Horse Health

7 Strange Sleeping Habits of Horses


You step outside and lovingly gaze into the pasture only to find your horse lying flat on his side. Your heartbeat quickens. OH MY GADS—HE’S DEAD!

How many of us have lived out this scenario? (*raises hand*)

You hurry out to the pasture, but upon closer inspection, you soon see his muzzle twitch or his tail lazily swish at a fly. He’s not dead or even ill. He’s just sleeping. Whew.

While we might assume our horses mostly sleep throughout the night like we do, this is actually not the case. In fact, horses’ sleeping habits are nothing like our own.

For example:

1. Horses only sleep for short periods throughout the day or night

The average nap lasts approximately 15 minutes. (Here’s an idea: maybe we should call short naps “horse naps” instead of “cat naps”!)

2. Horses’ sleeping patterns change as they age.

While foals under three months of age may sleep for 12 hours a day, older horses only sleep for about three hours during a 24-hour period. Senior horses (just like some senior people) may snooze a bit more though.

3. Horses really can sleep standing up

This is thanks to the stay apparatus—a group of ligaments, tendons, and muscles that brace the entire joint system of the foreleg as well as the pastern and fetlock joints in the hind leg. The horse’s stifles have both a locking and reciprocal mechanism that enables one hind leg to lock in place while the other one rests. All of these mechanisms evolved so the horse could more easily flee from predators.

4. But they can only reach full REM sleep (deepest level of sleep) while laying down

Therefore, it’s essential they have somewhere comfortable and roomy enough to do this. If a horse is deprived of REM sleep for a long period of time, this could affect his health in a negative way.

©Ruud Overes/Flickr CC

5. Horses in herds will often have a “guard horse” stand watch while others lay down to sleep

Like the name implies, the guard horse will alert the sleeping horses of impending danger. Different members of the herd will take turns acting as the guard horse.

6. Some horses “talk” in their sleep

It isn’t unusual for horses to occasionally nicker or grunt while sleeping. This would lead us to wonder—are they dreaming? And if so, what about? (Oh, if our horses could only tell us!)

©markpeate/Flickr CC

7. Every horse has his own sleeping patterns

Since horses are neither nocturnal nor diurnal, each will develop his own preferred time to doze off. Because of this, any changes we make in our horses’ schedules may very well affect their sleeping routine. Just something to be aware of!

©smerikal/Flickr CC

About the Author

Casie Bazay is a freelance and young adult writer, as well as an owner/barefoot trimmer and certified equine acupressure practitioner. She hosts the blog, The Naturally Healthy Horse, where she regularly shares information on barefoot, equine nutrition, and holistic horse health. Once an avid barrel racer, Casie now enjoys just giving back to the horses who have given her so much.