Horse Lying Down On Side – What Does It Mean?

Last Updated on November 8, 2021

Have you ever seen a horse lying down on side and wondered if it is OK? It is so rare to see horses lying down that it can make you worried! So, is it a problem if a horse lays down on its side?

Horses are not like humans and do not lay down very often. They also have very different sleep patterns. Let’s find out everything you need to know about horses laying down!

Horse Lying Down On Side – Is It A Problem?

Most of the time, your horse may be laying down on his side because he is asleep. Obviously, if your horse is taking a nap then this is nothing to worry about, but can a horse lying down on side indicate that there is a problem?

There are some situations when a horse lying down on its side is a cause for concern. However, most of the time your horse is probably just getting some sleep! It is important to know how to tell the difference so you can decide if your horse is having difficulties.

A horse that is laying down asleep will appear calm and relaxed. His eyes will be closed or half-closed, and his ears will be relaxed. He may gently flick his ears when he hears a sound, and swish his tail at flies.

Horse Lying Down On Side – Is It A Problem

Sleeping horses will have a deep and regular breathing pattern, and may occasionally take a deep breath or let out a big sigh.

If you are in any doubt whether your horse is asleep or if he is ill, the best way to find out is to try and wake him up! Give him a shout or rattle a feed bucket, and he should lift his head or stand up. If he does not respond or seems uninterested, it is a good idea to take a closer look.

However, you don’t want to wake your horse every time he sleeps! So, it is important to learn to recognize when a horse is asleep, so he can sleep undisturbed.

The best way to do this is to learn what is normal behavior for your horse. Many horses will lay down in a group out in the paddock. Others will always lay down at a certain time of day in the stable or barn.

Why Do Horses Lay Down On Their Side?

Horses are famous for their ability to sleep standing up. They can ‘lock’ their legs into a standing position, enabling them to catch a quick nap without laying down.

There are two types of sleep that horses need. The type of sleep horses gets while standing is called ‘slow-wave sleep’ (SWS). This is a shallow sleep from which the horse can quickly awaken.

However, horses also need a short period of ‘rapid eye movement’ (REM) sleep every day. This is a period of deep sleep, and it can only be achieved if the horse is lying down.

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Much of the time, a horse will lay down in a position called sternal recumbency. This is where they lay in a semi-upright position, with their legs tucked underneath them. They can go into a deep sleep in this position.

However, the most comfortable position for deep sleep is when they are laid down on their side. This shows that the horse is perfectly relaxed, and getting the best possible deep sleep.

When Do Horses Lay On Their Side?

Horses sleep for a minimum of 3 to 5 hours per day. However, the majority of horses sleep for much longer than this.

Most of the time horses are asleep they do this in a standing position. They require a minimum of just 30 minutes of REM sleep each day.

Horses will mainly sleep overnight, with the bulk of their sleep occurring between the hours of 8 pm to 5 am. Most of the SWS and REM sleep will normally happen in the middle of the night, between 12 am and 4 am.

During the day, horses will take much shorter naps. These are sometimes for just a few minutes at a time.

So, your horse may only lay down for around half an hour, and this could be in the middle of the night! This is why many horse owners never see their horses laid down.

When Is A Horse Lying On Side A Bad Thing?

Sometimes laying on their side is a sign of sickness or ill health in horses. One of the main concerns is that the horse may have colic.

Most horse owners are aware that a horse with colic will roll around. However, some horses with colic may lay down quietly, stretched out on their side.

If you are concerned that your horse could have colic, look for other signs of abnormal behavior. Has your horse eaten his feed and drunk some water? Is he passing normal droppings?

If you suspect that your horse might have colic always contact your veterinarian straight away. Colic is a medical emergency and your horse will need assessment as soon as possible.

Horses might also lay down to gain some comfort from aches and pains of the bones, joints, and muscles.  Check for any other symptoms that your horse might be in pain. This may include heat or swelling in a leg, lameness, or increased pulses to the hooves.

When Is A Horse Lying On Side A Bad Thing

If you think your horse is laying down due to musculoskeletal pain, watch how easily he stands up. Look for signs such as stiffness, lameness, or difficulty in standing. Again, contact your veterinary clinic if you have any concerns.


As we have learned, horses require very little sleep compared to humans, and may only sleep for 3 to 5 hours per day. Most of this sleep will be done standing up, but the horse will lay down to sleep if it feels safe. A horse laying on its side may just be asleep, or it may be unwell or injured.

We’d love to hear about your experiences – does your horse or pony often lay down to sleep? Or maybe you have never seen your horse laying down? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!