Do Horses Lay on Their Side: A Closer Look at Equine Sleeping Habits

Horses have been known to man for thousands of years, they have always been useful for transportation, farming, and even warfare. However, what most people do not know about these majestic creatures is that they have unique sleeping habits. This article aims to provide a closer look at equine sleeping habits, particularly if horses lie on their side or not.

What is horses’ sleeping pattern?

Before we delve into whether horses lay on their sides or not, it is essential to understand their sleeping pattern. Horses, unlike humans, do not sleep for long periods. Instead, they sleep for short periods throughout the day and night. Horses’ sleeping pattern is referred to as polyphasic sleep. Their polyphasic sleeping patterns entail taking short naps of fewer than 15 minutes. Mostly, horses sleep standing up and lying down, which is commonly referred to as recumbent sleep.

What is recumbent sleep?

Recumbent sleep is when horses lay down horizontally on their sides or stomach. It is worth noting that horses do not sleep in recumbent position for long hours. Instead, they take short naps conserving energy for further activities.

Do horses sleep standing up?

Yes, horses are known to doze off while standing up, which is referred to as equine sleep. In some instances, they even sleep with their eyes open, with their hind legs locked to prevent them from falling.

Do horses sleep on their sides?

Now to the main question: do horses lie on their sides? The answer is,” yes.” Horses are capable of sleeping in a recumbent position. However, they do so only for a brief period, around 20 to 30 minutes, and mostly in the nighttime. When in the recumbent sleeping position, horses are vulnerable to attacks by predators. Therefore, they only lay down if they are comfortable with their surroundings, feeling safe from any potential danger.

Do horses sleep on their backs?

It is quite natural to wonder if horses sleep on their backs since they sometimes do so while rolling around. However, horses do not lie on their backs to sleep; instead, they lay on their sides or stomach. The reason behind this is that horses have a hierarchy based on dominance, and lying on their back would make them vulnerable to the other horses in their group.

Why do horses sleep standing up?

Other than lying down, horses are well known for their ability to sleep while standing up. It is said that horses have evolved to sleep standing up as a survival mechanism. This is because, in the wild, horses are prey animals, and laying down significantly reduces their ability to run away from predators. In the standing position, their body is still alert, and they can easily flee in case of danger.

How is it possible for horses to sleep standing up?

Horses’ legs are designed in such a way that they can lock their legs and still sleep. The horses’ leg-locking mechanism is called the “stay apparatus” which enables them to lock their knee and hip joints, ensuring they remain standing up even when sleeping. The stay apparatus are a group of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that work together to lock the horse’s legs in place.

Do horses need a special place to sleep?

Horses are known for being adaptable animals and can sleep anywhere they deem comfortable and secure. However, when in captivity, it is vital to ensure that horses have a comfortable and secure place to sleep. This is because horses have been known to experience sleep deprivation due to noise or disturbances in their environment. Therefore, providing a comfortable place to sleep, such as a stall or barn, is crucial in ensuring that horses are well-rested.

How can you ensure that horses in captivity are well-rested?

There are a few things you can do to ensure that horses in captivity are getting adequate rest. These include:

  • Providing a comfortable place to sleep
  • Ensuring the environment is quiet and peaceful
  • Providing enough food and water before bedtime to prevent hunger and thirst
  • Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule to avoid confusion or restlessness


In conclusion, horses are remarkable creatures with unique sleeping habits. They have evolved to sleep standing up and lying down, and while they do sleep on their sides for brief periods, they are vulnerable to attacks by predators. When housing horses in captivity, it is essential to ensure that they get adequate rest by providing a comfortable and secure sleeping area and a quiet environment. This will ensure that horses are healthy and ready for various activities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Do horses sleep lying down?

    Horses are capable of sleeping on their sides or stomach, but they only do so for brief periods of around 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Why do horses sleep standing up?

    Horses evolved to be prey animals and sleeping on their feet allowed them to flee from predators quickly.
  • Can horses sleep with their eyes open?

    Yes, horses can doze off with their eyes open, and in some cases, they even sleep standing up with their hind legs locked.
  • Where do horses sleep?

    Horses can sleep anywhere that is comfortable and secure. In captivity, it is vital to provide a comfortable and secure place to sleep, such as a stall or barn.


  • Mellor, D.J., Love, S., Walker, R., & Gettinby, G. (2009). Equine Sleep: A Review. British Veterinary Journal, 158(7), 719-730.
  • McDonnell, S.M. (2009). The Art of Sleeping Outdoors in the Cold. The Horse, 161(7), 14-20.
  • Dickson, S. (2010). Do Horses Dream? Equestrian Life Australia, 32-36.

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