What Does It Mean When A Horse Lies Down?

Like any other animal, a horse may lie down to get some rest. Horses often sleep standing up, but when they feel very secure and they need some deep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, they may lie down. This is especially true on bright, sunny days during the winter. A horse may lie down to bask in the sun. However, there may be some other reasons as well. Read on to learn more.

Horse Resting In The Summer Sun

It is normal for horses to lie down to catch 2 to 3 hours of REM sleep a day. They usually do this in brief, half hour naps throughout the day. It’s important for your horse to feel comfortable and safe enough to lie down and relax completely during REM sleep.

It is especially true if you are traveling because going without sleep for any length of time will weaken your horse and cause even more stress in an already stressful situation.

Do Horses Need To Lie Down To Sleep?

Horses don’t often lie down because they’re not able to get up quickly and this could prove fatal in situations where predators are present.

Another reason why horses don’t often lie down is that they are quite large animals. When they lie down, the pressure of their own weight can cause a restriction of the flow of blood to their legs.

Most of the time, horses are able to lock their knees and hocks in place so that they can stand while sleeping; however, they do need to lie down for brief naps in each 24-hour.

Ask The Vet – Horse Sleep Habits

Lying Down Can Be A Sign Of Trouble

Rest is not the only reason horses lie down, though. Sometimes, a horse may lie down because it is in pain. This could be due to illness such as colic or an injury to hooves or legs. To determine why your horse is lying down, you may need to examine other clues.

As with any other behavior, it’s important that you observe your horse’s normal behavior on a daily basis. This will allow you to recognize unusual behavior when it happens.

One good way to observe your horse’s normal behavior and become familiar with it is to use video surveillance of your horses pasture and living quarters.

This will allow you to playback entire days at a time at a faster speed to see what your horse normally does throughout the day and night.

Additionally, video surveillance is a very smart addition to any horse pasture or barn, especially in this day and age of rampant horse theft.

As you observe your horses’ sleeping behavior, you should determine how much they normally sleep. Keep track of how frequently your horse lies down and how long your horse stays down.

If your horse lies down for a long period of time, longer than 30 minutes, you may suspect injury or illness. When this happens, you must address the problem quickly. If you think your horse is ill or injured, you should call your veterinarian right away.

How Can You Tell If Your Horse Is Lying Down Because Of Illness Or Injury?

why is my horse lying down

When your horse lies down too much, you can suspect chronic problems such as colic, laminitis, bacterial or viral infection and the like.

If your horse is exhibiting other symptoms of illness, such as rolling, looking at its stomach, or attempting to kick its stomach, you may suspect problems such as colic. If your horse has been limping, he may be lying down because his feet hurt and/or his legs are injured.

Other symptoms of problems to look for include:

  • Lethargic behavior
  • Changed eating habits

Any of these symptoms, especially when coupled with excessive lying down, are good cause for a call to the veterinarian.

On the flipside, if your horse is having musculoskeletal pain, he may avoid lying down because it hurts so much to get up. Additionally, if your horse is experiencing musculoskeletal pain, he may not be able to get up quickly enough to be safe from a prey animal.

What Happens If A Horse Cannot Lie Down To Sleep?

Generally speaking, it is healthy for your horse to stand up through most of the day but horses must also have comfortable periods of time for rest.

Just like anybody else, if a horses not able to lie down, completely relax and get the right amount of REM sleep, it will experience sleep deprivation.

If your horse is sleep deprived, he may be lethargic, drowsy and may even collapse. When this happens, your horse may be badly injured. If you happen to be riding at the time, you might be injured to.

For this reason, it’s very important that you provide a comfortable and safe place to relax completely and sleep.

Your horse’s comfortable sleeping place should be free of loud noises, high foot traffic, bright lights and other things that would naturally interfere with the ability to sleep.

You should make sure that the space you are preparing for your horse is big enough for your horse to be able to lie down and stretch out comfortably and stand up easily.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5339441/

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