Can Horses Really Sleep Standing Up?

How Do Horses Sleep?

Horses sleep

Did you know horses sleep while standing up? They also lay down to sleep on occasion, but horses get most of their rest while standing up. Why do you think this is?

In the wild, horses are prey animals and depend on their superior senses of sight and smell to know when a predator (like a mountain lion) is near so they can run to safety on their long, powerful legs. When wild horses lay down to get some rest, they are simply not as safe as when they’re standing up.

But how do horses sleep standing up?

If you fell asleep standing up, you would fall over, but a horse doesn’t. They have an amazing mechanism call the ‘stay apparatus’ that allows them to use ligaments and tendons to lock their legs into a standing position. They use this mechanism even when they’re not sleeping to allow their bodies to rest. Zebras, elephants and giraffes can also sleep standing up.

Horses do sleep lying down, but it is somewhat of an effort for them to fold their long legs up to get down to the ground. This means it also takes some effort for a horse to get back up, which is why in the wild they are more vulnerable to predators if they lay down to sleep.

horse standing up

However, horses get their deepest sleep while lying down and generally lay down once a day if the ground is warm and dry.

When you see a horse lying down, you’ll often see another horse standing guard over them. They take turns watching out for predators while other members of the herd stretch out and get some sleep. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see a horse ‘running’ in their sleep when they are flat out and dreaming.

How much do horses sleep?

Baby horses take a lot of naps and sleep almost half the day until they are three months old. (They run around a lot during the other half of the day.) Adult horses sleep for less than three hours a day and only for about 15 minutes at a time. However, they rest for many more hours than this using the same mechanism that allows them to ‘lock’ their legs into place.

Baby Spence takes a nap!

Further Reading

Read more about how horses sleep in this Practical Horseman article.
Read more about the stay apparatus on Wikipedia.