How do horses sleep?

If you’re a horse owner, you may have spotted that these huge animals have strange sleeping habits. Unlike other pets, horses have unique sleeping patterns that may seem confusing if you’re a relatively new owner, but there’s usually no reason to be concerned if you spot strange horse sleeping behaviour.

Horses have a natural instinct to sleep in the wild; an environment where they need to be constantly alert and protect themselves. This is usually the reasoning behind their strange sleeping habits, so understanding their history can help to understand their habits.

In this guide, we’ve shared the reasons behind why your horse may sleep standing up, as well as the amount of time that your horse should be sleeping every day. 

Why do horses sleep standing up?

Unlike humans or other household pets, horses need very little REM sleep each day. This is the part of a sleep cycle that we recognise as being in a ‘deep sleep’ and can be spotted when horses lay down to nap.

When your horse is enjoying REM sleep, you may notice that they move their legs whilst laying on their side. If this happens, it may be safe to assume that your horse is dreaming!

However, horses only have a few minutes of REM throughout any sleeping period. The other time snoozing is a light sleep and can be noticed when your horse sleeps standing up by altering their hind legs.

a horse asleep on the floor

Because horses are big animals, their blood flow can be restricted by laying down for long periods of time. This causes excess pressure on their internal organs, which is why they only lay down for REM sleep. This results in them sleeping while standing up at various points throughout the day.

Sleeping in groups

Because natural instincts are still strong for many horses, you may notice that the multiple horses in your paddock sleep in a group. This usually happens with one horse watching over the other whilst they’re in REM sleep to ensure that they’re safe.

a group of horses in a field

The watcher will then swap places with the sleeper until all horses within the group have had their rest.

How long do horses sleep for?

Horses are notorious for surviving with minimal amounts of sleep. They only sleep for around three hours within a 24-hour period but never rest for large periods of time, but younger foals may sleep more than adult horses.

A few minutes’ kip is all that a horse needs at various points of the day but over the course of 24-hours, these minutes should add up to a total of three hours sleep.

Remember that it’s always a good idea to cover your horse in the event of an injury that occurs whilst they’re sleeping. This can help to protect yourself from the financial costs of getting medical treatment for your horse, as well as ensure that your pet is happy and healthy.

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