Sleeping Habits: Horses Sleep While Standing

Last Updated on August 11, 2020 by Allison Price

Whether you ride horses or just admire how majestic they are… you might have wondered how horses sleep.

Oftentimes, horses rest or sleep while standing. 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 ask, how can a horse snooze while standing?

Keep reading to know more!

Sleeping While Standing

Horses have a unique anatomical mechanism in their hind legs. It is 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 a 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.

Horses’ “stay apparatus”

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.

Sleeping Positions

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.

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.

Facts About How Horses Sleep

Here is a list of facts about how horses sleep for us to be more knowledgeable:

Horses prefer to stand while snoozing (this is to protect themselves from predators)

A horse’s survival depends on their ability to avoid and outrun predators. It is their disadvantage when they are asleep. Horses would prefer to stand while sleeping. Because it is the safest way to catch some z’s. If they will be attacked, they won’t have time to get off their backs and onto their feet. They remain standing so they won’t waste time in running away.

Horses need to lie down to achieve REM sleep

Horses can take quick snoozes while standing. But they can’t get their much-needed REM sleep without relaxing all their muscles. Just like humans. REM sleep is important to keep horses well-rested. But unlike us, they only need 2-3 hours of REM sleep a day. They get this kind of sleep in short bursts. They lie down for minutes. Then, get up for a while. And lie down again later.

Horses don’t sleep all night

Horses are not nocturnal or diurnal (day active). They don’t fall into a deep sleep every night. Instead, horses typically spend their nights alternating between rest ad activity. They may take a short snooze while standing up. Graze for a while. Then, stretch out on their sides to get a few minutes of deep sleep. Horses repeat this routine even when the sun comes up.

Your horse’s sleeping habits will depend on their routine. If they work most during daytime, they will most likely sleep at night.

Horses get cranky when they are not getting enough sleep

Horses don’t need as much sleep as humans. But they still feel the effects of exhaustion. Just as we do when we don’t get enough sleep.

Horses lose sleep when they are stressed out or feel unsafe

Your horse knows that falling asleep in the wrong spot is dangerous. So, it is important for horses to have a safe place to rest.

If you bring your horse into a barn at night, make sure their stall is large enough for them to comfortably lie down.


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 deep sleep. Horses are unique when it comes to sleeping.

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!