I don’t know about you, but every time I see one of my horses laying flat out in the pasture, I immediately run over and wake him/her.
I mean, I know I shouldn’t but they look dead to me.
Every single time I see one of my horses sleeping, he looks dead. My heart stops and I quit breathing as I squint my eyes to see if I can detect any visible movement in his chest. No ears twitching, no chest heaving, no movement at all. Ahhhgh! He’s dead! I knew it. I knew this day would come! He’s keeled over in the pasture.
With my heart pounding out of my chest, I race out to my poor, sleep-deprived animal and… pounce!
Me: ARE YOU DEAD?
Horse: (startled) Oh for heaven’s sake, Human! I’m just sleepin’ here. Do you mind? You scared the heck out of me!
Me: OH THANK GOD YOU AREN’T DEAD!
Horse: Of course I’m not dead. Go away, please.
Me: (dropping onto the ground next to my horse and throwing my arms around his neck and sobbing softly into his mane) LET MOMMY KISS AND HUG MY ALIVE HORSEY
Horse: Ohfercriminnysake, if you are so happy, bring me a cookie!
Sometimes a horse that is sleeping looks dead because of their position. For example, the other day Finn was laying completely horizontally and not moving right in front of the gate to his pasture.
First of all, he never hangs out there. Secondly, it was wet and muddy there. Thirdly, it is an odd downward slope and I cannot imagine that any sleeping horse would find that angle comfortable. I flew into a panic! Finn is dead!
I ran over to his pasture yelling his name. “FINNY! FinnyFinnyFinny! FIIIIINN!
Finn: (drowsily) “Huh… What? Is there a fire?”
Finn: “AHH! WHY ARE YOU RUNNING TOWARDS ME? YOU ARE SCARING ME! IS THERE A FIRE?!”
Me: No, I’m just so glad you are alive!
Finn: What is wrong with you?!
OTHER HORSES STANDING OVER THE FLAT-OUT HORSE
OK, it is true that one horse usually stands watch while the others sleep. But to me, this makes the scene even scarier… How do you know if the standing horse is the watcher or if he is holding vigil over his fallen friend?
For example, look at the photo below… If I told you that this was a photo of a poor horse who was grieving over his deceased buddy, you would believe me. (He isn’t, the one laying down is asleep.)
LUCKILY, MOST HORSES SLEEP BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND 4AM
Luckily, most horses sleep between midnight and 4am. Consequently, we humans aren’t startled into thinking our horses are dead as often since we are generally sleeping, too.
This ‘wee hours of the night’ horsey sleep pattern probably answers the question of why some of you have never seen your horse sleep lying down. You can now assume that your horse does lie down to sleep but he does it when YOU are laying down sleeping as well. You just are missing it.
ALL HORSES NEED TO HAVE LAYING DOWN SLEEP
From the few equine sleep studies performed, it has been decided that all horses need to lay down and get about an hour of laying down sleep a day. If they don’t, after a while, they become sleep deprived just like we do. It takes a few days for a horse to feel the effects of sleep deprivation so this is why endurance horses do far better than their riders…
I know that horses need to lie down because when Aladdin was sick, he stood for 38 days straight while in the Equine hospital. (This was documented.) We knew that he was afraid to lay down because he wasn’t sure if he could get up. The poor guy was loopy. I swear if he was a human, he’d have had that bleary-eyed New Parent No Sleep look. Poor guy was miserable.
Finally, once he had sufficiently recovered, Aladdin slept on the ground. He did this periodically daily throughout the next few weeks until he had caught up.
Now the interesting thing is that I never feel the urge to go wake up a sleeping foal… Since they sleep about half of the day until they are three months old, it seems normal to see them sprawled out on the ground. In fact, young horses sleep on the ground for longer and more often than adult horses until they are about 2 years old, according to the studies.
NODDING OFF SLEEP
Horses need two other types of sleep besides the REM sleep of laying down. They need 2 hours of the dozing or drowsiness sleep and another hour of Slow Wave Sleep. These types of sleep they can do standing up. I’m sure you’ve noticed…
Our furry buddies seems to be able to nod off during the most important times! You know, you are telling your horse all your trials and tribulations while you groom him and then you hear that distinctive deep breathing and lip flapping. Yup, he’s snoozing.
Researchers cannot confirm that horses dream. But, we all know they do…
If you have ever watched your ‘laying down dead asleep horse’, you will notice his recumbent body twitching, eating, running, trotting, neighing and all other sorts of antics which can only be the accents to a lovely dream (we hope no nightmares).
If you look on You Tube and search “horse dreaming”, several blackmail videos will appear of poor, unsuspecting fidgity dreamy horses. Usually, the camera person (assumed owner) is giggling and shaking the camera with their gaffaws. Poor horsey. Then again, maybe the horsey is dreaming of tossing their inconsiderate owner…
WHY HORSES WON’T LAY DOWN
Horses won’t lay down if they feel afraid or uncomfortable. So, a new surrounding or pain or unusual circumstances will keep them upright.
It has also been documented that if a lead horse lays down, the herd will follow. Usually one horse stays awake as sentry but not in all cases. It depends upon the situation.
A horse will also lay down to sun himself. It seems to be an enjoyable and social event – to lay down in the sun. An entire herd will drop on a sunny day.
Another fact that I found interesting was that horses prefer harder ground. In the sleep studies, horses always chose the hard ground over soft bedding. Hmmmm. Bummer. I know I feel better when they are heavily bedded… but it is true, I often see my horses out in the pastures sleeping in mud, or hard ground or poo piles. It just doesn’t matter.
LAYING DOWN DISCOMFORT
One of the physical reasons that horses don’t lay down for long is because their own weight causes pressure on their internal organs. (This could be why they prefer hard ground.)
For anyone who has ever had a downed horse, you know how important it is to get them up before irreversible internal damage occurs.
I don’t think I will ever be any better about needing to wake up my sleeping horses because they look dead to me. But, at least they know they can get a few winks when I’m asleep. Heck, maybe that is exactly why most horses sleep between midnight and 4am – so that we humans won’t run over and wake them up!
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