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Nap Time! When and Why Young Horses Lay Down & Sleep

Posted on: April 01, 2020 by Dr. Lydia Gray
young horse sleeping laying down in his stall

Being a veterinarian, I’ve seen a lot of young horses in practice, everything from newborn foals to weanlings, yearlings, and on up. But going out to a farm a couple of times a year for physical exams, vaccinations, and even castrations doesn’t fully prepare you for the responsibility of the daily care and upbringing of a young horse. 

One thing that constantly surprises me is the change in mood from one day to the next, and how short my guy’s attention span is (as well as how unpredictable his capacity for learning is on a Monday say, versus a Wednesday). But the biggest surprise to me has been how much a young horse lays down and sleeps!

How Often Do Young Horses Sleep?

young horse laying down in the sand

Everyone knows very young foals that are still nursing take a lot of naps throughout the day, and that sunny days can drop even a whole herd of adult horses (except for the lookout horse, the “designated driver” so to speak of equine sleep). Still, I was not prepared for Stan Lee to take a nap from 9am to 12pm nearly every morning and to not be able to urge him onto his feet during this time. 

On one occasion, I performed a complete physical examination while he was laying on the ground in his still, thinking he was colicking, only to have him eventually stand up, shake off, and eagerly check his feed tub.

Daytime, nighttime; inside, outside; sand, shavings, limestone, or even snow, Stan is an Equal-Opportunity Napper. I honestly think you could run a wheelbarrow over him when he’s “down for the count” and his eyes would barely flutter open. I’m sure he’ll grow out of this (I hope he grows out of it!) because it would be inconvenient to only be able to take lessons, attend clinics, or compete in the afternoons.

young horse sleeping outside in the sun

Sleeping as Horses Age

After the napping stage is over, your youngster may have boundless amounts of energy. It’s great timing for training and setting ground rules because their brains are still growing and developing rapidly. They pick up training techniques faster and can rebound from physical excursion faster than an older horse. 

Depending on your horse, they may stay an avid napper well into their adult lives, and that's okay! It's normal for horses to sunbathe or lay down and sleep throughout the day, so let them catch up on their sleep. Remember what is usual sleeping behavior for your horse so you can spot when something like colic or dehydration might be setting in, not just sleepy pony mode. One of the most common signs of colic is a horse lying down and refusing to get up. So if you are ever worried, try to move them, then act accordingly.