What Do Horses Do at Night?

what do horses do at night

Horses are stunning and powerful creatures. Their shear strength allows them to carry up to 300 pounds on their backs, pull loads three times their weight, and sprint up to 55 miles per hour.

After spending such tremendous amounts of energy, you’d think a horse could spend a sizable amount of time sleeping. This is not the case. Studies have shown that horses only require approximately four hours of sleep a day for optimal performance. 

If horses don’t sleep after the lights go out, then what do horses do at night? Simply put, their nightly activities aren’t much different from what they do during the day. 

Of course, they still need their sleep, but how they rest greatly depends on their daily schedule and environment. 

If you’re curious to know what horses do at night and when they sleep, here is some great information that can help. I’ll also share how you can create the most restful environment for them to sleep in. 

What horses do at night 

Unlike nocturnes and diurnals, horses don’t have a specified time of day to sleep. Instead, they like to alternate between stages of rest and activity at night.

Mary Ann Johnstone, a Grammy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and doting horse owner, once pondered what her beloved pets did while she was sleeping at night. Determined to find the answer for herself, she installed motion-activated cameras in and around her barn before nightfall. 

She expected to check the footage the next morning and find her horses asleep for a majority of the night with the occasional midnight snack. What she captured surprised her. 

Where do horses stay at night
Horses can still be very active at night (https://pixabay.com/illustrations/horse-silhouette-black-sunset-2781545/)

The horses did sleep, but only once or twice for a very brief period of time. They spent the rest of their night wandering outside the barn and consistently eating and drinking. 

The footage revealed that horses are just as active at night as they are during the day. 

When do horses sleep? 

A horse’s sleep pattern is influenced by its natural instincts and the daily routine set by its owners. 

Most horses prefer to sleep during the day. As prey animals, it’s safer to rest in broad daylight when they’re less likely to be caught off guard by a predator. 

A workhorse that performs hard labor most of the day may spend more time sleeping at night than horses that have the day to themselves. 

Also, horses in herds will take turns resting. In the wild, you’ll never see an entire family sleeping at the same time. Instead, they’ll rest in shifts. Whoever isn’t sleeping will stand watch until it’s their turn to snooze. 

Handy Hint: Horses can kick very hard and can even kill a dog, and even humans it’s that powerful!

How do horses sleep? 

Contrary to popular belief, horses do not sleep exclusively standing up, although it is the safest way. A horse is much more secure when they rest on their feet. If a predator were to attack, they would lose valuable time trying to get back up. 

Equines have a unique anatomical mechanism called a stay apparatus that allows them to stand even when unconscious. When they’re ready to take a nap, the ligaments and tendons in one of their back kneecaps will lock while the other leg is slightly raised so just the tip of the hoof touches the ground. 

This method is great for a quick snooze, but REM sleep is essential for a horse’s well-being. They’ll need to lie down to get this form of deep rest. 

A horse in REM sleep is typically lying partially on its side with its legs folded underneath and chin on the ground. If they roll completely on their side for an extended period of time, the horse may be sick and require medical attention. 

Most horses only need two or three hours of REM sleep a day in short bursts. They may lie down for approximately 20 minutes before getting back up. 

Handy Hint: The amount of poop a horse generates in a year might surprise you. It certainly did me when I found out.

How to help your horse sleep better 

Just like us, equines can feel the effects of exhaustion. If they go too long without REM sleep, they may become a bit cranky. Here are just a few tricks I’ve found to be helpful when preparing a safe and comfortable place for horses to rest. 

Provide an indoor space 

Horses love to roam outside at night, but the smell of a coyote or an unfamiliar sound could cause them significant stress, and in turn, no sleep. Having a secure indoor space will make them feel safe to rest. 

If you don’t have a barn or stable, a run-in shed will work just fine. Just make sure there’s enough room for your horse to lie down. 

Do horses need a light at night?

Artificial light can throw off your horse’s internal clock and interfere with their normal sleep cycles. 

When you’re ready to turn in for the night, don’t forget to turn off any overhead stall lights or dim them as much as possible. If you use light for security reasons, consider installing motion-activated lights. 

Use Adequate Bedding 

A recent study showed that a horse is more likely to lie down in a deeply bedded stall. Good bedding can also protect your horse from skin infections, parasites, and bacteria. 

While you don’t need to fill the barn with fluffy pillows and plush blankets, making the floor a bit more comfortable can promote better sleep and health for your horse. Try blanketing their stall with wood shavings, pellets, sawdust, or straw to create a more inviting space for slumber. 

Keep the noise down 

Horses are light sleepers and are easily awakened. Try to keep noise to a minimum around the stalls or provide white noise that masks other sounds. 

Provide tasty snacks 

When a horse isn’t sleeping at night, it’s very likely that it’s foraging for food. The average horse can eat 15 to 20 pounds of hay per day, and much of that is consumed during the night. 

To keep your horses from going hungry, I recommend leaving plenty of forage substitutes for them to snack on including hay, straw, beet pulp, or wheat bran. 

Give them toys to play with 

Boredom is a common night-time problem for horses, especially those that are secured inside a stall or barn with no access to the outdoors. Some could even develop a temper or become destructive if they’re kept in their stable for long periods of time. 

You can provide your horse with entertainment and much-needed mental stimulation at night with a few toys. There are plenty of balls, salt licks, and treat feeders designed specifically for horses, but something as simple as a tree branch to log to chew on could suffice. 


I hope I’ve managed to solve the mystery of what horses do at night, and how they sleep. You might want to consider getting a trail cam on Amazon to see for yourself!

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