall rest can be challenging. Feeding too little can risk your horse not getting the nutrition he needs and cause stomach issues. Try a vitamin and mineral supplement instead of a ration balancer feed to reduce calorie intake, and use slow feeders to help meals last longer and stave of boredom.

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Clair Thunes, PhD, is an equine nutritionist who owns Clarity Equine Nutrition, based in Gilbert, Arizona. She works as a consultant with owners/trainers and veterinarians across the United States and globally to take the guesswork out of feeding horses and provides services to select companies. As a nutritionist she works with all equids, from WEG competitors to Miniature donkeys and everything in between. Born in England, she earned her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and her master’s and doctorate in nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Growing up, she competed in a wide array of disciplines and was an active member of the U.K. Pony Club. Today, she serves as the district commissioner for the Salt River Pony Club.

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