Seeing a horse lie down in the paddock can make an owner panic, are they sick or just sleeping? It is not often that you see a horse lying down to sleep, they more commonly stand to sleep.
Horses, like other large mammals including cattle, giraffes and elephants, can sleep standing up. They can do this through a mechanism known as the “Stay Apparatus”. This is where ligaments, tendons, muscles and bones lock into place allowing them to rest on three legs without collapsing. When sleeping standing up horses are really only dozing or sleeping lightly which allows them to respond quickly and move if there is a threat or danger. Horses generally rest standing up in short bursts for a total of 5-7 hours a day.
Although they catch most of their zzz’s while standing up, horses do still need to lie down for some proper sleep. They will lie down for a total of 1-3 hours per day, generally in shorter 15-30 minute bursts, in order to get important REM Sleep.
Horses do not lie down for extended periods of time for two reasons; it makes them vulnerable to predators especially wild dogs and because of their size and weight it can compromise their body circulation if they are lying down for extended periods. For a horse to lie down they need to feel safe and secure in their surroundings. If they are really stressed or feel threatened they won’t lie down for that much needed REM sleep which will have a negative impact on their overall health.
Originally published in myPET Magazine Issue 20 Autumn/Winter 2020.
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