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Help Your Horse Sleep
 By Winniefield Park   •   12th May 2018   •   410 views   •   0 comments


Every mammal sleeps, and horses are no exception. During sleep, healing takes place, organs regenerate, thoughts are memories are sorted, stored energy is renewed and young animals grow. So restorative sleep is important for good health.

Your horse needs to sleep about four hours each day. Most of that time is spent on their feet. And, while sleeping on their feet, they are in a light sleep which, if they needed to flee from a predator, they could wake from easily without being groggy. They snooze for several minutes and then awaken. They’ll do this several times a day as they need to fulfill their light sleep need. Your horse also needs a short period of deeper sleep. And to do this, they will most likely lie down. But the conditions have to be right for a horse to go into this deep ‘slow wave’ sleep.

There isn’t much research on the sleep cycles of horses but we do know that when sleep deprived, there can be behavioral changes. One study done in Germany suggests that horses that are deprived of sleep may be more difficult to handle and be more aggressive to other horses.

Like most other things in your horse’s life that keep it happy and healthy, natural surroundings will help your horse sleep. This means a natural light cycle and a herd it's comfortable being with, along with a comfortable place to lay down. Horses grab cat naps while standing, that can keep them going for a long time. But horses do need to lay down to get a complete sleep. It seems like some horses never lie down, but eventually the need to get that deep sleep has to be satisfied.

Before a horse will lie down to sleep, they need to feel safe. A horse will check out its surroundings and if it feels it’s okay, will lie down. The first stage of relaxation is when they are lying more or less on their stomach, with their legs tucked up against them. They may close their eyes and lower their heads. Eventually, as long as nothing disturbs them, they’ll lay out flat. While laying down, they may sleep deeply and experience REM sleep—dreaming sleep. Some horses may even twitch and make running movements while they are dreaming.

So how do we encourage healthy sleep in our horses? Lighting is important. Horses kept under bright lights for long periods of time may have a hard time falling asleep. So a normal light/dark cycle is important for encouraging sleep. Either your horse should be outdoors, or in a stable with the lights turned out for a period throughout the night.

Your horse has to feel safe. If it’s in a pasture with horses that harass it, it may not be able to rest properly. And the sounds of other horses quarreling may be disturbing to all the others. In a happy herd, you’ll often see several horses lying down at the same time, while others stand watch. This helps everyone relax, free from the fear of a predator sneaking up on them.

Like us, a horse likes a comfortable bed. A nice clean bed of shavings or straw, or a clean area in a pasture or run-in shelter while be an inviting place to take a snooze. Even horses in standing stalls will lay down if they have enough room. Horse aren’t likely to want to lie down in windy, wet or rocky areas.

A quiet area, out of the way of busy traffic of any kind is more inviting for a horse that wants to snooze. A radio softly playing, or white noise if you can provide a source might help block out more sudden, disturbing sounds.
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