Why do horses lay down?

by John Hilger
(Hamilton, ON Canada)

Hero taking a nap while Cash stands as protector

Hero taking a nap while Cash stands as protector

Hero taking a nap while Cash stands as protector
This is Atlas having a snooze too!


When I met the horse for the first time in the indoor exercise arena and was walking beside him, he decided to lay down beside me, he let me stoke him about his neck and face and did not show any animosity , on the contrary, he seemed quite happy. His ears were mostly pointing towards me, never laid back. That was going on for about 10 min.
The owner classified him as a "Medicine Horse", but she was worried about his behaviour, since he had never done that before.
Any enlightenment would be appreciated.

Thank you in advance and
Kind Regards,

John Hilger

Hi John,

Horses lay down for basically three reasons:

1.To roll, get bug protection from the dirt, scratch, massage their bodies.

2.To take all the weight off of their legs and have a short nap, to relief exhaustion.

3.Illness – for example many consecutive rolls with thrashing, looking at the belly which are common signs of colic and a vet should be called immediately or the horse is refusing to get up again after awhile.

What happened after the 10 minutes? Did he just get up and seem fine? If so, I suspect he just wanted to lie down and rest. Yet under the circumstances you described I would also look closer into the living conditions for this horse because it is the effect of this. Is he stalled or does he live outdoors 24/7 with herd mates? Another reason for not stalling horses is, many can’t (or won’t) lie down in them without casting themselves (getting stuck up against a wall unable to get up again) and they get no relief from #1 or #2 above.

The most natural way horses lie down is in the open and often a member will remain standing to alert the others in the event of danger approaching.

As always if illness is suspected do not hesitate to consult with a vet.


P.S. It would be helpful to know what the owners definition of the term "Medicine Horse" is.

Comments for Why do horses lay down?

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Aug 07, 2011
Horses Laying Down
by: Trish

Good Subject:

I have three horses, one is 28, one is 12 and one is 7. They all lay down. The 28 year old will not be caught dead laying down outside but I bring my horses in for their feed in the morning and the 28 year old horse always has a lay down in his stall, mind you he is an Arabian, always watching out so the stall is his down time, he looks so cute curled up like a dog. It refreshes and relaxes him. The other two horses will lay down outside in the field, in the lean-to or when they are in their stall. To me it means they are relaxed and comfortable, it is never for very long and I always keep an eye on the length of time. With that being said, I once, a couple of years ago didn't think anything of my 12 year old horse laying down and low and behold he was not feeling too good, I made the huge mistake late that Summer of thinking that a Round Bale of hay would be a good thing when the grass was getting sparse, made my life easier, or so I thought, he developed a bad respiratory infection from the dust in the round bale of hay. With all this being said, it sometimes a wonderful thing to see and yet at other times keep your eye on how long and how often. It was a big lesson for me but I now know that a short lay down outside or inside means .... a rest .... frequent and lengthy lay downs mean something is amiss with your horse.

These wonderful creatures cannot speak but they are not all that complex "if you pay attention". Like humans they have their habits, their ways, their wants, their needs, when something changes, take a good long look.

I love these peaceful creatures that accept us humans. With that being said, it is our responsibility to look out for them and their well being. We are the ones that bring them into the confined, unnatural environments, we cannot expect that the will "all" be able to thrive on that, they all have special needs. It is "up to us to pay attention and find out what those needs are" for their sake. And ours.

Sep 25, 2011
Why do horses lay down?
by: Anonymous

Thanks for sharing your experience.
One of my horses was pregnant. She was about ready to give birth, but I wasn't aware of her due date. I thought she was colicky or something else...so I was able to get her up. I walked her for
about 10 mins. & replaced her in the stall.
Her water broke and she had a beautiful filly.
In my extreme concern...I missed the birth. The man at the farm had taken over & delivered the news to me after the fact.

Feb 13, 2015
by: Anonymous

I love horses very much and thought that when they did that means they are dead thank you for telling me what that means.

May 29, 2016
by: Anonymous

If a horse is feeling exceptionally secure, safe and knowing he is protected, he or she will lay down more often. That is the case with my nine year old gelding. We are bonded very well and he is in a well built paddock (fifty by eighty), which is open to the two acre pasture. He never lays down in the grassy field, always in the same spot where I sifted dirt in the paddock. His favorite spot for sleep and sunbathing. I can sit on him or lay on him while he is down. He feels very safe. This he does often!

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