Last Updated on July 27, 2020 by Allison Price
You may have observed that these huge animals have strange sleeping habits. And you may be asking: Is it normal for them?
Whether you ride horses or just admire how majestic they are… you might have wondered how horses sleep.
If you are a new horse owner, you may have observed the unique sleeping patterns of horses. It’s different from other pets. And it’s somewhat confusing. But there’s no reason to be concerned if you spot strange horse sleeping.
Horses have the natural instinct to sleep in the wild. An environment where they need to be always alert so they can protect themselves. This is the reason behind their strange sleeping habits.
Keep your eyes on this article to know more about the sleeping habits of horses so we can understand better.
Adult Horse Sleeping Habits
Oftentimes, mature horses rest in a standing position. But this does not provide deep sleep for them. All skeletal muscles must be relaxed to fall into a deep sleep. This cannot happen when your horse is standing. Although horses can fall into a deep doze while standing, they can wake up and become alert very quick. This is a survival mechanism for horses.
And you may wonder, how can a horse snooze while standing?
They have a unique anatomical mechanism in their hind legs called the stay apparatus. It allows one horse’s knee to pop out of place and lock the hind limb in a standing position. Although it may sound painful for us, it’s not a problem at all for horses. The stay apparatus will lock in place in only one hind leg, the other one will be relaxed. The horse appears to be leaning on one hip.
Most horses will lie down for a deep sleep a few times every night. That is if they have comfortable place to do so and feel safe. That is why it’s important to provide a dry, sheltered area. So that your horse can stretch out safely for a snooze.
A dozing horse will carry its weight on the two forelegs and one hind leg most of the time. One hind leg will relax and the hoof rests up on its toe. The head and neck droop.
The ears are relaxed. The eyes are closed and the lower lip may droop or twitch. Horses will stretch flat out on the ground when they experience deep sleep.
Horses lie down to sun themselves. And it is normal for horses to lie down at the same time for a communal sunbath on a warm spring day.
Most of the time, when several horses lay down, one or two others will remain standing. Because they look for the safety of the herd.
Horses spend less time lying down in cold snowy conditions. Although on a sunny day, some horses will snooze stretched out in the snow. Each horse is unique and they have different sleeping habits. Some will sleep only at night. Others sleep during the day.
Sleeping in Groups
Natural instincts are still strong for many horses. Horses in the paddocks sleep in groups. It happens with one horse watching over the others while they’re in deep sleep to ensure that they are safe.
The watcher will swap places with the sleeper. Until all the horses in the group have had their deep sleep. Mindful, aren’t they?
How long do horses sleep?
This animal is notorious for surviving with minimal amounts of sleep. They sleep for around 3 hours only, within a 24-hour period. But they don’t rest for a long period of time. But younger foals sleep more than adult horses.
A few minutes of rest or nap is all that they need at various points in a day. But in 24 hours, the minutes should add up to a total of three hours of sleep.
Diet, temperature, workload, gestation and gender… these can affect the length and type of sleep your horse will be having.
The period of each sleep is very short, lasting only a few minutes at a time. Young horses sleep more than adult horses. But senior horses may snooze more frequently.
Reminder: it is a good idea to cover your horse in the event of an injury that may occur while they are sleeping. This is also to protect yourself… from financial costs of getting medical treatment for your horse. As well as ensure that your pet is happy and healthy.
Horses, like humans, can experience sleep disorder too. The most common reason why a horse is having sleep trouble is sleep deprivation. They can be deprived of sleep if they feel that sleep is unsafe. It may be because there are predators nearby. Or the horse is alone and no other horse will look out for it.
Your horse can have trouble sleeping because he is in pain. Or his sleeping space is not soft. Or he must compete for sleeping space with other horses.
Why do horses yawn?
Like us, horses also yawn at times. Unlike humans, their yawning is not a sign that they are tired or sleepy.
Wild and domestic horses yawn. Male horses yawn more than female horses.
According to research, horses yawn because of stress or frustration. In a situation where horses are enclosed in a small area and want more space, they yawn. They also yawn because they see food that they want to eat but cannot access it.
It’s a common misconception that horses can sleep while they are standing up. Although they can snooze while standing up, they need to lie down to fall to a deep sleep. Horses are unique when it comes to sleeping. It’s different from humans and even other animals or pets. Although there are differences, there are also similarities. Horses enjoy sleeping on soft bedding. Their sleep can also be disturbed by noise and stress, like ours. Sleep helps them restore their energy. And is closely tied to their weight and other aspects of their health. Like humans, horses can be negatively affected by sleep deprivation.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!