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Managing the Musculoskeletal Health of the Stabled Horse

If you own a horse, there will be a period of time when they will have to be stabled. In some cases, it might be due to extreme weather conditions, forcing you to keep your horse inside a stable, for others it could be due to an injury.

The great news is that there is so much we can do for our horses when they are stuck in a stable.

First of all, we need to consider both the mental and physical well being of a horse. We all recognise that horses like us and like any mammal needs regular movement for optimal health. This coupled with social interaction and a high forage, low grain diet. We also need to assess what facilities are available to us as horse owners.

If your horse suddenly has to go into a stable and their movement has dramatically decreased, you need to consider 4 points:

  • Friends

  • Forage

  • Freedom

  • Feeling Safe


Horses are social animals, therefore you may have to adapt your stable to ensure your horse either had contact with another animal that they like, or can at least see one.


We should all know and value the fact that our horses are trickle feeders and need a high forage diet. It is up to you to be creative and slow your horse down. There are many practical ideas you can do to help your horse during their period of stable rest. Haynets are a great example. You can double the haynet to reduce the size of the holes or even split your haynets up and hang them around the stable, to encourage your horse to walk and move in the stable. An important point to consider with haynets is their height in relation to your horse and what effect that is having on their back and neck mechanics. In the ideal world, horse should always be fed on the floor away from dust, however if your horse is spending more time in the stable than out at grass, you need to be creative and think about how you can keep their mind stimulated without increasing their bodyweight.


Feeling safe:

By this I mean, your horse needs to feel relaxed and safe in order to sleep. Unlike humans, horses can sleep standing up due to their stay apparatus, however research has shown that horses need at least some period of time in REM sleep.

A research study by Greenling et al (2021) studied the effect of altering routine husbandry factors on sleep duration and memory consolidation in the horse. In this study the researchers took 10 horses and measured how long horses were sleeping for, what type of sleep they were having and how capable they were at performing inhand tasks over a wide range of bedding types and depth. The results showed that horse’s with little sleep struggled to complete and perform the inhand tasks compared to the horses that had better sleep. What I found interesting about this study was the sleep duration and sleep position of horses. Horses are not like humans, they have short almost “cat nap” sleep durations throughout the day with different types of sleep. Critical to your horse’s health is their ability to get into a position to have REM sleep. To achieve REM sleep horse’s need to be able to lay down either completely flat (lateral recumbency) or sternal recumbency with their muzzle resting on the floor.

Why is REM sleep key to a horse?

Their muscle contractions reduce and restore.

What if your horse is unable to lay down?

If this is your horse, you need to consider if your horse is suffering with any of the four F's mentioned above or if they have any Orthopaedic pain. Please contact and speak to your vet for further advice.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me:

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