Do Horses Lay Down?

Learning your horse’s behavioral patterns, like do horses lay down? This is one thing a horse owner needs to know. Similar to humans, horses have behavior that explains how they feel. One of the ways of knowing how your horse feels is noticing the patterns of how they lay down.  

Do horses lay down? Horses lay down to get the necessary REM sleep for relaxation. Sometimes they can lay down due to discomfort or physical pain. Horses laying down is normal behavior. However, it can be a sign of medical issues that needs the help of a professional veterinarian. 

Horses lying down is a valuable behavior to horse owners. It provides clues on how they are feeling, either physically or mentally. Here are reasons why horses lie down.

Reasons Why a Horse May Lay Down

Most reasons why horses lay down are the same in all horses. If you learn your horse’s standard behavioral patterns, it will be easy to know why it lays down. Here is a list of why horses lie down:

To Achieve REM Sleep

Horse sleeping patterns are unique. Though you may find a standing horse sleeping, laying down is necessary to achieve rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Most horses need two or three hours a day of REM sleep. It mostly happens in ten to thirty minutes naps.

Horses can’t lay down if they feel the environment isn’t safe. Therefore, ensuring that your horse is feeling secure and safe is vital. It enables them to achieve REM sleep frequently. It is also crucial for your horse if you are planning on traveling. Like humans, horses that get inadequate quality sleep will quickly show sleep deprivation signs.

For Comfort and Relaxation

Sometimes horses lie down when relaxing in the sun. If your horse lays down for a short time, it’s normal behavior, especially if the environment is comfortable. As such, if your horse lays down in the sun, it’s probably for a quick nap.

Illness or Physical Pain

If your horse is sick or suffering from physical pain, you will notice them lying down more than usual. Observe their sleeping patterns when healthy to see if there is something wrong with their behavior quickly.

Common health problems such as musculoskeletal or colic pain may lead to your horse laying down for an extended period. If an injury or illness is why your horse is laying down more than average, you will see other symptoms after further investigations.

Addressing illness or physical pain is essential. Contact a professional veterinarian if you notice something unusual. An ill horse laying down for a long time can cause extensive damage. 

Is Laying Down Necessary for a Horse to Sleep?

Humans need enough sleep for the proper functioning of the body. The same applies to horses! Most people believe that horses can sleep while standing through the day. They are capable of sleeping while standing due to a stay apparatus in their hind and front limbs. This apparatus makes their legs stick to one place without falling while asleep. 

According to equine anatomy, the stay apparatus enables a horse to have locked kneecaps with tendons and ligaments. It aligns the joints with no extra muscle exertion. Therefore, the stay apparatus stands out as a survival mechanism. 

Horses can’t shift to standing from a lying position quickly. Therefore, they can remain standing for a significant part of the day. In addition, horses can’t sleep lying down if they feel insecure, unsafe, and uncomfortable. 

Horses can rest while on their knees. However, it’s still important that they lay down for most of the day and achieve REM sleep. Additionally, without this deep sleep, horses are prone to sleep deprivation. Most horses sleep lying down for two to three hours a day. Accomplishing this REM sleep at night is mostly in segments of about thirty minutes long. 

Is Laying Down Safe for a Horse?

It’s safe and regular for horses lying down. However, a horse lying down for an extended period is quite dangerous. Horses are large animals, and laying down for an extended period restricts blood flow to the necessary limbs and organs. Therefore, your horse may suffer extensive physical harm. 

It’s one of the fundamental reasons why you should observe the standard habitual patterns of your horse. Noticing your horse is laying down more than usual will enable you to care and give them the required attention. Though it varies according to the horse, it is safe for most horses to lay down for some hours before standing up again. 

Is a Horse Sick when Laying Down?

Sometimes horses lay down when injured or sick. Though horses tend to roll around if uncomfortable due to conditions like colic, others can just lay down. Other injuries or physical discomfort can make them not stand because of a lack of stamina or strength. 

If you see your horse lying down for an extended period, search for other signs of injury or illness. You may notice different things for an ill horse, like changing eating habits, lack of motivation, or behavior changes. If you see your horse is going through any discomfort, proceed with caution and seek a veterinarian for advice.

Other Facts about Horses Sleep

Many people know that horses sleep when standing. As a horse owner, there is more to that you need to understand. 

Sleeping while Standing is the Key to a Horse’s Survival

As prey animals, horses survived evading predators for centuries. They are good at this because they have unique instincts and physical traits, and sleeping while standing is among the key characteristics. It allows a horse to rest but be upright and able to escape if a predator attacks. 

Horses in a herd sleep at intervals. Some horses are usually awake while the others are asleep to alert them if a predator approaches. Horses can’t be fast in rising from the ground due to their large build and size. Therefore, they need to unite for survival.

Horses Sleep with Open Eyes

Horses often sleep with open eyes but not always as they can keep their eyes open when napping. But in a deep sleep, they close them. Though horses have a deep sleep when laying down in the wild or the pasture, they can only do so if the others are alert. 

Horses can’t Lay Down for a Long Time

There is nothing wrong with a horse to lay down for a short period. However, it can be dangerous if your horse lays down for an extended period. Horses are heavy animals, and their extensive weight can lead to damaged nerves, muscles, and even breathing difficulty or improper blood circulation. 

If you think your horse has stayed on the ground for too long, make it stand. However, be careful and distance yourself from the legs. If your horse doesn’t stand up, seek your veterinary for advice.

Providing Your Horse with a Comfortable Sleeping Environment

Horses are prey animals. Therefore, it is natural for them to avoid lying down for long to sense predator danger. However, horses regularly need REM sleep. Night of a typical horse involves sleeping while standing, grazing, and several short sessions of laying down for some REM sleep. 

Now you have learned how vital REM sleep is for your horse’s general health. Therefore, providing a comfortable sleeping environment is crucial. Failure to do so prevents your horse from relaxing and finally leads to sleep deprivation. Here are things that horses need for quality sleep:

Peaceful Environment

Busy training and breeding barns full of hectic show schedules are likely to have activities during most of the night. Most horses in this kind of environment are likely to experience REM sleep deprivation. If your horse sleeps in those kinds of barns and you care about their sleeping habits, consider a stall related to the ongoing activities. Alternatively, moving them to more quiet booths will be better. 

If on a more extended trip or in a show, ensure your horse gets adequate periods of sleep once back home. However, just like humans, some horses can sleep in any circumstance. Such horses tend to sleep so soundly. 


During the night, ensure that you turn off the stall lights in the barn. If the lights are necessary for security, consider strategically placed illumination or motion-activated lights that don’t illuminate each stall. Artificial lights affect the usual wake and sleep cycles. It also interferes with the sense of day length of your horse. Therefore, keeping the lights dimmed or off is a good option for quality sleep. 


How comfortable should a stall be for a horse to lay down? For a night of adequate restful sleep, straw bedding should be deep to provide absorbency, insulation, and cushioning. The same applies to shaving if there are no rubber mats. The recommendation is to use enough shavings with absorbency.

Stall Space

Most horses can’t lay down if they feel the stall has a small space. If you note a horse lying down until they’re unable to get back up, it’s either the room is small or the legs are closer to the wall. This kind of situation requires an expert to help the horse get on its feet again. Besides large warmbloods or drafts, most adult horses can comfortably lay down in a 12 by 12 feet stall. 

Making Observations when your Horse Lays Down

Whether you want to learn your horse’s behaviors, it’s best to start by observing their resting habits. Periodically recording your horse for at least a day will help you keep track of how often your horse lays down. It’s wise to calculate the average period of sleep. 

Habit record allows you to observe when your horse doesn’t follow their regular schedule because of injury or illness. Similar to other horse habits, every horse has unique behavior and pattern. Tracking how long and how often your horse lays down helps in ensuring your horse achieves REM sleep consistently. 


Horses are capable of sleeping while standing. Though they are domesticated, they are still prey animals with wild instincts. Therefore, they always feel the need to protect themselves. They can stand when having a light sleep, but they have to lay down for REM sleep.