Do Horses Lay On Their Side? [The Good and Bad Reasons]

Is it normal for a horse to lay down on its side?

People who have not been around horses often wonder if horses lay on their side.

When they see a horse on its side, they think it is sick or hurt.

Here, I will talk about if it is it ok for horses to lay down, why they do this,  and when it is a problem.

Do Horses Lay Down on Their Side?

This goes hand in hand with another question, do horses lay down to sleep? The answer is, yes.

Just look at this!

@nzonhorseback Reply to @pattyplainandtall #horsesoftiktok #horse #equestrian #horsegirl #sleepy #cute ♬ Dandelions – Ruth B.

The most common reason why horses lay down on their side is so that they can sleep. Horses cannot get REM (rapid eye movement sleep) standing up, so they have to lay down. 

REM  sleep is deep sleep, and normal horses need at least 30 minutes of it every day. (1) It occurs when horses are stretched out flat on their side, not in a sternal position. 

When horses lay down, they will often be in a position called sternal recumbency where they are down on the ground but have their legs tucked up under them.

However, they get their deepest sleep when they lay out flat, often with their legs stretched out, and not tucked under them.

Without their REM sleep, horses would be tired and irritable throughout the day.  They also need at least 3 hours of light sleep a day for proper functioning. 

horse laying down on the side

As prey animals, horses need to be in a safe environment to feel comfortable enough to lay down and activate their REM sleep pattern.

If horses were to try to get REM sleep standing up, they would lose all of their muscle control and collapse to the ground.

Horses also lay on their side normally to relax during the day at specific times whether with other horses in the pasture or in their stall. You will also see them laying down in the dirt after getting down to roll in it. 

This is normal behavior. When horses lay down on their side, it is not always a cause for concern. I often see horses that have spent the night out in the pasture come into their stable and have a good long sleep lying down.

 If they are sleeping while laying down, they will be calm and still react to noises and flies. If you try to wake them up, they will respond  They will also have a regular breathing pattern.

Though some of them snore! Some very loudly! I’ve met a few of these, and it is usually nothing to worry about.

ALSO CHECK: Horse Face Markings Chart

Here is a video that explains more about REM sleep in horses.

Now that you know horses can lay on their side, you might be wondering can horses swim?

RECOMMENDED: How Many Different Types of Horses are There?

Why Would a Horse Lay On Its Side?

Can horses sleep on their side? Yes, and it is normal most of the time.

As mentioned above, horses lay down on their side to get REM sleep or relax. However, sometimes a horse laying on its side will need help. It could be a sign of illness such as gas colic.

Most of the time, horses with colic will be rolling or thrashing about. However, some horses will lie still on their side when they are in pain. (2)

Colic can be lethal if not treated in time. I have seen horse colic before and it is not a sight I would wish on anyone.

Here is a video that explains more about horse colic signs and symptoms in horses. 

Furthermore, horses lay on their side to relieve pressure from sore muscles and joints. A horse that is laying down for extended periods of time may be in musculoskeletal pain.

If you think your horse may be in muscle pain, do an exam on its legs to check for heat, swelling, and other signs of discomfort. Also, watch the way they get themselves back on their feet.

TRY READING: Do Horses Know How to Swim?

Is it Okay For Horses to Lay Down?

It is absolutely fine for horses to lay down, In fact, it is necessary for them to feel their best and avoid health issues. Horses will always lay down at some point in the day as part of their sleep cycles.

horse laying down on the side sleeping

They often lie down when their environment is quiet. It is when they feel the most relaxed and safe.

Other Points to Consider About Horses Laying Down

Here are some other things horse owners should think about when it comes to their horses lying down.

How Often Do Horses Lay Down?

Horses usually lie down to sleep 2 to 3 times a day. If they are lying down more often than this, they could be sick or need help. 

Horses spend 1 to 3 hours a day laying down, including sleep times.

Do You Need to Help a Horse Get Up?

After laying down for their deeper sleep, larger animals like horses will have a hard time getting up at first.

horse getting up

This is because laying down for long periods of time causes a horse to lose blood flow to their limbs, and it takes a while for their blood circulation to return to normal.

If a horse lays down for more than 5 hours, it may damage its internal organs. Their lungs can fill with blood due to the weight of their body, and their intestines will fill with gas.

However, you do not have to help your horse get up unless it is clear they are struggling. They will usually get up within 10 minutes.

If your horse does need help to get up (3), here is what you can do to help them:

  • Analyze the situation and call your vet to alert them
  • If they do not appear to be sick or injured but are struggling to stand, get some of your barn mates to help you get your horse standing 
  • Try to pull the horse to an area with better footing so they can get their bearings 
  • Provide pain medicine for senior horses who are arthritic 

Horses Laying Down: When to Call the Vet

For How Long Can a Horse Lay Down Safely?

Horses can lay down safely for 2 to 3 hours a day but usually spread out in shorter bursts. Anything longer than 4 to 5 hours is a sign that there is a problem with their physical or mental health. 

horse sleeping

Horses  should not lay down for more than 5 hours at a time to avoid bloating and other health problems.

Why is My Horse Laying Down So Much?

A horse that is laying down often will do so for the following reasons:

  • Myopathy (muscle disease)
  • Colic 
  • Laminitis (hoof infection) or other hoof damage 
  • Injury and severe pain
  • Arthritis 
  • Neurological disease 
  • Getting cast against the stall wall or other barrier 
  • Slipping or falling because of bad footing 
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Malnutrition
  • Sickness other than colic

Should You Be Worried if Your Horse is Not Laying Down?

A horse that cannot or will not lay down for sufficient hours of REM sleep will eventually suffer from sleep deprivation. If horses do not sleep enough, they will collapse which can lead to serious injuries.

horse with her owner

Horses experiencing muscular pain will also avoid laying down. Or it could just be that the environment they are in is not comfortable enough for them to lay down.

Being in a new environment, too much noise, and unsatisfactory footing may all be reasons why your horse is not laying down. 

FAQs

Do horses sleep standing up or lying down?

horse sleeping calmly

Horses sleep both in a standing position and lying down. They can sleep while standing thanks to the stay apparatus, a ligament, and tendon system that locks their legs in place.

Do horses lay down in the rain?

Horses do not usually lay down in the rain, but sometimes they will lay down if they sense it is coming because they know they will not get the chance to do so until the storm passes.

If they live outside they will be more likely to lie down if they have a blanket to keep them dry. This brings up the question do horses need coats in winter?

Conclusion

Horses lay on their side to get REM sleep and rest their legs. If they lay down for too little time, they will be sleep-deprived and drowsy.

On the other hand, laying down for long periods of time can be a sign of colic or other health issues

Why Does My Horse Lay Down So Much

What are your thoughts on why horses lay down on their side? Share with us down in the comments!

References

  1. “Sleep Requirements of Horses.” Kentucky Equine Research, 20 Apr. 2017, ker.com/equinews/sleep-requirements-horses/
  2. “Colic in Your Horse.” Extension.umn.edu, extension.umn.edu/horse-health/colic-your-horse#:~:text=Colic%20indicates%20a%20painful%20problem.
  3. “Dealing with a down Horse.” The Horse, 7 June 2017, thehorse.com/17968/dealing-with-a-down-horse/. Accessed 21 May 2022.
Bryanna Tanase
Bryanna Tanase

Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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