Full-time stall confinement isn’t good for a horse’s physical or mental welfare. Horses are social animals who, in the wild, move long distances and eat small, frequent meals all day long.

Many domestic horses are stalled due to boarding situations, training, or for weight management. Daily turnout and exercise are essential when this is the case.

Sometimes, long-term stall confinement or stall rest is necessary for a horse to recuperate after a surgery or a significant injury or illness.

By restricting a horse’s movement to a small area, stall rest helps prevent the overloading of weakened, healing structures. This can support faster recovery and limit re-injury risk.

While your horse may need stall rest to get better faster, there are a number of factors to consider so you can keep your horse healthy while their movement is confined.

When do Horses Need Stall Rest?

Stall rest is usually defined as the restriction of your horse’s movement to an area of 12 x 12 feet (4 x 4 metres). Large breed horses may be confined to a larger area, such as 20 x 20 feet (6 x 6 meters).

The period or duration of stall rest will depend on the specific diagnosis and extent of the injury. [1]

Stall rest isn’t required for many injuries and, in some cases, may slow healing. However, it is commonly used with serious injuries, such as:

  • Bone fractures
  • Tendon, ligament, or severe muscle injuries
  • Acute laminitis
  • Post-operative recuperation, such as after colic surgery
  • Lacerations or cuts requiring stitches
  • Severe burns or infections
  • Quarantine if a transmissible illness is suspected

Stall confinement is often needed in these situations to restrict movement and prevent your horse from further injuring itself.

As prey animals, horses have evolved to hide signs of injury or illness. If they have the space to do so, they may run or bear weight on injured limbs, causing further damage.

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Risks to Long-Term Confinement

Horses evolved to wander and graze throughout the day. Confining them to a stall is not only boring but can also lead to serious health and behavioural problems.

Stall rest should only be used if absolutely needed under the guidance of a veterinarian. It’s also important to understand that stall rest can be counterproductive for recovery from many types of injuries.

Movement aids in the healing process by promoting blood circulation and the supports the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to damaged tissues. [2] Stall rest prevents normal movement and may slow healing.

Preventing freedom of movement and a lack of social interaction can also have negative psychological effects on the horse. [1]

Being aware of problems that stall confinement can cause, owners may be able to prevent them. The following are all challenges associated with long-term stall rest:

Stereotypical Behaviours

One of the most common psychological problems associated with stall confinement is the development of stereotypical behaviours. [9]

Keeping a horse stalled inhibits the expression of natural equine behaviours, which causes stress and frustration. Some horses develop stereotypies, which are compulsive behaviours that may serve as a coping mechanism.

Stereotypical behaviours can be divided into movement-related and oral behaviours. They are repetitive behavioural patterns that serve no functional goal, but that horses may engage in for a large part of the day. Some of these behaviours can even be harmful to the horse. [3]

Studies show that stereotypies are associated with decreased social contact and insufficient dietary forage. Horses that engage in one type of stereotypic behaviour are more likely to engage in an