black and white horse called Mickey holding his head outside of his stable next to his owner

Caring for your horse on box rest

If your horse is injured or unwell, your vet may recommend keeping them on box rest.

Box rest means keeping your horse confined to their stable for a certain period of time while they recover from injury or illness.

Depending on the reason, sometimes your horse can be confined to box rest for a long time. This is an unnatural environment for your horse, so it’s important to reduce the physical and mental challenges for your horse and minimise boredom.

How to keep your horse comfortable during box rest

There are many things that you can do to make box rest more comfortable for your horse.

Consider your horse’s bedding

When your horse is in box rest, you'll need to consider a suitable bedding. The best bedding for box rest provides warmth, support and comfort for your horse – especially if they want to lie down. It should also be absorbent.


Remember to keep your horse's stable clean by regularly picking up droppings and making sure that wet bedding is removed. Standing in wet bedding for long periods of time can lead to infections in your horse's hooves.

Keep your horse’s stable well ventilated

As your horse will be confined to their stable for a long period of time, good ventilation is essential to avoiding respiratory problems.

You'll need to make sure that fresh air is able to flow through the stable, and warm, stale air can escape. To do this, leave windows and top doors open to create air flow.

If you're worried about keeping your horse warm, a suitable rug can help.

Always follow your vet’s advice

When your horse is in box rest, it’s important to closely follow your vet’s advice. This includes giving your horse the correct medication and dosage, dressing your horse’s wounds as instructed and always booking in your vet’s follow up visits.

You can also speak to your vet about whether it would be suitable to turn your horse out for short periods of time while they're on box rest. This could include taking your horse for short walks to graze in hand to help if your horse struggles in box rest for long periods of time.

Provide plenty of enrichment

Some horses need to spend weeks in box rest, which is a significant amount of time with little to do. You can help to improve your horse's wellbeing during this time by providing enrichment. You can do this by:

  • providing your horse with different types of forage such as hay, haylage and dried grass. Placing these in hay nets at different levels around your horse's stable will encourage them to move around if they are able to.
  • using stable toys or enrichment activities, such as hanging fruit around their box for them to investigate or providing edible branches
  • providing companionship if possible. This can include allowing your horse to see other horses or yard activity from their box. If your horse is unwell, this may not be suitable, as some horses prefer to be in a quieter location.
  • hanging a mirror in your horse’s stable to help them feel like they have company


Grooming your horse while they're in box rest can help you to bond and increase their daily socialisation if they feel up to it.

Feeding your horse during box rest

When your horse is unwell, their feed should tempting and appetising to encourage them to eat – it should also be given little and often. Good quality, clean hay should form the bulk of your horse's feed.


If your horse was in regular work before their injury or illness, their feed will need to be reduced to take into account their decrease in activity.

You can make your horse's feed and water intake more appetising by: 

  • soaking or steaming their hay before feeding – this will also minimise dust
  • adding tempting foods such as apples or carrots to encourage your horse to eat and provide something succulent
  • providing soft palatable food that is easy to eat
  • hand picking grass, as your horse will not have access to this in box rest – just remember not to give them grass cut by a lawn mower, as this can be very toxic
  • removing any food that has been left and replacing it with fresh
  • adding apples to their water buckets to encourage them to drink more water
  • providing warm water during the winter months – many horses' water intake decreases during the colder weather

Your vet may advise a special diet if your horse has a digestive problem or a nutrition related condition. Remember to introduce new feeds slowly to avoid colic, and always follow the advice of your vet.

Clean, fresh water must be available at all times. If you have been advised to monitor your horse's water intake, it's best to use buckets rather than automatic drinkers. You could also encourage your horse to take in enough water by soaking their hay or haylage.

Preventing colic

Changes to your horse’s diet while on box rest can sometimes cause colic. Getting to know the signs of colic can help you recognise when something may be wrong.


If you think your horse may be suffering with colic, contact your vet immediately.

Isolating your horse

If your horse is unwell with an infectious disease such as equine flu or strangles, they must be kept in strict isolation. This means:

  • keeping your horse at least 10 meters away from other horses until your vet says otherwise
  • keeping all equipment associated with your horse separate from other horses, regardless of whether they are in box rest
  • disinfecting your horse's equipment thoroughly when your horse has recovered
  • adopting strict hygiene measures for handlers, to prevent the spread of infection
  • stopping visitors from entering your yard, or putting up a sign to alert other handlers to your horse's illness

Infectious diseases can spread rapidly between horses. These measures can help to prevent other horses from becoming unwell.

Giving your horse medication

When your horse is ill, they may need to be given medication. This often comes in the form of a powder or pill, which you can try adding to your horse's feed. Not all horses will enjoy this, so you may have to give them medication using a syringe.

Adding medication to your horse's feed

To give your horse their medication in their feed you can:

  1. dampen your horse's hard feed – this will help to make the mix more tempting and it'll help the medication to stick to the feed
  2. add your horse's medication into the mix – if the medication is in the form of a pill, you'll need to crush it first
  3. if your horse is fussy, you can add some tempting treats to make the mix more palatable, while avoiding anything sugary. Things you can add include apple slices, carrots, beet pulp or unsweetened apple sauce.
  4. check back once your horse has eaten their mix, to make sure no medication has been left behind

Giving your horse medication in a syringe

If your horse is not willing to take medication in their hard feed, you could try to give them their medication using a syringe. You can do this by mixing the crushed medication with water or something sweet like apple juice.

If you are struggling to administer medication to your horse, speak to your vet for advice.

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• 17 November 2023

Next review

• 17 November 2026

Approved by
Ruth Court

Horse Welfare Manager