Give me a big, comfortable bed full of cushions and blankets, a dark room and no noise and I’ll sleep like a baby for eight hours. But we can’t say the same about horses. That’s far from what they want.
A horse’s wild nature means that they sleep in a way which would make them less vulnerable to predators. This is why you will often see horses sleeping together. The horses will take turns to be the ‘watcher’, keeping an eye out for danger, whilst the others rest. Due to these natural instincts, horses often sleep for around three hours during a 24 hour period. This will be in extremely short bursts, for only a few minutes at a time. Whether the horse sleeps more during the day or night will depend on the horse and age.
During these short bursts, horses will sleep stood up. The thought of sleeping whilst standing up will make any human feel uncomfortable. However, horses usually feel more uncomfortable lying down. Because horses are so big, their blood flow can be restricted by lying down for too long. This can then cause excessive pressure on their internal organs. Instead, horses use their ‘stay apparatus’. This is a system of tendons and ligaments which let the horse lock their legs in position so they can relax their muscles and go to sleep without falling.
However, horses will lie down to sleep at some point. Scientists suggest that horses do need to sleep lying down to enter REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is where you may find your horses dreaming of galloping through the fields on a sunny day.
Although they will generally sleep standing up, that doesn’t mean to say that they don’t enjoy a lie down from time to time. This usually occurs during a warm day with several horses at the same time.
So it may sound strange to us, sleeping whilst stood up. But I know I wouldn’t mind a stay apparatus to keep me up throughout the day!
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