Horses: Asleep on their feet

Written by HEATHER THOMAS

Horse Asleep Standing Up Cartoon

On average, the adult horse sleeps only 2 1/2-to-3 hours a day.

Horses have three levels of sleep and need to lie down only for their deepest sleep.

The horse is literally a restless animal. Before domestication, he wandered over prairie land in search of good grass and water, spending most of his time on the move even while grazing. His chief defense against predators was alertness and flight; he could not afford to be caught napping.

His body is designed for spending most of his time on his feet, even while sleeping. In a band of wild horses, at least one individual is always on sentry duty, and even domestic horses rarely sleep all at the same time.
The horse does not take this sleep period all at once but in small snatches throughout the day and night, and most of that sleep time is while standing; he may spend only 45 minutes of his total sleep time lying down.

There are several levels of sleep and the actual amount of sleep will depend on the individual and whether he is confined and bored or free to roam at will. A confined horse may spend more hours sleeping per day than an unconfined one.

Drowsiness is the lightest level of sleep. The intermediate level is slow wave sleep. Deep sleep is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in which the muscles totally relax and the animal dreams. While resting or drowsing in light sleep, the horse remains standing, with eyes closed and head drooping, resting a hind leg.

Heather Thomas is a free-lance writer based in Salmon, Idaho, specializing in veterinary and breeding topics.

9 thoughts on “Horses: Asleep on their feet”

  1. I didn’t write it Skippy. But I do agree with it. Oh and the cartoon is just that. I don’t believe horses wear nightshirts or a bed cap either (wink, grin).

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  2. Your article does not match science research. Horses do sleep on there feet even during deep sleep. They have locking joints that allow this. They arent people. People dont have locking joints. People are the ones that need beds, not horses. Stop spreading propaganda.

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    1. I beg to differ Skippy, in fact horses find “SOFTER” places to sleep so in a since they do seek out a “BED” just like humans. Horses will sleep in mud or in a soft grass or hay piles before they will on hard ground. I seen this over and over with horses including my own.

      Horses do in fact sleep on their feet but not a deep sleep, that is reserved for sleep while laying on the ground. All “herd” animals sleep in this manner this is for they protection.

      I would say you haven’t been around horses a lot in your life and are speaking from inexperience. There have been several studies covering this topic and this article is dead on. Anyone who has been around horses will agree with what I have said.

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  3. Interesting to read that scientists acknowledge the animal dreams. I’ve seen it and now I ask – what do they dream of? Zzzzzzzzzzz

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