Do Horses Lay Down?

One of the biggest misconceptions of horses is that they only sleep standing up, and one of the only reasons why they lay down is because something is wrong.

Although horses do have the incredible ability to sleep standing up, these four-legged creatures also need to lay down when sleeping, just like us.

Do Horses Lay Down

As a horse owner it’s important to learn some of the vital behavioral patterns of your horse. Luckily horses display different mannerisms and emotions that can help us learn about their common behaviors and emotions. 

One simple way to keep an eye on how they’re feeling is to keep track of how often they’re laying down. More often than not, a horse will lay down to get some REM sleep, or just to relax.

However, a horse may also lay down when they’re in physical pain and discomfort. 

By tracking how often your horse lays down you can get a pretty good sense of how they’re feeling both physically and mentally. 

In this guide we’re going to look at the most common reasons horses lay down, and when laying down too often should be considered a serious issue. Let’s get started!

Reasons Why Horses Lay Down 

Some of the most common reasons as to why a horse lays down is pretty similar to why we as humans lie down. By learning about these common behavioral patterns you can better understand why horses often lay down.

Do Horses Lay Down

REM Sleep 

It’s not uncommon to find your horse snoozing periodically throughout the day, especially if they’re standing up. This is because horses have a pretty unique sleeping pattern.

However, just like humans, they require REM sleep daily, and in order to achieve REM sleep they need to lay down. 

REM sleep is considered deep sleep, and is the phase of sleep in which our brain activity is increased. This is also the stage of sleep in which dreams occur, and is an important part of our sleep cycle as it is essential for learning and memory. 

Although it’s never been proven that horses can dream, they need around two to three hours of REM sleep every 24 hours. This is usually achieved in short naps throughout the day that last an average of 10 – 30 minutes at a time. 

However, a horse will only lay down to sleep if they feel safe and secure, and it’s this feeling of safety that helps them achieve REM sleep. 

If you are a horse owner it’s important that you provide a safe and comfortable environment for your horse, especially if you are traveling together.

Just like us, horses can show signs of sleep deprivation if they haven’t been getting enough quality sleep. 

Relaxation And Comfort 

It’s not uncommon to find a horse laying down to relax – especially if the sun is shining. 

It’s considered normal for a horse to lay down for short periods of time, especially if they are in a safe and comfortable environment.

However, if you do see them lying down for a short period of time, it’s very likely that they were taking a quick nap. 

Pain, Discomfort, Or Illness

If a horse is experiencing any sort of physical pain, or they are suffering from an illness, they may begin to lay down more than they usually would.

This is why it’s important to observe your horses sleeping patterns when they are healthy so that you will be able to notice more quickly when something isn’t right. 

Like with any animal, any physical pain or illness needs to be addressed as soon as possible, as leaving it too late can have fatal consequences.

If you notice that your horse is laying down more frequently, or for extended periods of time, contact a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Some common health problems such as musculoskeletal pain or colic can force horses to lay down for longer periods of time. Other illness symptoms are often noticeable after further investigation. 

Do Horses Have To Lay Down In Order To Sleep?

As most of us know, horses have an amazing ability to be able to sleep standing up. This is possible as they have a stay apparatus in both their front and hind legs.

Stay apparatus is a series of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that have the ability to lock in place, which prevents horses from falling over whilst they’re asleep. 

Interestingly, the stay apparatus keeps their joints locked without any extra muscle exertion. This is considered a survival mechanism as horses are not easily, or quickly able to transition from laying to standing up. 

Although horses have this unique ability to rest whilst standing up, it’s also extremely important that they also lie down to sleep.

This is because they can only achieve REM sleep whilst lying down. If horses are unable to achieve deep sleep they can suffer from sleep deprivation. 

Most horses will lie down for around two – three hours a day, but this is split up in segments that tend to last around 30 minutes or less.

Although horses will drift off throughout the day, most of their REM sleep is achieved at night time. 

If A Horse Lays Down, Are They Sick? 

It is not uncommon for a sick or injured horse to lie down. However, a lot of horses will roll around in discomfort if they are suffering from colic, or other similar conditions.

With that being said, other physical injuries can prevent horses from being able to stand as they may not have enough strength. In these cases, a horse will often lie still. 

If you notice that your horse is laying down more than they usually would, make sure you check for any other symptoms or signs of injury or illness. Sick horses may show changes in behavior, changes in eating habits, or lack of motivation or energy. 

If you feel that your horse may be suffering from any pain, discomfort, or injuries, it’s important that you seek medical attention from a trained veterinarian. 

Giving Your Horse A Comfortable Sleeping Environment

As we touched on earlier, horses can only achieve REM if they have a safe, comfortable sleeping area. As REM is crucial to the health of a horse, not having somewhere for your horse to relax and sleep can lead to sleep deprivation. 

Some easy ways that you can create a comfortable sleeping environment is to eliminate any stress, such as noisy or busy barns and stables.

It’s also important that they have enough space to relax. Horses are big animals after all, and not having a space big enough for them to comfortably lay down and stand up can prevent them from getting the rest they need. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Safe For A Horse To Lay Down? 

It is completely safe and normal for a horse to lay down, especially when they are trying to get some deep sleep. However, it can become a cause for concern when a horse lies down for a long period of time. 

As horses are such big animals, laying down for extensive periods of time can begin to restrict blood flow to their legs and vital organs. This can obviously put your horse’s health at  risk. 

Make sure that you observe behavioral patterns of your horse, as catching them laying down more often than normal can be a cause for concern.

However, it can also vary on the horse, as some are able to lie down for extended periods of time without needing to stand.

What Are Common Behaviors Of Sick Or Injured Horses? 

Horses are pretty good at giving different signals and showing different behaviors so that we are aware of how they are feeling. It’s important to learn horse behaviors so that you can tell when something is wrong far more quickly. 

Common behaviors that can signify a change in the health of your horse include changes in eating habits, aggression, and fear. 

How Much Sleep Do Horses Need? 

Horses need around 2 to 3 hours of deep, REM sleep every 24 hours. However, it’s not uncommon for a horse to sleep for up to 5 hours, especially if they are younger.

Unlike humans, horses nap periodically throughout the day, rather than having one solid sleep session. Although horses need to lay down in order to achieve REM sleep, they will often doze off for a couple of minutes at a time whilst standing up. 

Final Thoughts 

Seeing a horse lay down is not always a cause for concern. Horses commonly lay down to relax, or to get some deep sleep that they need daily in order to function. 

With that being said, horses don’t usually lay down for extensive periods of time. This is because it’s important for their blood flow that they stand throughout the day. 

So, if you do notice that your horse is laying down more frequently, we recommend speaking to your veterinarian as soon as possible, as they will be able to tell you if there is anything to worry about.

Catherine McDowl
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