Do Horses Lay Down?

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Horses are mysterious creatures, beautiful, elegant, and full of personality. They have the awesome ability to sleep standing up, which often confuses people when it comes to the question, do horses lay down? We are going to go over this in detail so you can get the full scoop on why and when horses lay down.

Is it Normal for a Horse to Lay Down?

Yes, horses lay down for multiple reasons. While they have the ability to sleep standing up, they lay down when they go into a deep sleep. When a horse is seen resting while standing up they are only taking short rests. When they are tired enough to get REM sleep, they will lie down and go into a deep sleep state, like most creatures do.

Since most horse owners understand the work it takes to keep their horses in shape, the need to ask questions is quite essential. In most cases, it could be out of fear, especially for new horse owners, but oftentimes, there is nothing to get you scared. 

All you need to do is pay attention to your horses. You should make sure they are not going too long without laying down, which might indicate illness. It’s also good to know that when it comes to horses, they are capable of sleeping while in a standing position, and this is due to a natural ability known as the stay apparatus. This allows their knees to lock in place, and they can stand comfortably to sneak in a few naps.

How Long Should a Horse Sleep?

Generally, horses require a moderate amount of REM sleep to recover from expending so much energy during the day, which makes them restless if they don’t get adequate rest. Since they stand for a long time during the day, it is required that they get at least 2-3 hours of sleep every 24 hours, so they can refill their energy tank, which will have them ready to carry on the next day. 

Outside of this, you should consult your vet to ensure they are in perfect condition; if not, treatment should ensue immediately. 

What is REM Sleep in Horses?

REM stands for rapid eye movement, and it is when an animal, and in this case, a horse, has reached a stage of deep sleep. This stage is usually the most energetic and essential part of sleep, as the body repairs itself and ensures that the horse wakes up in a better shape and state of mind. 

This stage of sleep is usually achievable when the horse is in a lying position, as this removes the feeling of discomfort felt when the horse stands for a long period. 

How Long Can a Horse Stay Lying Down?

We would advise that you should ensure your horse gets enough standing time, as this helps with their well-being. Due to their size, horses that stay on the ground for a long time would have issues with getting enough blood flow which could be dangerous, and in some cases, it may even lead to fatality. 

This is not the same for all horses, as some can be quite sedentary while others are much more active. However, a little bit of resting (2-3 hours) on the ground and sleeping should get the horse in excellent condition, as long as they do not stay down for too long. 

Choosing the Best Sleep Time for Your Horse

Horses keep their own time. While you can do things to make it easier for them to take their rest, they may not always be ready. They sleep when they are tired, and, like humans, they will sleep when it gets dark. If there are certain times you want your horse to sleep you can make the conditions more suitable for them, by providing them a dimly lit barn and stall. 

Also, ensure they are adequately fed when it’s almost nighttime to ensure they are satisfied, making sleeping much easier, which is good for your horse. 

Why is it Hard to See a Horse Sleeping?

You would most often hear people say they don’t see horses sleep, and this can be true. The reason behind it is that horses do not sleep the same way humans do, and all this is based on evolutionary reasons. 

Since they need to protect themselves against predators, horses have evolved to sleep in little bits, which would amount to the total sleep they need in a day. What they do is doze off while standing and then look around the area to ensure it is safe before they doze again. After a long period of doing this and ensuring that it is safe, the horse then lays down and goes into a short REM sleep. 

Good old Smokey the horse. This picture was taken at Chambers Ranch in 2021.

Why Else Would a Horse Lay Down?

Since we already know that horses are strong and persevering animals, it can be quite surprising to see them lying down, especially when they are not sleeping. However, since they can’t communicate how they feel, they have to show their caregivers that something is going on with them. 

So most times, when horses are sick or injured, they spend a lot of time lying down, and as a horse owner, when you notice this, then you should know it’s time to have a visit from the vet. 

What is Colic?

Every animal gets sick at some point, and one sickness common with horses is Colic, a medical condition that affects a horse’s intestines and is usually due to overeating grains. This is an extremely painful condition, and you can easily notice it due to the way the horse will lay on the ground, while excessively rolling around.

With Colic, they barely drink water and will paw at the ground, as they try to cope with the pain. Whenever you notice this, the medical response should be the next step, as Colic can be fatal if not properly and quickly handled. 

You can also give them first aid by trying to walk them, as this reduces the amount of pressure on their intestines, and it can relieve them before and after they get treatment. 

Should You Help a Horse That’s Down to Get Up? 

If you notice that a horse is staying down for very long periods, it’s best to call a vet to come check it out. We understand that you care about your horse and want to help it get better, but the truth is that it is best not to force it. 

Most times, horses that do not want to get up can’t be moved, and when they sense force, they will get all defensive and kick which can end up being dangerous to you. So, we often advise that you leave the horse in its position and wait until a professional gets there who would treat and help the horse get back up. 

However, if you decide to help the horse get up on its own, ensure you take safety measures such as the following:

  • Do not sneak up on the horse
  • Get help from others to move them
  • Avoid staying behind the horse to avoid being kicked

Why is My Horse Grumpy?

What happens when babies cry all night and don’t let you get enough sleep? You got all grumpy, right? Well, that is the same with horses, just that this time they didn’t get grumpy because the baby was crying but because of sleep deprivation. 

Now, this is something you should have noticed based on this topic, as we mentioned that they have terrible sleeping patterns. So whenever they don’t sleep well, they throw tantrums and sometimes even collapse.

This is quite common, and horse owners should also look out for horses with dull coats or those lying down randomly, with strange behaviors. In such a case, you can separate them from the group training and allow them to get some rest so that they can get back in shape in no time. 

Would my Horses Sleep if I Left them out at Night? 

Many horse owners battle with the idea of either keeping their horses in their barn or letting them roam about the premises. Depending on the amount of space you have, you can make your choice. However, leaving your horses to roam wouldn’t stop them from sleeping because these animals are intelligent and know what their bodies want. 

So the choice is yours; and as long as you are sure of their safety, then you can let them be free at night. 

Want to learn more about animals? Check out Coyote Sounds


We have looked at several reasons why your equine could want to lie on the ground, and we hope our answers have alleviated your worries. However, as a horse owner, understanding your horses is very important and would help you get the best out of them. 

So pay attention to your horses, and if they are showing signs you don’t understand, then you should consult your vet. 

Chad Fox