Horses Lying Down: What You Need To Know

Reasons Horses Lay Down

Horses Lying Down: Complete Guide 

One of the most important things you can do as a horse owner is to learn the behavioral patterns of your horse, such as why they lie down. Just like humans, horses display mannerisms that provide us with insight into how they feel. One easy way to keep an eye on how your horse is feeling is to observe how often they are lying down. 

Why do horses lie down? Horses will lie down to catch up on much-needed REM sleep, to relax, and in some cases, they will lay down because they are in physical pain or discomfort. Lying down is a normal behavior in horses, but it can sometimes indicate a medical problem requiring the help of a trained veterinarian. 

The behavior of a horse lying down can provide horse owners with valuable clues to how they are feeling, both mentally and physically. In this post, I will cover some of the primary reasons horses lie down. I will also discuss ways to determine if your horse is laying down too much, a possible sign that there are other issues.

Reasons You May Find Your Horse Lying Down

Many of the reasons a horse lies down are similar to humans. Learning the normal behavioral patterns of your horse will allow you to more easily determine the reason they are lying down. 

Horses Lying Down to Achieve REM Sleep

Horses have unique sleeping patterns. Although most of the time you will find your horse snoozing while standing, they do need to lay down to achieve REM sleep. Most horses require between two to three hours of REM sleep every 24 hours. This is typically done in short naps that last ten to thirty minutes at a time! 

Horses will only lay down if they feel as if they are in a safe environment. It is important to ensure your horse is feeling safe and secure, enabling them to achieve REM sleep each day. This is especially crucial if you are traveling with your horse. Just like us, horses that do not get enough quality sleep will quickly begin to show signs of sleep deprivation.

Horses Lying Down for Relaxation & Comfort

In some cases, you may find your horse laying down to relax in the sun! Laying down for short periods of time may be normal behavior for your horse, especially if they are in a comfortable environment. However, most of the time you see them lying in the sun, it is likely that they are taking a quick nap.

Horses Lying Down Due to Physical Pain or Illness

If your horse is experiencing physical pain or suffering from an illness, you may notice they are lying down more than normal. Observing their sleep patterns while they are healthy will enable you to more quickly notice when something is off with their behavior.

Common health problems like colic or musculoskeletal pain can force your horse to lie down for long periods of time. If an illness or injury is causing your horse to lie down more than usual, you will oftentimes notice other symptoms upon further investigation.

It is important to address physical pain or illness in a timely manner, and that you contact a trained veterinarian as soon as you believe something is wrong. Allowing your horse to lay down for extended periods of time when they are ill can lead to extensive damages. This will be discussed in greater detail later in this article.

Do Horses Need to Lay Down to Sleep?

We all need an adequate amount of sleep to function each day, even horses! Horses are known to sleep standing up throughout the day. They are able to do this because of a stay apparatus in both their front and hind limbs. This unique apparatus allows their legs to “lock” in place while preventing them from falling over while sleeping.

One of the most unique aspects of equine anatomy, the stay apparatus allows a horse to lock their kneecap with ligaments and tendons. This keeps the joints in alignment without requiring extra muscle exertion.

The stay apparatus is, in essence, a survival mechanism. Horses are not able to quickly transition from a lying position to standing. Because of this, they remain standing for the majority of the day. Horses will not lie down to sleep unless they feel comfortable, safe, and secure.

Although horses are able to rest while standing up, it is imperative that they lie down to sleep throughout the day. A horse will only achieve REM sleep while they are lying down. Without this important, deep sleep, horses fall prey to sleep deprivation. 

Most horses lie down to sleep between two to three hours each day. Most of this REM sleep is accomplished during the nighttime, usually in thirty-minute segments. 

Is It Safe for Horses to Lay Down?

Horse Sleeping Laying Down

It is safe, and completely normal, for horses to lay down. However, when a horse lies down for too long, it is actually quite dangerous! Because horses are such large animals, lying down for extended periods of time can restrict blood flow to important organs and limbs. This can cause extensive physical harm to your horse! 

This is yet another reason why it is so important to observe the normal habits of your horse. Recognizing that they are lying down more than normal will allow you to provide them with the care and attention they may require. Although it varies depending on the horse, most horses can safely lie down for several hours at a time before needing to stand again.

Is a Horse Sick When They Lay Down?

In some cases, horses may lie down when they are sick or injured. Although many 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 due to a lack of strength or stamina. 

If your horse is lying down more than normal, look for other signs or symptoms of illness or injury. Some other things you may notice when your horse is ill may be changes in behavior, lack of motivation, or changes in their eating habits. It is always better to proceed with caution and contact your veterinarian for advice if you think your horse is experiencing any type of discomfort. 

Providing a Comfortable Sleeping Environment for Your Horse

Because REM sleep is so important for the overall health of your horse, it is crucial to provide a comfortable sleeping environment. Failing to do so will prevent your horse from relaxing, eventually leading to sleep deprivation. 

Eliminating common stressors such as loud, busy barns is one of the best ways to ensure your horse feels safe enough to relax. It is also important to make sure that the space you are providing your horse is large enough for them to comfortably lie down and easily stand up once their period of resting has come to an end. 

Observing Your Horse Lying Down

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

It is also wise to calculate an average of how much they are sleeping. This can provide you with insight to quickly observe when they fall out of their normal routine due to illness or injury.

As with all other habits of horses, each horse has unique patterns and behaviors. Keeping track of how often and how long your horse lies down is the best way to make sure they are comfortable enough to consistently achieve REM sleep.

Related Questions

What are other behaviors do horses display that can signal that something is off?

Horses do a good job of displaying behavioral signals. The important thing is recognizing the signals they are sending! Some common behaviors that can signal a change in the comfort or health of your horse include aggressive body language, eating disorders, and signs of fear.  

However, horses can also share positive behavioral signals! Things such as approaching you of their own accord signal trust. Following you around the pen can signal companionship. Knowing the unique way your horse shares their behaviors, both positive and negative, will allow you to provide better care and support for their needs.

Why is my horse suddenly acting aggressively towards me?

Aggressive behavior if your horse is certainly disconcerting, especially when it appears suddenly! There are many reasons your horse could have this quick change in attitude. However, the most common reason your horse will begin to act in an aggressive manner is pain or discomfort.  

If your horse begins to react negatively in a normal setting, ensure that their gear is not too tight or causing aggravation. Make sure they have ample time to relax between their workouts. It may also be beneficial to monitor their sleep patterns as inadequate sleep can lead to negative behaviors in horses! If the aggressive patterns continue, it is wise to consult with a veterinarian to make sure that there is no physical injury or illness causing a change in behavior. 

Further Reading

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, here are a few other articles I’ve written that you might like:


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My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

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