Horses Sitting Down: Good or Bad

Last Updated on August 4, 2020 by Allison Price

If you’ve been taking care of horses, you can observe their physical behaviors.

Most horses remain in the standing position. Because their weight places excess pressure on their internal organs when lying down. Mature or adult horses only sit or lie down for a short period of time. Foals or young horses spend more time on the ground during naps until they get older.

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.

In this article, we will learn why horses can’t sit or lie down for too long. Keep scrolling down!

But why can’t horses lie down for too long?

We may have seen our horses stand most of time but it’s also important that we know the reason why.

Horses can’t lie or sit down for long. Why? Because the longer they are down, the more prone they are to reperfusion injury.

Reperfusion can happen because horses are large animals. And the weight of their body in and of itself can prevent the flow of blood on certain parts. This may cause severe problems when they try to stand up again. And blood flow tries to return to normal.

Aside from reperfusion injury, there are other several issues.

Muscles on the down side of the animal, as well as the nerves, can be damaged from excessive pressure.

The down lung of your horse may cause trouble. As excess blood pools on that part due to gravity.

That is why it is important to observe the normal habits of your horse. Recognize if they are lying or sitting down more than the normal already. So, you can provide them the care and attention they may need. Although it depends on the horse. Most horses can safely sit down for several hours at a time before needing to stand again.

Reasons why your horse lies or sits down

Most of the reasons are the same as humans. Learn the normal behavioral patterns of your horse. It will allow you to easily the reason why they are lying down.

Horses lie down to achieve REM sleep

They have unique sleeping patters. But most of the time, you will find your horse snooze while standing. They need to lay down to achieve REM sleep. Most horses need two to three hours of REM sleep every 24 hours. This is done on 10 to 30 minutes of naps.

Horses will only lay down when they feel they are in a safe environment. It is important to ensure your horse is feeling safe and secure. This is also crucial if you are traveling with your horse. Just like humans, horses that do not get quality sleep will begin to show signs of sleep deprivation.

Horses lie down to relax

Sometimes you will find your horse lie down to relax under the sun. Lying down for short periods of time may be normal for your horse. Especially if they are in a comfortable environment. But most of the time, when you see them lying under the sun, it is likely that they are taking a nap.

Are they sick when they lay down?

Horses may lie down when they are sick or injured. Some horses will roll around in discomfort from conditions such as colic. Others may simply lie still. Other physical discomfort or injury could prevent them from standing. Simply because of a lack of strength or stamina.

If you find your horse lie or sit down more than the normal, look for other signs or symptoms of illness or injury. There are some other things you may notice when your horse is ill. These are changes in behavior, lack of motivation, or changes in their eating habits. It is advisable to be cautious and contact your veterinarian for advice. That is if your think your horse is experiencing any type of discomfort.

Do horses lie down to sleep?

Just like humans, horses need an adequate amount of sleep to function each day. They are known to sleep while standing up throughout the day. They are able to do this because of the stay apparatus as mentioned above.

The stay apparatus is a survival mechanism. Horses cannot quickly transition from a lying position to standing. That is why they remain standing for the majority of the day. They will not lie down to sleep unless they feel comfortable, safe, and secure.

Although they are able to rest while standing up, they still need to lie down to sleep. A horse will only achieve the REM sleep while they are lying down. Without this, horses fall prey to sleep deprivation.

Observing your horse sitting/lying down

Whether you are learning the behavior of the new horse… simply wanting to learn your horse’s habits better… observing their resting habits is a great place to start. You may record a 24-hour video of your horse. So, you can keep track of how often they lie down.

You can also calculate the average of how much they are sleeping. This can provide you an insight to observe… when they fall out of their normal routine due to illness or injury.

Each horse has unique patterns and behaviors. Keep track of how often and how long your horse lies down. It is the best way to make sure they are comfortable enough to consistently achieve REM sleep.


Horses can sit or lie down. But only for a short period of time. One of the very important things you need to do as a horse owner is to learn the behavioral patterns of your horse. Like when they lie or sit down. They display mannerisms that give us an insight into how they feel. And how often they lie down is an easy way to know how they are feeling.

Allison Price
Allison Price

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!