Let Sleeping Horses Lie!

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!


Horse:  (startled) Oh for heaven’s sake, Human!  I’m just sleepin’ here.  Do you mind?  You scared the heck out of me!


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!

He looks dead, right?


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?”

Me:  Finn!


Me:  No, I’m just so glad you are alive!

Finn:  What is wrong with you?!

Finn: (awakening as I run up to him) “Huh? Is there a fire?”



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.)

You would believe me if I told you he was watching over his deceased friend… (he’s not, the horse is sleeping)


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.



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.

Baby pillow! It looks as if she was watching her foal sleep and then just crashed herself.


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.

Awww. See, to me, this baby is obviously sleeping


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…

This horse looks like he is having happy dreams!


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.

The sentry seems to have wandered off…


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.

Can he breathe like that?


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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30 comments have been posted...

  1. Jane Mills

    Thank you so much for putting my mind at rest. I pass a horse refuge every day on my way to work. I often slow down to see who is there (pity the other drivers) and I was shocked one day last week to see no fewer than three of the fifteen or so of them lying down, and none of their people were outside tending to them! After reading your article, the fact that so many of them were sleeping at the same time and during the day probably means that they feel safe where they are. I’ve also seen one or two of them rolling and playing on their backs in the sun. They just looked delighted!

  2. Claire lomanto

    Not only happily informed, but extremely entertained. Thanks horse guy!

  3. Marlah

    This article brings me more peace than you can imagine as it reminds me that horses do need to sleep laying down sometime. We lost our 24 year old gelding back in January to a severe heart murmur; he laid down in the field and couldn’t get back up no matter what we or our vet tried over the course of several hours. Ever since then I’ve been hyper aware and nervous every time I see our 19 year old taking a siesta on the ground. So while I’m ever cautious (read paranoid) I have to step back and think, “They need sleep too! Even if they prefer to scare me at 9:30 in the morning.”

  4. Sarah Beth Marchuk

    Thankssomuchfor the comments. My neighbors horses border our property and I just love all of them especially one I call Stripe. She is brown with a white stripe on its head. Today the sun came out and I saw Stripe laying down and was alarmed. So I just googled it and found your answer. Thanks


    lovely writing. Just lost my horse becasue he would not lie down. too much pain and in danger of getting secondary founder. No MRI so no answers yet, but hoping for necroscopy

  6. Prof moyin

    Funny!!!……now i dnt have to worry anytym lee is having one of those sunny nap especially in funny positions…tnks a bunch!

  7. Lissie

    And I’d like to add another comment to the few people who were critical of this blog., although their negative comments are dated and they are apparently not commenting anymore. I am not a novice horsewoman…I am 50 years old and grown up with horses my entire life. But until recently, I have never, ever seen this type of behavior in any horses I have known, and frankly, when I do wake up my Sleepy Beauty (whether running out shouting her name, or quietly nudging), I am usually met with a nice though drowsy attitude, that, as mentioned, probably was life-saving. My horse sleeps harder and deeper than my man!I believe the joy in our voices when they wake to hear our concern, makes them realize how much they are loved.

  8. Lissie

    OMG! I thought it was just me and my new mare! I lost my 23 yr old gelding (who was my beloved and trusted partner for 20 years…we rode w/o saddle or bridle or even halter for 10 years) last year and will NEVER EVER forget the horror of waking up and finding him dead in the pasture. I ended up replacing (well, not really of course) him with a newly purchased 10 yr old mare (who apparently hates me by the way, but loves my man partner) and she drops and sleeps ALL the time. I can walk from the kitchen and look out on the pasture and she’s standing…and a few feet later, look out the living room window and WHAM, she’s down and sleeping. I can call out the window, run to the fence, walk up and SCREAM at her to wake up and it takes minutes to rouse her! WHAT is up with that? And when I wake her up, same thing…she’s like, “what the hay, I’m sleeping??” I thought about making a vet call about it, but it seems to be her thing and I can’t afford it and she’s not the quality of horse (sorry, but she’s not show) to spend a fortune trying to figure out what the heck this is. Y’all’s stories make me feel better. So, I guess I am not crazy…Glory is! P.S. I always try to console myself by saying she might just be sooo comfortable here, that she can drop her guard…and drop. But still, it always makes my heart drop!

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  10. Morgan Griffith

    Great story telling. I know the “oh no, my horse is dead” panic. I was working at a horse rescue and not ever been around horses I didn’t know they layed down to sleep. I headed up the hill with my muck rake and bucket and Nuki was down! I went running up calling his name and poking him back to life only to see an irritated Nuki lift his head and look at me like I was crazed. I then found out that 10:30 was his natural lay down in the sun and sleep time. Whew!

  11. mustangkoda

    great article, we’ve had people stop at our place and/or call spca stating that we have dead horses, when they all are just sleeping, our pony started it, and now on a nice sunny day it’s nothing to look out the window and see 5-6 horse, laying down enjoying the sunshine… and if you go up to them and yell their name.. they’ll glare at you for disturbing them. sometimes, when i come home for work and find one sleeping, i’d call their name, if they don’t look at me i get closer and yell at them, that’s when you’ll really get a glare for disturbing them…my mustang is the one who usually stands guard, sometimes one of the mini gelding will so he can lay down…

  12. Jody Brittain

    Well let me tell you! My VERY First horse, SISSY, when I got her, she LOVED TO LAY DOWN! And it was for more than an hour or two! Sometimes she would sleep the afternoon away. It took me many a times of seeing her laying down that I did not get worried and go check on her. I would look for her breathing and/or ear twitching. She was a laying fool! I have not ever had a horse since that has laid down that much. I actually rarely Catch Libby or the Donks laying down. Sometimes on a nice sunny day I will. But when I feed in the morning they will have shavings stuck to them and so I know they have laid down. Very good post and tons of information. (Giggled at the visions I had of you running to check on your babies)!

  13. Judy Shockey

    Great information and love the tinge of humor. Now what I really want to see, LOL is in the first part is a horse laying “HORIZONTAL” smiling!!! Great pictures and I love your story telling!! Blessings!!

  14. Renee

    We have our one of pastures along a busy road and numerous times a year people driving by come tearing in our drive and yell at me that one of the guys are dead! I assure them that they are sleeping and many argue until I go prove it to them.
    Another time we had a bred mare that wasn’t due for several weeks and as we came home from church I saw her go down in a low spot in the field, of course it was March, muddy and in a poopy part of the pasture. I ran out there and saw her water break, I got hubby and kids to change while I tried to get her up and to barn. Needless to say we had to help deliver new one in the muck with 5 other horses circling her. Never in my years of raising babies have we had a mare lay down in the worst part of the pen to deliver! It was not fun cleaning up the mare and foal that day! He is now a beautiful 2 year old that got his “sacking” out very early in life! Lol

  15. christine

    Guilty as charged! Our old horse (31 years old and just lost him )… would sleep throughout the day — over the last few years, I’d see him down and would go running over to get him up. He began to be aware of my hysterics and would completely ignore me or would open one eye only and then go back to sleep.

  16. angela

    we have a 19 hand horse that somehow got his rear end on a round bale and fell asleep in what looked like an upside down slide possition one day, needless to say when i saw him lying like that i ran out to him and i think i scared the crap out of him. he hasnt done that since, i guess the hay felt good, and just nodded out,

  17. Laura

    I was guilty of running and screaming! Haha Three of my four horses were all they way up by the gate. I couldnt find the 4th… behind the barn? No. How did she get out??? Then I see a profile of her laying flat out.. all the way in the BACK of our 5 acre pasture. I was positive she was dead and as I ran and screamed “Lillyyyyyyy!!!!” all I could think of was WHAT was I going to tell my 12 yr old daughter (Lilly is her horse). I was almost all the way to her before she slowly opened her eyes and picked up her head… and if she could talk, I think she would have said “You have GOT to be kidding me! I am trying to sleep if you dont mind!!”

  18. Robynne

    Thanks for the post. I just saw one horse lying down and another standing vigil and I thought for sure he was dead. Before I called the owners, I thought I would google lying down horses so I wouldn’t look like such a “horse saviour.” (which I am, of course!) :) Good post. Thanks!

  19. Janie

    That is so funny. One time a neighbor called me all upset because her adult son was over and he saw my Lass laying in the corral and he ran inside to tell his mother there was something wrong with the horse next door because “horses don’t lay down!!”…

    We all got a good laugh out of that…

  20. Linda Horn

    “WHY HORSES WON’T LAY DOWN” struck a chord with me. One day I found my “almost” first horse flat on his side in his pen. He’d been starved and abused, and hadn’t been seen laying down since he came to the Rescue several months earlier. I went into the adjoining pen, and, thankfully, discovered he was breathing. I think the reason he was napping (in the sun) had to do with his comfort level. He finally trusted that he was safe and the groceries would keep on coming!

  21. Sharon

    Once again, another informative post with a hearty dose of humor!

    After reading the other comments, I really had to shake my head at “Owner” comments. Finn would be up & running in a 5 seconds, long before you reached him if you were “really” screaming. The only prey animal that continues to lay around in that situation really is dead. Some people just aren’t able to distinguish between literal and figurative writing, or else maybe need to stand in the common sense line.

  22. collada

    My one friend always harps on me for not having my stalls bedded real deep. I told her that when the horses are turned out they do not have bedding to sleep on and they’re just fine! Turns out I was right! Horses prefer a harder surface.

  23. Owner

    To say the least, I am not amused nor laughing. A responsible horse owner looks for a tail swish or muscle flinch, You NEVER run screaming at your horse for any reason (I realize you were hopefully trying to make a joke), *ESPECIALLY* when they are trying to rest. That is just plain Stupid. It’s no wonder so many people get hurt by their own horses. They are a living breathing beings, with feelings and reactions. I wish he could run screaming into your bedroom when you are trying to sleep, now *that* would be funny. Sweet Dreams.

  24. RiderWriter

    P.S. Thanks for the blog about Facebook, because when I “Liked” the Page I discovered I could scroll down and find allllll your posts, neatly summarized. MUCH MUCH easier for rooting around in the past! :-)

  25. RiderWriter

    This is terrific! I’m sharing with all my horsey pals. (I have been trying to get them to read your blog anyway!)

  26. Stephanie

    I laughed so hard I cried when I read this posting. This is SO me. I have 76 horses and we run a non profit using many of our horses to work with disabled kids and adults. I have a camera in my barn for my oldest and more infirm horses and I leave the lights on all night long and stare at it until the wee hours to make sure they are all doing well. If I wake up during the night and cannot sleep I drive around to the pastures and paddocks and put my lights on the horses to make sure they are ok. They get really tired of me waking them up. It takes a lot of self control for me to not run up to them as they are sleeping. I have really startled them in the past. I probably have the most sleep deprived horses in the United States and needless to stay I am pretty tired too.

  27. Anna

    I loved this!!! Laughed the entire time reading it! It is so so true.

  28. Ronnie

    Thanks for sharing these great pics! My ‘little man’ likes a lie-down, a lot. He looks like a croissant out there in the field, soaking up the rays.

  29. Linda Hart

    Too funny and timely for me. Yesterday I noticed Kodi laying down so I very quietly walked up to him until he raised his head. I did not run screaming but nonetheless, I needed to make sure that he wasn’t dead. Thanks.

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