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The Strange Sleeping Habits of Horses

If you are a new equestrian, it can be hard to get used to the unusual sleeping habits of horses. It is all too easy to be alarmed by what appears to be a very sick horse, or worse, when they are actually just grabbing 40 winks. And 40 winks might be overstating the situation because horses don’t tend to sleep for very long. Welcome to the world of the horse nap!

Horses Sleep for Short Periods

The average horse nap lasts for only 15 minutes! In addition, horses may choose to snooze at any time of the day or night. Hands up if you have rushed towards a paddock fearing that a horse has died only to find that it is just sleeping! It is always a relief to see a swishing tail!

Horses Can Sleep Standing Up

Horses boast a group of ligaments, tendons, and muscles that brace the entire joint system of the foreleg together with the pastern and fetlock joints in the hind leg. This anatomy evolved to enable horses to flee from predators but also means that they are able to sleep standing up. The horse’s stifles have both a locking and reciprocal mechanism and this means that one hind leg can lock in place while the other one rests.


Horses can only reach full REM sleep (the deepest type of sleep) when they are lying down. It is vital that horses have somewhere comfortable enough and large enough to enable them to lie down and sleep. Horses need their restorative REM sleep just like we do and their health will soon start to suffer if they are sleep-deprived.

Horses’ Sleeping Habits Change as They Age

Young foals may sleep for up to 12 hours each day but adult horses will snooze for only 3 hours in every 24-hour period. As horses move into old age they tend to need more sleep and will nap more regularly, just like older people.

Sleeping Habits Vary

No two horses are the same and each will have their own individual sleeping habits. Horses are neither nocturnal nor diurnal and so may choose to sleep at any time. Each horse will have their preferred times to sleep and so will be impacted by any changes to their schedule. If your horse gets grumpy when travelling, it could be because you have robbed him of a little beauty sleep!

Guarding the Herd

In a herd, a guard horse will look out for danger whilst other horses sleep. Horses will take turns to act as the guard for their herd.

Horses Can Talk in Their Sleep

Grunting and making various other noises when sleeping is perfectly normal behaviour for horses. Perhaps they are dreaming!


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