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Do Horses Sleep Standing Up? (Answered & Explained)


Horses are fascinating animals with a variety of unique features and behaviors. One of the most notable features of horses is their ability to sleep standing up.

But do they always sleep standing up or do they also sleep lying down?

Many people have heard the old adage that horses never lie down, but is this really true?

In this article, we will explore the question of whether horses sleep standing up and delve into the science behind this curious behavior.

The Myth of Horses Never Lying Down


First, let’s address the myth that horses never lie down.

While it is true that horses can and do sleep standing up, they also lie down to sleep. Horses spend approximately three hours a day in deep sleep, which is when they lie down.

During deep sleep, horses are fully unconscious and vulnerable to predators, so they only sleep lying down when they feel safe and comfortable.

Horses typically lie down to sleep for short periods of time, usually no more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

This is because lying down for too long can cause pressure sores and restrict blood flow to the legs, which can be harmful to the horse’s health.

Why Do Horses Sleep Standing Up?

So, why do horses sleep standing up in the first place?

The answer lies in their unique anatomy and physiology. Horses have a special mechanism in their legs called the stay apparatus, which allows them to lock their legs in place and stand without using any muscular effort.

This means that horses can relax their muscles and rest while still standing upright.

The stay apparatus consists of several different components, including the suspensory ligament, the sesamoid bones, and the tendons and muscles in the lower leg.

When a horse stands still, the stay apparatus automatically engages, holding the horse’s legs in place without any conscious effort on the horse’s part.

This allows the horse to conserve energy and remain alert for potential predators.

Additionally, horses are prey animals, which means that they are always on the lookout for potential threats.

Sleeping standing up allows horses to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice, as they do not need to take the time to stand up and get their bearings before running away.

The Science of Horse Sleep


While horses are able to sleep standing up, this type of sleep is not as restful as lying down. Horses require deep sleep to rest and regenerate, and this type of sleep can only be achieved while lying down.

During deep sleep, horses enter a state of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is characterized by a rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, and twitching muscles.

REM sleep is crucial for the brain to process and consolidate memories, and it is also essential for overall health and well-being.

Horses typically only enter REM sleep while lying down, as this is the only position that allows their muscles to completely relax.

When horses sleep standing up, they enter a lighter stage of sleep that does not include REM sleep. While this type of sleep is restful, it does not provide the same benefits as deep, REM sleep.


In conclusion, horses are unique animals with a variety of fascinating behaviors and adaptations.

While they are able to sleep standing up thanks to their stay apparatus, they also need to lie down to achieve deep, restful sleep.

Horses typically sleep for a total of three hours a day, with most of this time spent standing up. However, they also lie down for short periods of time to achieve deep sleep and regenerate their bodies and minds.

Understanding the science of horse sleep is important for horse owners and enthusiasts alike.

By providing horses with a safe and comfortable environment to sleep, we can ensure that they are healthy and happy animals. And by appreciating their unique behaviors and adaptations, we can deepen our connection to these majestic creatures.

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