Why And When Do Horses Lie Down? Let’s Find Out

Horses are sensitive animals that express their state of mind through emotions and habitual patterns. These methods include resting patterns. On analyzing the sleeping patterns, you can catch the early signs of illness in your horse.

When And Why Do Horses Sleep?

Horses belong to the taxonomic family, they are prey animals and are programmed to run instantly on first signs of danger. Therefore, these animals keep standing most of the time, even while sleeping. They do not sleep for longer intervals. Horses are powerful animals and are tireless beings. All they need is a power nap to recharge themselves.

Secondly, lying down can be dangerous for horses, as it obstructs the blood flow. This is another reason that horses rarely lie down. It is also the reason why giving anesthesia to horses is crucial. The horses are naturally made in a way that their body can be at rest while standing, they can pass out while standing. Their legs have the ability to lock in a position that prevents the horse from falling down as he sleeps. 

Seeing a horse lying down is something which we are not used to as it rarely happens and that too for short periods only. The owners of the horses know this for a fact as they rarely see a horse sitting or lying flat on the surface. Seeing a horse lying on the ground might make you worry if the horse is even okay?

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is where the living beings close their eyes and goes into a deeper sleep with the body completely at rest or lying flat, in which the brain activity increases, giving body muscles the much-needed rest. Humans need at least 6 to 10 hours of REM sleep in 24 hours to function properly and stay active.

However, animals like horses need REM sleep for very short intervals. This is the only time when the horse lies down for deep sleep. Horses get the REM for an hour or less in a day. They may lie flat or lean against something heavy for this. Adult horses may get REM sleep for a few minutes and they are good to go.

Sleeping Patterns Of Horses

A horse has intervals of sleep during a 24 hours day.  They rest in the standing position for around 10 to 15 hours a day and spend less than an hour lying down. While they are standing at rest they sleep from time to time.

On average, the horse’s sleep ranges from two to three hours a day. Adult horses sleep less while the younger ones spend more time lying down and sleeping. Foals have less weight therefore lying down for them is easier and comfortable.

Unlike humans, horses do not sleep for long periods of time. They sleep in intervals during the day and at night. The pattern of the horse’s sleep depends on the area, weather, and schedule of the barn.

A horse sleeps best when he feels protected, the most protected he feels is in the barn with other horses. You might think confining a horse in his stall and closing the door might make him feel safe. On the contrary to your belief, doing so will isolate him and horses do not like to be left alone. They might feel in danger when confined and isolated. A lone horse will feel disturbed for being alone and no one to save him in case of danger. This will not let him have proper REM sleep.

When a Horse Gets Sick

To know if a horse is going through some pain and ailment is difficult as horses are thought to hide the signs of weakness and injury. An injury or any ailment can disrupt the sleeping pattern of horses. Stiffness in the back, joint ailment, or an infection can make the horse lie down or stand up for abnormal periods. A horse owner must keep an eye on the horse’s sleep patterns and immediately get help if he notices some kind of abnormality.

A horse not getting enough sleep might get sleep deprived. There are a number of reasons why a horse can turn reluctant to sit and lie down on the floor. A horse not lying down for long can pass out and collapse on the floor then stand up immediately. A horse owner 00can tell about a sleep-deprived horse by looking at its joints and ankles. His legs and knees might feel traumatized and he will look drowsy.

The reasons why a horse will not sit down may include muscle problems, cardiac issues, and anxiety. A horse having musculoskeletal pain will not sit down as getting up with it will bring tension to his legs.

Another reason for not lying down is that the horse might feel insecure and uncomfortable in his surroundings. He might feel isolated or anxious about being alone.

A horse who is deprived of sleep is less efficient and it can cause serious effects on his performance and mental well-being. Moreover, this can make him more prone to injury while he is on the field.

Opposite to this if a horse is sitting and lying down for a longer period of time is also abnormal and this can indicate that the horse has some ailment. This can be a sign of general weakness and lack of nutrition.

A horse might not stand up after he is done with his nap time due to musculoskeletal pain. If you notice that your horse is lying for longer intervals you should pay attention and observe the horse minutely. It is dangerous for adult horses to be lying down for longer durations, as it can damage blood circulation in adult horses. Obstruction in blood flow can cause heart attacks, lung damage, and breathing issues in horses.

A horse may need a change of diet or might be fighting something within its body. 

FAQs Related To Why And When Do Horses Lie Down 

Owing to the complications that might come with horses’ health, listed below are some more FAQs to enrich your knowledge about horses.

What does it mean when my horse lies down a lot?

Horses have mood swings and at times they might just be lying down to have a quick rest. However, if your horse has long, depressive episodes, is not hungry, has abdominal pain, or keeps kicking at its abdomen, then it is better to conduct a Whole Horse Exam (WHE) and record its temperature. Chances are that the horse might be sick and in pain. 
You should also observe the change in gum color, pulse and offer some regular supplements and feed. If the horse tries to lie down within the next 10  minutes, it is best to contact a veterinarian. In case your adult horse starts rolling, it is better to take it for a walk when the veterinarian arrives. 

Are gut sounds good in horses?

A healthy horse has regular rumbling sounds, which your veterinarian will listen to through a stethoscope. Both regions of the abdomen are listened to, to detect these rumbling sounds. It is essential to detect sounds in all four quadrants of the abdomen. The veterinarian must hear 1 to 3 rumblings per minute. Less than one movement signifies hypomotile which means there is not enough movement. This might lead to diarrhea and needs to be treated immediately. More than 3 movements lead to complications which might be the cause of obstruction. These problems can be treated through regular exercise.

What is a normal heart rate for a horse?

An average adult horse’s heart rate ranges from 24 to 38 beats. However, larger breeds have heartbeats ranging towards the lower end. Newborn horses have heartbeats towards 120 beats per minute. Middle-aged horses have heartbeats in the medium range between 40 to 60 heartbeats. 

How can I listen to my horse?

Slight twitching of the tail along with simple nods are part of a horse’s body language which indicates its calmness. If a horse wants some space for itself, they lightly swing their tail. If you want to communicate with your horse, make sure your own pitch matches theirs so that you may resonate with them. 
Also, try to copy their gestures because this will help them familiarize themselves with you. All these efforts also develop trust with the horse. They also show their emotions using extreme body language. For example, if the horse starts fidgeting, it might not like where you are taking it. If you work on the bond, you will notice your horse looking out for you. It will pay attention when you are concerned and will also communicate its love towards you. 


Most of the time, the horses sleep in a standing position and lie down only for a short period of time. There are several reasons for a horse lying down and these reasons are immensely related to its state of mind. At most times, your horse will lie down to cover for its missed sleep but if it shows depressive episodes and signs of physical pain, it is best to consult with a veterinarian.