7 Strange Sleeping Habits of Horses
Note: This is a reprint of an article I previously wrote for Horse Network so the tone is a little different that what you usually find on here. Interesting information, nonetheless!
You step outside and lovingly gaze into the pasture only to find your horse lying flat on his side. Your heartbeat quickens. OH MY GADS—HE’S DEAD!
How many of us have lived out this scenario? (*raises hand*) You hurry out to the pasture, but upon closer inspection, you soon see his muzzle twitch or his tail lazily swish at a fly. He’s not dead or even ill. He’s just sleeping. Whew.
While me might assume our horses mostly sleep throughout the night like we do, this is actually not the case. In fact, horses’ sleeping habits are nothing like our own.
1.) Instead of sleeping for a long period of time, horses only sleep for short periods throughout the day or night, with the average nap lasting approximately 15 minutes. (Here’s an idea: maybe we should call short naps ‘horse naps’ instead of ‘cat naps’!)
2.) Horses’ sleeping patterns change as they age. While foals under three months of age may sleep for twelve hours a day, older horses only sleep for about three hours during a 24-hour period. Senior horses (just like some senior people) may snooze a bit more though.
3.) Yes, horses really can sleep standing up. This is thanks to the ‘stay apparatus’—a group of ligaments, tendons, and muscles which brace the entire joint system of the foreleg as well as the pastern and fetlock joints in the hind leg. The horse’s stifles have both a locking and reciprocal mechanism which enables one hind leg to lock in place while the other one rests. All of these mechanisms evolved so the horse could more easily flee from predators.
4.) While horses often choose to sleep standing up, they can only reach full REM sleep (deepest level of sleep) while laying down. Therefore, it’s essential they have somewhere comfortable and roomy enough to do this. If a horse is deprived of REM sleep for a long period of time, this could affect his health in a negative way.
5.) Horses in herds will often have a ‘guard horse’ whose job is to stand watch while others lay down to sleep. Like the name implies, the guard horse will alert the sleeping horses of impending danger. Different members of the herd will take turns acting as the guard horse.
6.) Some horses “talk” in their sleep. It isn’t unusual for horses to occasionally nicker or grunt while sleeping. This would lead us to wonder—are they dreaming? And if so, what about? (Oh, if our horses could only tell us!)
7.) Every horse has his own sleeping patterns. Since horses are neither nocturnal nor diurnal, each will develop his own preferred time to doze off. Because of this, any changes we make in our horses’ schedules may very well affect their sleeping routine. Just something to be aware of!