Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

The truth is, no.  Horses do not sleep standing up.  Adult horses will rest standing up and look quite out of it but they cannot “sleep” standing up.  For a horse to actually achieve REM sleep they must lie down and be stretched flat out on their sides.  REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is a deep dreaming sleep and a horse standing up with locked legs would surely fall right over or sleep walk/run.

How much sleep do horses get?  With my small herd I’ve noticed many different personality types and their sleep habits.  Here is how each of my horses sleep.

Jasper: I have yet to see this old boy sleep during the day.  He’s middle of the herd hierarchy and spends most of his day trying to make it to the top of the pack.  Come night fall he finds his “spot” and conks out for a good 30 minutes and seems to get 2 long sessions in overnight.  

The General: This poor boy is at the bottom of the food chain and always gets picked on.  He really wants his beauty sleep and when he can he lies down and tries to get a few Z’s  Since his sleep is usually interrupted I find he sleeps more frequently in 24hrs but for shorter periods of time maybe only 5-10 minutes.

Fay: This cute little filly is higher up on the latter than the 2 previous boys and is 1 of 2 girls in the group under the watchful eye of the herd leader, Goliath.  Being young she resorts to being the snot that likes to wake The General up and chase him around.  She rests throughout the day and I only see her take 1 lie down nap at night.  Come warm spring weather she does lie down more frequently and really enjoys her sun baths. 

Cotton: Cotton is 2nd highest on the food chain and the beloved girl friend to Goliath the leader.  She has the ability to nap whenever she wants, where ever she wants and for as long as she wants. I notice she chooses to only take maybe 1-2 short 5-10 minute naps during the day and one long one late morning just before sunrise in the safety of her stall.  I’m usually the one who wakes her up in the morning. 

Goliath:  The leader of the pack and the laziest horse in the group. Since he is the big cheese no one ever bothers him and he can sleep for as long as he wants.  Most vets will tell you that a horse that is lying down longer than 30 minutes should be checked on because the weight of the animal will start to crush its innards.  Apparently Goliath could care less about science and takes record breaking 1-2hr naps.  I’ve gone out and poked him on several occasions just to make sure he’s doing ok.  He appeases my pestering by rolling over and lying on the other side instead.  I’ve noticed that the rest of the herd usually takes the “it’s time to sleep” queue from Goliath.  Jasper is the one who stands guard while the others get a few precious minutes in.

Until recently I wondered if horses legs would fall asleep like ours do when they fold them up under themselves to sleep.  Even after a long nap they always seem to stand right up and walk off without so much as a hitch in their gait.  That was until just a few weeks ago.  I had woken Cotton up from her morning slumber and she bolted up to a standing position.  This morning something was off, she kept picking up her hind right leg and shaking it and then would pound it on the floor.  Ah ha!  Her hind leg had fallen asleep!  After a few good shakes and stomps on the ground the pins and needs must have subsided and she put full weight on it and came over for treats.
(Left to Right)  Faye, Cotton, Goliath

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