Don’t you wish you could sleep standing up sometimes?! All you’d need to pull it off is a pair of dark sunglasses, and of course no snoring!
Horses sleep standing up because they are prey animals and rely on flight to keep them alive. This means the horses greatest defense is to run if faced with a dangerous situation. This has worked and kept them alive throughout the centuries. They live on a “run now, look later” philosophy yet everyone must rest sometime. Horses catch their “z’s” in two types of ways. One, is the “cat nap” per day, where you see them standing, weight shifted off one hind leg, head low and ears lopped. My favorite term for this expression is “airplane ears” because the ears go almost straight out to the side on some horses and it’s too adorable not to notice! They are relaxed and “recharging their batteries” while still not allowing themselves to be vulnerable.
Horses can sleep standing up because they are designed with legs that don’t fatigue over long periods of time standing up. With that being said here’s the question:
Q: do horses have muscles below their knee and hock (hind leg knee)?
A: the answer, is no! Only tendons! Isn’t that crazy?! But that design helps their legs to not grow tired over long rides or standing all day. Muscles require more blood flow, more energy than tendons. Not having muscles the leg can support the casual sleeping horse with ease!
Horses do, however, need three hours of deep sleep a day to fully rest. Usually you’ll see them asleep with a pasture mate standing guard for safety. This is a wild horse safety behavior that even domestic horses demonstrate today. With the horse standing guard over their highly vulnerable friend, they can alert the sleeping herd mate of anything questionable. Once one is rested they take turns and the guard horse gets to nap now, normally in the early afternoon in the sun after breakfast. It’s truly the most peaceful behavior to witness.
Next time your horse sleeps in your company just know he feels very safe and that’s the best gift you can give him.