Like most herbivorous mammals, horses are not characterised by their ability to sleep in, however, the characteristics of their short sleep are similar to others. Quality rest is essential for proper physical and mental development and a healthy body. You can be sure that a living being deprived of its hours of rest will become ill and will most certainly die.
In this new Horse Placenta article, we'll find out together how the horses sleeps ! Do horses sleep standing up or do they lie down to sleep ? Find out the answers to your questions in our new article How do Horses Sleep !
In the past, sleeping was considered a "state of consciousness" defined as a period of immobility during which individuals did not respond to stimuli, and was therefore not treated as a behaviour nor was it part of species-related ethological research. It is also important not to confuse rest with sleep, as one can be resting without sleeping.
In order to carry out studies on the sleep of the horse, the same methodology is used as with human beings. Three parameters are measured: an electroencephalogram, which measures brain activity, an electro-oculogram, which measures the movement of our eyes, and an electromyogram, which measures muscle tension.
There are two types of sleep, slow wave or non-REM sleep and REM sleep.
Slow wave or non-REM sleep is characterised by slow waves and is composed of 4 overlapping phases throughout the night:
Phase 1 or "falling asleep" : this is the first phase of sleep, this phase does not only appear when an animal starts to fall asleep but can appear throughout the night, depending on the depth of sleep. This phase is characterised by the appearance in the brain of what are known as alfas waves. The slightest noise can wake the animal, there is evidence of muscle activity and the eyes start to turn downwards.
Phase 2 or "light sleep" : sleep begins to be deep, cerebral and muscular activity decreases. Theta waves appear, slower than alphas and heralding the appearance of spindles and K-complexes. This set of waves causes a deeper sleep. The K-complexes are like a kind of radar that our brain sets up in order to detect any movement that might occur around us while we are sleeping.
Phase 3 and 4, "delta wave sleep or deep sleep" : during these phases delta waves or slow waves predominate, corresponding to deep sleep. The incredible Brain activity is reduced but the thing is that the muscle tone increases in an exponential manner. This is the phase during which the body really rests and recovers. It is also during this phase of sleep that most night terrors and/or sleepwalking occur.
REM sleep or REM sleep :
The most characteristic feature of this phase is the rapid eye movements. In addition, there is muscular atony from the neck downwards, which means that the skeletal muscles are completely relaxed and that brain activity increases. It is believed that this phase is used to consolidate memories and learning that has occurred during the day, so for growing animals, this phase is used for good brain development.
But how do horses sleep ?
As with all animals, a change in routine and increased stress can interrupt the natural course of a horse's sleep phases, with obvious repercussions on the animal's daily life.
A horse can sleep standing up or lying down, but it can only enter the REM phase when it lies down because, as we have seen, this phase is characterised by a downward muscular sluggishness of the neck, so a horse could not enter the REM phase standing up because if it did, it would fall.
Now that we know how horses sleep, let's see how long a horse sleeps !
How long does a horse sleep ?
The horse, like many other animals that can sleep standing up, is an animal of prey. That is to say that during their evolutionary history, horses have had to learn to survive multiple predators and that is why they have developed the technique of sleeping upright because they are less vulnerable in this position than lying on the ground at the mercy of their enemies.
In the spirit of survival of the species, the horse sleeps very little in order to be less vulnerable to ferocious predators ! A horse sleeps on average less than 3 hours a day !
What should a horse stable look like ?
A standard size horse stable should not be less than 3.5 x 3 metres, with a height of more than 2.3 metres. In order to build an ideal bed that will allow our horse to rest well and satisfy all its needs, you will need to use straw. However, some equestrian hospitals prefer to use other non-edible materials, which do not accumulate dust and are more absorbent. As with some diseases, eating large amounts of straw can eventually lead to colic. In addition, the use of straw in the construction of a soft bed for your horse is not recommended for horses with respiratory problems.
In the rest of our article How Horses Sleep, we offer some tips and tricks to help you enrich your horse's environment to promote rest.
How can I enrich my horse's environment to promote rest ?
If a horse's physical and health conditions permit, it should not spend many hours inside its stall. Walking and grazing in the field are two activities that greatly enrich the lives of these animals and reduce the possibility of unwanted behaviours such as stereotypies. In addition, these activities promote good digestive health in horses as they reduce the risk of your horses suffering from digestive problems caused by lack of movement.
Another way of enriching the environment of a horse's resting area is by putting toys in it, one of the most used toys are the unavoidable balls ! If the stable your horse lives in is big enough, he can roll it across the floor and chase it ! You can also hang it up for your horse to hit, or if his diet permits, you can fill it with a tasty treat to stimulate him both physically and mentally !
Of course, a quiet environment with the right temperature, free from acoustic and visual stress is crucial for your horse to rest well !
How do ponies sleep ?
Ponies do not lie down for very long, but they doze off several times a day. And above all, they are able to sleep standing up ! In the wild, they take turns resting to keep watch. Danger comes so quickly !