Anyone who’s been around me at the stable knows that I’m obsessive about grooming my horse. I take pride in seeing a shiny coat and I enjoy the bonding and communication that happens during those long sessions of brushing.
But I also love seeing a tail filled with shavings because this tells me that my horse is healthy. It means that Tonka has been sleeping lying down in his stall.
Throughout the day horses doze standing up. They can be thoroughly relaxed while upright because their legs lock into place. But that’s not sleep. For restorative and essential REM sleep they have to lie down. Yes, horses sleep lying down. If they don’t get that shut-eye, it can lead to health and behavior issues.
Horses need only about an hour a day of REM, which is a good thing because for this animal that relies on speed for safety, true sleep puts them in a vulnerable position. Horses are strategic about when and where they sleep. In free-ranging herds, one horse will act as a sentinel while another lies down. If your horse doesn’t feel safe with the other horses in their group, they might not get enough rest. If they’re at a new barn, or overnight at a show, of if the horses are too crowded, they might not feel confident enough to go into REM sleep. This will make them anxious and their performance will suffer. Understanding this can make us more compassionate riders.
The surface that the horse lies down on matters, too.
Tonka used to live at a farm where he was out all of the time. There was a shed for shelter in a paddock that was dirt and mud. He’d claim the one dry spot and nap, but it wasn’t particularly comfortable and he was often interrupted.
Every few days Tonka got to go out into a field. There was grass to graze, but even more importantly for Tonka, there was a soft place to snooze. He luxuriated in that.
Where Tonka lives now, there is a rocky, sloped paddock that he stays in during the day. It’s not the best place to sleep. That’s okay. It’s perfect for dust baths!
Tonka gets his ZZZZs in his stall. It’s always clean and the shavings are deep. That matters. Horses sleep better on soft, cozy bedding.
I don’t have a photo of Tonka sleeping, but I have proof that he does. I comb it out of his tail daily.