Why Horses Sleep Standing Up & How They Do It


Yes, horses do in fact sleep standing up, but why do they anyway? Isn’t it more relaxing to sleep on the ground? And how can they stay standing up without falling over?

Why Do They Sleep Standing Up?

Horses sleep standing up for one main reason. It is basically a protection mechanism. If a horse is lying on the ground to sleep, they are much more vulnerable to predators than if they are standing. Sleeping while standing is something they do so if danger approaches, they can quickly get away without needing to get up first.

How Do Sleeping Horses Stay Standing Without Falling Over?

Horses have something that is sometimes called a stay apparatus (sometimes called a stand mechanism or stay mechanism) which helps to lock their legs and keep them standing upright.

The stay apparatus is basically the stabilizing of the horse’s legs at all the main joints like the knee, hock, elbow, and stifle and locking them in place to keep them from buckling. The tendons and ligaments in a horse’s leg are responsible for this locking and stabilizing. Once the horse’s stay apparatus is activated, they can take a snooze without worrying that they might fall over!

Why Do Horses Rest A Back Leg?

Horses will sometimes rest a back leg when resting and alternate them as well. This is commonly seen in most horses and usually just means that they’re giving that leg a break!

Important Note: Horses may rest a back leg, but never a front leg. If you notice your horse resting it’s front leg it means it could be lame or in pain so calling a vet is recommended!

Why One Horse Remains Standing in a Herd of Sleeping Horses

Horses are prey animals, so they always need to have a lookout for predators. When a herd of horses needs their rest, they will always have at least one herd member awake and standing to alert the herd if potential danger is approaching. This is so everyone can get up in time and run out of the area away from the danger.

Why Horses Need to Sleep Lying Down Too

When horses sleep standing up, as you might guess, they are not getting a very deep sleep. Horses need about one to three hours of REM sleep every night. This means that for certain periods of time horses need to lie down to sleep as they just don’t get the same quality of sleep standing.

If horses don’t get their deep sleep and REM sleep achieved from lying down, they begin to suffer from sleep deprivation just like people do when they don’t get enough sleep. You may notice that your horse is drowsy, less active, and doesn’t have the same drive.

One of my Arabians, Crossfiire, sleeps lying down every singly night. He is even known to take the occasional mid-day snooze in the barnyard while he soaks up some rays.

At What Age Can Foals Sleep Standing Up?

Foals learn to sleep standing up after just a few months old although all of the will figure it out at different times. Usually between six and eight months old, foals will have figured out how to do it.

For the first few months of their life, foals will spend nearly half of every day sleeping on the ground. This way, they get the most rest possible. Foals can sleep peacefully lying down as they have their mother to protect them, so they feel safe enough to do so.

How Many Standing Hours of Sleep Does A Horse Get Every Day?

Depending on where the horse is and what they’re doing for the day, the horse can get between four and fifteen hours of standing rest or sleep everyday.

The horse’s environment impacts this number of rest hours because if a horse is in an unfamiliar or scary environment they might only get a few if any hours of standing rest as they might be standing alert nearly the whole time.

If a horse is in a familiar environment, but is competing or being ridden, the number will be reduced again as the horse has more exercise and moving hours during the day.

Can Horses Sleep With A Rider On Them?

I have ridden several horses where, if I ask the horse to stop and stand for a period of time, they will rest a back leg and relax even while I’m still in the saddle.

So the answer to this question is yes, horses can sleep with a rider in the saddle, though it may be more of a doze than a full sleep.

How Soon Can A Horse Run After They Wake Up?

Horses, if standing when they wake, can gallop almost instantly after they are awake. If a horse is lying on the ground, it make take them a few seconds to get up before taking off. It doesn’t take long for a horse to run once they are awake, especially if they feel threatened.

When Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

Horses sleep standing up typically in daylight hours when they feel comfortable, but not secure enough to lie down.

Horses are more likely to sleep lying down at night when there are less dangers lurking around. Many of the predators that could potentially prey on horses don’t hunt at night. If they do, that is why herds of horses will keep one or two members awake and on guard.

During the day, however, it is more common to see a horse resting upright.

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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