For a long time, this question haunted people who were in love with this graceful animal. And this is not without reason, because not many people have been able to see a horse lying down in a deep sleep. So of course, the question arises: “How do horses sleep: Standing or lying down?”
The opinions of scientists, who have been observing them for a long time, have been based on the fact that horses do sleep, but in different ways. A person needs 7-8 hours to fully recover his power and energy. The family Equidae rests much longer: up to 6-15 hours, but their sleep cycles are completely different.
Horse owners had to repeatedly watch them sit for a long time with their eyes closed, flinching at the slightest noise, and waving their tails to make insects go away. In this position and condition, it can stay a few hours. But this is not a full sleep, this is a half-asleep rest. Their deep and profound sleep lasts from two to four hours.
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It is very rare to see a horse lying serenely on one side or in another position in a healthy sleeping state. The reason for this behavior is that in the past horses were wild and lived according to wild laws. They either had to watch out for a predator or feed and rescue themselves, with the help of their feet. Therefore, they had to always be on the lookout not to become the victim of wolves or other horse meat lovers.
Instinct forces horses from farms to gather in a herd and rest there, surrounded by their relatives. Some watch and guard the sleep, and the rest, stand or lay down resting. So, taking turns, they watch each other’s sleep. Moreover, the position in which the studs and mares rest is by bending their legs at the joints with the head half down. The ones that guard at this time are awake, standing. They remain in this position until they feel the danger and warn the herd about it with their neigh.
Interesting fact! The position with the bent legs is very comfortable from a safe posture. Feeling a threat or hearing a suspicious noise, the horses quickly pull them forward, push their back hooves and run quickly. This habit was preserved by them and passed on from their ancestors, whose teacher was nature, itself.
How do horses sleep, standing on their feet for a long time without getting tired? Zoologists have already studied and explained this habit of horses inherited from their ancestors. On average, an adult horse weighs four hundred pounds. The legs and hooves of these animals are under such a body weight, both while walking or running, and while sleeping. Why don’t they get tired and how do they resist such a task?
Nature has helped them adapt so that in a standing state, horses can distribute their weight evenly on all four legs, the ligaments of the knee joints to be tightened and allow them not to feel this load. In addition, it relaxes all muscles and slightly flexes the lower back. Horse hooves are designed in such a way that the connective tissue, which has a soft base and cushioning points when walking and running, distributes the load on the hooves and takes over the entire body weight. Therefore, horses in the course of the evolutionary process were able to learn how to rest, pasture, and save their lives.
Horses have a deep sleep phase when they can relax and fall asleep while lying on one side. Sometimes they sleep so deep that in a dream they begin to snore, like a person, even kicking their legs or head. In these 3-4 hours of deep sleep, their power is completely restored. But they can afford such a rest only if they feel no threat from the outside.
The situation is different in the case of the foals. When surrounded by adult horses and in the presence of their mother, they feel safe, can lie on the grass, and can sleep without worries. The feeling of security gives them the opportunity to rest as much as they want. They can be seen more often than adult mares and studs sleeping on one side.
Another reason why horses cannot sleep for too long, no more than 6 hours, on their side, is due to the massive weight and small thickness of the ribs. While lying down, animals feel a strong load on their lungs, which leads to edema. If the horse rests on its side on the wet and cold ground for long periods of time, it can develop pneumonia.
Sometimes horse breeders are very attentive to the fact that their pets hardly sleep in the stall, lying down, on one side. This can be seen at the farm when you quietly walk between stalls. There, the stallions stand with their eyes closed, but their ears and lashes tremble slightly. So, they are relaxed and asleep. If the stall is dry and spacious, so that the horse can stretch and get up freely, the animal will feel comfortable. But if the horse is alone in the stable, it feels the discomfort of being alone, and so it is more cautious. It is enough to be in the fresh air, or in a herd on the pasture, surrounded by other horses. This will help improve the sleep of the animal.
Another question frequently asked by horse lovers is: “Do horses see dreams?” As their behavior show, when they fall asleep deeply, they might dream. The horses either tremble in their sleep, then “run”, puff, or neigh in silence. Sometimes they can even snore, but this is just a physiological property. Snoring occurs under the pressure of the body on the lungs. Scientists speculate that horses have colorful dreams because their vision is colorful.
Sleep is essential for every living being, even for horses. For what? By resting we restore strength, and we receive an additional energy charge to continue life. In animals, as in humans, sleep comes when the body needs rest. But everyone sleeps differently. People rest lying in bed, dogs and cats, as well as all representatives of their species, rest crouching like a ball, while horses spend most of the day standing half-asleep on their feet.
If horses live on a farm and rest in a stall, then they can sleep either on one side or on their feet. It all depends on the situation. In herds, horses rest as wild nature has taught them. If an animal is healthy, energetic, and well-cared for, it means that it has excellent nutrition, good care, and healthy sleep.