Do Horses Sleep Standing Up? (Why and How)

Horse Sleeping While Standing Up

Unlike other household pets, horses have an instinct to sleep in the wild, a setting where they need to be continuously vigilant to defend themselves from unseen dangers. This behavior is one reason behind their peculiar sleeping habits.

Do horses sleep standing up? As prey animals, horses sleep standing up so that they can quickly act in case of an attack. Their straight backs make it difficult for them to get up promptly. Horse’s legs are the key to this atypical sleeping habit. They usually lock their knees to avoid falling over while sleeping.

If you want to explore more about a horse’s peculiar sleeping habits, below discusses why and how they sleep in their particular positions. Also, this article investigates the number of times horses sleep per day and examines further reasons behind their sleeping habits.

Why Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

The main reason why horses sleep while standing up is that it allows them to quickly escape any attack by a predator without going through a hassle and wasting time standing up. This ability is an adaptation from its life as a prey animal in the wild. Another reason for this sleeping habit is, it takes a considerable amount of work for horses to get up once they sleep on the ground. Laying down makes horses vulnerable to any attacks, which is why they opt to doze while standing up instead.

Can Horses Sleep Lying Down?

Horse Sleeping Lying Down

The fact that horses can sleep while standing up doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t do so while lying down. Whenever horses need deep sleep, they lie down on their backs. However, horses are big animals, and their blood flow may be restricted if they lay down sleeping for quite some time. Sleeping on the ground may cause excessive pressure on their internal organs and may cause the organs to malfunction. That’s why they only sleep lying down for REM sleep or when they need to rest their legs. However, other horses lie down just because they feel comfortable or want to do so.

How Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

The weird sleeping habit of horses is made possible through a method called “stay apparatus.”

What is Stay Apparatus?

This so-called stay apparatus is a unique system of tendons and ligaments found in the horse’s legs that keep the horses upright with relative ease. This system locks the major joints in the horse’s legs to help them relax and take a nap without worrying about falling while sleeping. This allows the horse to remain in an upright position without having any muscular activity and allow for a restful state.

The front legs of horses automatically engage in stay apparatus when the muscles are relaxed. Horse’s femur has a hook structure that prevents the leg from bending when standing up.

The horse also can distribute its entire weight between its three libs instead of the four limbs, so the one remaining limb can rest.

Do Horses Get Tired of Standing?

Horses are built to stand more than lying more. Since their bodies are so massive, their organs will fail to function if they are lying down for a long time. When lying down, it becomes harder for them to take breaths, and the movement of their stomach slows down; thus, fluids pool where they shouldn’t be.

However, horses are not robots – they will also eventually wear out from too much standing for quite a long while. But, horses have an enormous tolerance for exhaustion; they don’t get tired that easily, because of their stay apparatus system. When they are tired, they lie down and take naps. This gives them time to rest their legs.

Just a few minutes of rest can compensate for the long hours of standing up. It is also best to provide horses a shoulder guard (view on Amazon) to give them some comfort while standing up.

How Long Can Horses Lay Down Safely?

Horse Laying Down

Horses lie down when they require a deep sleep. They usually lie down for a series of short intervals that sum up to about three hours per day. As horses grow, they will take fewer short naps and prefer to rest in an upright position instead of lying down.

The frame of a horse makes lying down for quite a long time very challenging, as well as very dangerous. If you think of it, the horse’s legs support pretty much the entire internal weight. If the horse lay down for a very long time, it can cause pressure and possible disposition of organs.

On average, horses cannot lay down for more than 30 minutes straight per day.

Do Horses Sleep With Their Eyes Open?

Horses can comfortably sleep with their eyes closed or open – or sometimes with their eyelids only half-closed. Their eyes indicate how well the horse sleeps. Sleeping with eyes open suggests that it is only sleeping lightly. On the other hand, if the horse needs a deep sound sleep, the eyes would be completely shut.

How Often Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

There is a difference between how often the horses sleep standing up between young and adult horses. One reason is that adult horses find it difficult with age to get up when lying down. So, for young horses, you will always see them sleeping on the ground instead of standing up. On the other hand, adult horses prefer sleeping standing up than lying down.

A horse spends four to fifteen hours standing rest per day. However, not all such time, the horse is asleep. Most of this sleeping pattern includes many short intervals of approximately 15 minutes of light sleeping, meaning sleeping while standing up. It is then followed by another 5 minutes of a deep sleep, involving sleep lying down.

How Do Horses Sleep in the Wild?

Wild Horses Lying Down

If a horse is alone in the wild, they rarely sleep lying down. That is because their instinct is to keep a constant eye for any predators around. Instead, when in the wild, horses always sleep in groups.

On a nice, sunny day, you may notice that multiple horses sleep in groups. You can see some horses lying on the ground sleeping, but you can always see one horse watching over the others while they sleep. The one horse standing up is called a watcher. The watcher is the look-out for any potential threats or attacks to the group of sleeping horses. The horse watcher will then swap places with a sleeper until all horses had taken their fair amount of rest.

How Long Does a Horse Sleep in a Day?

Horses are known to survive with minimal amounts of sleep. They only sleep for about three hours per day. However, younger foals may sleep longer than adult horses.

A few minutes nap is all a horse needed to stay alert and active throughout the day. They take a series of short nap intervals that add up to a total of 3 hours.

Horses do not need an entire period of sleeping time, like us humans do. They will obtain their needed sleep by the many shorter periods of rest or naps they take throughout the day. This kind of sleeping pattern is to be expected from a prey animal since they need to be attentively ready on a moment’s notice to flee from an incoming predator.

When horses are resting, it is always best to cover them (view on Amazon) to avoid any unforeseen accidents or injuries while they’re sleeping. Such a coating will help ensure that your horses are happy and healthy and, at the same time, protect you from any additional financial costs for the horse’s medical treatment.

Conclusion – Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

The horse’s sleeping pattern dramatically depends on his environment and his current situation – he can either choose to sleep standing up or to lie down. If the horse is in the wild, he may prefer to sleep standing up, for him to quickly escape in case of an attack. However, if the horse is tired, he may voluntarily lie down to get the rest he desperately needs.

So, if you spot horses lying down, don’t panic and start calling someone for help – they may just be lying down sleeping. It may be uncommon to see a horse lying down resting, but it is still perfectly safe for them to do so. However, if the horse is lying down for quite a long time, check to make sure they are not in danger.

Still, there is much to know about the peculiar sleeping pattern of horses. What we know is only the basic information but is still useful when trying to understand how horses get their fair share of rest.

Kris Peter

I am a lifelong advocate of sleep, continually learning, and striving to be better than I was yesterday.

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