As a prey animal, horses spend the majority of their time sleeping while standing up, but they must lie down to achieve truly deep sleep, also called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. A well-rested horse needs about two to three hours of REM sleep a night, but this isn't achieved all at once; many times it's in short increments of 10 to 20 minutes, says Dr. Anna O'Brien.
A horse in a field will typically graze, doze while standing and lie flat out for short periods of time. Horse will only lie down to obtain REM sleep if they are completely comfortable in their surroundings. Horses that don't get adequate REM sleep may be nervous or irritable, and it may affect their athletic performance.
To help assist a horse to get a good night's sleep, horse owners and managers can:
- Provide adequate resting space. If the area a horse is given to lie down in is too small, he can get cast against a wall.
- Offer bedding if the horse is in a stall. Straw, shavings or another type of bedding that offers cushioning is helpful to entice a horse to lie down.
- Make it dark. Turn off lights when leaving for the night. If lights are necessary for security, don't have them shine directly into stalls.
- Consider stall location. If a horse is anxious and his barn is busy, consider moving his stall to a quieter aisle if possible.
A horse that lives outside won't have the space-constraint worries a stalled horse may have, but his herd needs to be stable enough that he's comfortable to lie down at night without fear. Also, shelter should be considered if the ground is wet the majority of the time; comfort is key to shuteye.
Read more at Horse Illustrated.
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