When you have a horse on box rest, you can’t wait for them to start getting out the stable and onto pen rest. But pen rest comes with it’s own difficulties! How do you keep a horse that has been stuck inside for an extended period of time sensible when they get their first taste of freedom? Unfortunately, I have had a lot of experience of this with Scottie. So these are my top tips for surviving pen rest! (Checkout our tips for surviving box rest.)
Pick your pen location carefully
The first thing you need to do when starting pen rest, is decide where your horse will be going for pen rest. Most of us don’t have purpose built pens for rehabilition. So these are the questions you need to ask yourself when choosing where to build your horse’s pen.
Should they be in their usual field?
Most horses are most comfortable in their normal field when it comes to pen rest. But their usual field might not be the right place for them. Your pen should be as flat and level as possible. If your field is really rutted, it’s not the ideal place. Also, sometimes your field is a long walk from the stable. If your horse is the type to be silly going to and from the field, especially after a long time inside, you probably want to have your pen closer to the stable.
Who should they have for company?
Horses are herd animals and they want company. Your horse will probably be more comfortable and settled in their pen with friends nearby. If possible, I like to put horses next to their normal field companions while on pen rest. However, if your these companions tend to be silly in the field and charge around, this could over excite your horse. You don’t want them trying to join in on the fun! So choosing more relaxed companions could be a better option if possible.
Is there plenty of grass?
I always want to build my pen where there is as much grass as possible. Most horses are greedy! If they have been stuck inside for a while, the lure of fresh grass is usually enough to keep them entertained and stop them being too silly in the pen. If you have a few options of where you can build your pen, try and build one where there is the most grass to keep them eating rather than running around.
Pick your moment for turning out
So you’ve got your pen set up and ready to go. But when should you turn your horse out? Not timing it right can make a huge difference to how your horse behaves in the pen!
When do the other horses go out?
Horses are affected by other horses getting turned out. You should know your horse and know when your horse is going to be happiest going out. They might be the most sensible going out just before everyone else, so they aren’t upset by the others going out before them. Or they might be best waiting until their best friend is already out.
If they are going out next to horses who can be a bit silly when they are first turned out, you might want to wait a little while afterwards, to give them time to settle down. Scottie can be quite silly if he goes out at the same time as everyone else. So I usually wait 5 mins after the last horse so he doesn’t get too excited.
What is the weather going to be like?
The weather won’t always be on our side, but if the morning is warm and sunny and the afternoon is windy and rainy, I would always choose to pen rest in the better weather. When the weather is nicer, your horse is usually happier to just graze. They are also going to be less desperate to come in from the pen. It’s not fun going to catch a horse what is tearing round a small pen in the rain!
Is there anyone around to help?
When is the best time to have other people around to offer an extra pair of hands? Turning out for the first few days of pen rest can be a lot easier if you have an extra person to open/close gates for you. Navigating gates with a fresh horse can be tricky!
Take safety precautions
Your horse might be an absolute saint, but never underestimate their excitement at being turned out for the first time. I always go a bit overkill when it comes to taking safety precautions for turning Scottie out after box rest.
- Wear a helmet – even if you don’t think you need one!
I wore one for the first 3 weeks of Scottie’s pen rest. Luckily I never needed it, and he has actually been pretty good. But you just never know and it’s not worth the risk, especially if you are going to be there by yourself.
- Use a bridle or chiffney with a lunge line
Chances are, your horse is on pen rest to prevent them being too silly and reinjuring themselves. This could happen anyway if they are a bit overexcited going out and get loose! Having that bit more control can also help to keep you safe while leading your horse.
- Protective boots for your horse
Whether it’s brushing boots or turnout boots, I would always start pen rest in protective boots. Even if you do everything right, there is always a chance that there will be some fireworks! You want to make sure you give them some protection against themselves.
- Consider sedation for the first few days
I ALWAYS sedate Scottie after box rest. He loves his turnout and not only can he be excited to get to the field, he can explode when he is let loose. He is one who burns all his excess energy in the field. Giving him some oral sedation for the first few days going out means he doesn’t explode and do himself more damage. By the time he is turned out without sedation, the novelty has worn off and he isn’t silly.
Other tips for surviving pen rest
- Leave your headcollar on
I never leave headcollars on in the field. But I think it’s worth doing on pen rest. If they decide to be silly or don’t want to come in, it is easier if they already have a headcollar on. If they manage to escape from their pen, it is easier to catch them if they have a headcollar on. Just make sure it’s a leather or field safe one!
- Consider your rug choices
I hate over rugging horses, but for the short periods horses are on penrest, it can be a good idea. If it’s a cold, wet or windy day, you might want to reach for a slightly heavier rug than you do normally. Your horse will be moving around less than in the full field. They might have less grass than they do normally. Cold and hungry horses are more likely to be silly and be keen to come in. That slightly heavier rug can help prevent this!
Similarly, they might be more irritated by the flies if than normal. So you might want to turn out in a fly rug to stop them being aggitated while they are out.
- Hand walk before turning out
If your horse is currently on hand walking or even ridden exercise, they might be more sensible in the field if you do their controlled exercise first.
- Do you want to feed them before they go out?
If your horse is the type to go out and run around like a lunatic, taking away their hay an hour before they go out can make them more motivated to eat instead of run around.
However, some horses (Scottie included) is worse going out if he is hungry. So I do the opposite and like to make sure he still has hay in the morning before going out so he’s not in as much of a rush to get to the grass.
- Treats are your friend
After a long time inside, they can explode as soon as you turn them free. I take treats when I turn out in the pen. I show him the treat before I take his chiffney off and he waits next to me until he gets it. This can give you time to get yourself out of the way. The first few days I even gave it to him once I was out the pen so I had space to get out the way if he did explode.
- Your plan can change!
Your vet will give you a plan based on what they think is best. But if you or your horse is struggling with it, talk to your vet. All horses are different and just because it’s the best plan on paper, doesn’t mean it’s the best plan for your horse. You might need to take it more slowly when it comes to increasing their time and space in the pen. Or you might feel they need more time out sooner. your vet will be able to suggest alternatives to try.
- Expect the unexpected!
Horses will never fail to surprise us. Extended periods of rest are hard for our horses. It can change their behaviour. So keep an eye out for changes in them, but try not to panic right away. It could just be them coping with their situation.
Last Updated on 15/09/2023