Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

Horses are incredible creatures. They are strong, intelligent, caring, and have built a unique bond and partnership with humans over the years.

As equine lovers, we know everything there is to know about horses and how to care for them, and have all of the answers you’re looking for.

Do Horses Sleep Standing Up

If you’ve ever looked inside a field of horses, you’ve probably noticed that the vast majority of them are standing up.

Very rarely do we see horses lying down relaxing, or sleeping, which begs the question; do horses ever sleep standing up? That’s what this guide is all about.

Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

When we’re feeling drowsy, all we want to do is curl up and lie down to rest, but the same cannot be said for horses. Horses may rest in a stable, barn or in a field, and they can be standing up to do so. 

Now, this is a wild concept to us, as if we fell asleep standing up, you can bet we’d fall over or end up breaking an arm or leg on the way down. But, horses can actually sleep standing up. 

Because horses are naturally prey animals in the wild, they do not often like to sleep on the ground. This is largely due to the fact that horses have large, straight backs, which makes it difficult for them to get up quickly in order to escape a predator.

This could leave them vulnerable to attack, and unable to escape or defend themselves in time. 

Therefore, horses have evolved in order to sleep and rest whilst standing up. For instance, a horse is able to lock its knees, in order to fall asleep safely without worrying about falling over or losing balance. 

That being said, horses can sleep lying down, as they may sometimes take naps whilst lying down in order to rest their legs.

They may also lie down with other horses to keep warm on winter nights. This is also because they feel vulnerable when sleeping lying down, so they tend to do this in groups to feel protected, and often, one horse will stand up to keep guard. 

So in short, horses can sleep standing up, as this is sometimes safer for them, but they can indeed sleep lying down much like other mammals. 

Do Horses Get Tired Of Standing?

Do Horses Sleep Standing Up

Horses have an incredible ability to sleep whilst standing up, and they can still support themselves. This is due to the fact that horses have an array of powerful muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments in their legs that make them very strong. 

The collection of bones and muscles in the horse’s legs are called the ‘stay apparatus’. This means that it can stand with its weight on three legs, so that one leg can rest.

Then, a horse can switch which leg is resting to give it a break from the weight. Some horses are more than 500 kg too, so this is no easy feat. 

However, studies show that when a horse is sleeping standing up, it is not a deep sleep, and so horses may need to lie down to sleep in order to rest deeply and rest their legs. So, yes, they do get tired of standing after a while.

Even though horses can lock the joints in their legs, so that they can sleep standing up without falling over or growing really tired, they do need to lay down to rest entirely and get some deep REM sleep. 

That being said, horses are able to spend anywhere from four to fourteen hours a day resting whilst standing, and it is more of a nap than a deep sleep. 

Do Horses Ever Sleep On The Ground?

Yes, as mentioned above, horses mainly sleep standing up for many hours of the day, and will only lie down to sleep periodically.

Horses typically only lay down for about 2-3 hours every day, as anything more can decrease blood flow in the body, and so they tend to mostly move or stand. 

When a horse does lie down to sleep, that is the only time that they get deep sleep and rest. As herd animals, they will often do this together for an extra sense of security and safety. 

Why Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

Horses sleep standing up because they are naturally prey animals. Due to their large size, stature and straight spines, it can be difficult and slow for them to get up from a sleeping position.

This leaves them very vulnerable to predators, as they would not be able to get up in order to run fast enough before a predator strikes.

Instead, horses are able to doze off or nap whilst standing up due to the stay apparatus, or ligaments and tendons in their legs.

These tendons and ligaments are what makes it easier for them to lock their legs into position, so that they can relax and sleep without keeling over. 

In the most basic sense, it all comes down to how horses would survive in the wild. When it comes to fight or flight instincts, horses naturally need to be able to run away and flee quickly, as this is their strong point.

To do this, they have evolved to sleep standing up in order to be able to run at any given moment. 


To conclude, horses do naturally sleep and nap whilst standing up. This may seem bizarre to us, but it is how they have evolved in order to survive predators, so that they can escape quickly.

However, do not make the mistake of thinking that they cannot sleep whilst lying down, because they do. In fact, sleeping whilst lying down is the only way a horse can get deep REM sleep, and so they do both in order to remain rested and relaxed.

Catherine McDowl
Latest posts by Catherine McDowl (see all)