Horse Won't Lie Down!


We're having a huge problem with a TB mare that refuses to lie down and sleep. She stands, goes into a very deep sleep and then her legs will buckle underneath her. This usually results in her jumping up or trying to regain her balance. She ends up with bumping her face against walls or trees or bashing her front legs with the back legs. We've had the vet out and he tested her heart rate which is normal. Is there anything that can be done to help her? Please any suggestions will be discussed with the vet and tried.


Your mare`s problems have two components that will need to be addressed in order to find a solution. The first aspect is to try to find and remedy the cause of her refusing to lie down while sleeping. The second part to the solution is to try to protect her from injury when she does not lie down and thus collapses.

The first thing to understand is how the horse actually sleeps. The horse is a prey animal, and has thus evolved to spend most of their time sleeping while standing up. This means that they can flee quicker when a predator attacks. The horse will go into a lighter sleep while standing up, and when going into a deep sleep, horses will often lie down. The actual amount of time spent sleeping during the day is about four to fifteen hours, spread over the day and night, although the actual time spent in deep sleep can be as little as an hour or two every couple of days. Typically, when a horse is not getting any deep sleep (although sleep deprivation is rare in horses) they will go into deep sleep while standing up and their legs will buckle, just as you have described. Often horses will also fall into a deep sleep when being `pampered` by their owners, such as a horse I knew that would always fall over when his tail was being brushed by his owner! He loved it!

The most important criteria for the horse to lie down is safety. A horse will not lie down to fall into a deep sleep unless he feels it is safe to do so. Nervous, tense horses will often not lie down, as well as horses kept in stressful environments. Studies have shown that horses in the wild sleep a lot more than horses kept in stables. This is because in the wild, horses have learned to use a `buddy` system - a few horses will sleep and the rest will stand around and `guard` them. A horse that is kept in a more social environment will often be more relaxed and will also adopt this system. If the horse is alone and in an environment where there is stress or ant doubt about safety, she will not lie down to sleep. There are many reasons why a horse will perceive it is not safe - dogs, cats or rats in the yard, a neighbour that is constantly picking on and fighting with the horse, any kind of mistreatment or abuse, noise, a high amount of human traffic constantly moving through the yard, etc. Try to observe the mare and figure out if there are any stressors in her environment. She may be trying to tell you she is unhappy or scared of something in her environment. Something to try if you do suspect that she is nervous or high-strung, is one of the many natural products out there that will help her calm down a little. Contact your nearest equine homeopath or try something like Calmequin or E-Z Calm Powder sold at most good Tack stores (there are also other great products out there so go shop around).

Another important factor to take into account is the stable itself. If it is too small, has too little bedding or is too hot or cold, the horse will not want to lie down. Make sure that the stable is big enough for the mare. Also make sure that there is enough clean bedding for her to lie down on. A thick bed of shavings (at least 30 to 40 cm deep) will work very well, and a thick bed of clean, washed river sand is also great for a horse who will not lie down, and will minimise damage to the horse should she fall down. Make sure that the horse is not too hot, and is not standing in a draught or under a leaky roof. The minimum size stable I would use for this horse (assuming she is a 16hh TB of medium built) is at least 3.7m x 3.7m, or bigger if possible. This will not only entice her to lie down, but will go a long way in preventing damage should she fall down. I would even try to build a little paddock for her leading out from her stable so that she goes in and out as she wishes. (Be aware of the additional risk of African Horse Sickness if you are letting your horse out of the stable at night!) Cover the floor with a thick layer of river sand.

Another important reason why a horse will not lie down is pain and discomfort. Horses with arthritis, injuries, and sore backs and necks will often not lie down, because they find it very difficult to get down or back up. I would work closely with your veterinarian in this matter and give her a very thorough checkup for any kind of pain. I would definitely get a second opinion and also perhaps make use of a qualified equine physiotherapist. (As your Vet has already checked her over for any heart problems, and has not found anything, I would exclude that as a cause.) Older horses often suffer from arthritis and stiff joints, and will not lie down. Muscle stiffness following exercise will also cause the horse not to lie down. There are many physical issues that would cause her not to lie down, so speak to your veterinarian and other related equine healthcare specialists.

The second part to your solution is to make sure that should she still refuse to lie down, and fall, that she is protected from possible injury. This should be done by doing the following:

- Bandaging her legs at night, but make sure you know how to do it correctly, as incorrectly applied bandages will cause more damage than her falls will - ask your vet or another knowledgeable person to help you, and ALWAYS use padding under the bandages! Sponge, pads or cotton wool works really well.

- Keeping her outside in a safe paddock during as much of the day as possible, with one or two other friendly horses if possible - check for bullying (safe = not sharp objects, deep soft floor, shade and constant food source like teff or grazing).

- Make sure that the interior of the stable has no sharp edges or places where she could hook or bash herself - rubber matting correctly installed over all sharp corners and edges works well if done properly. Make sure her water bucket has no handles or places where she could get a leg stuck should she fall onto it - same goes for feed buckets.

- As mentioned before, make sure that she has extra deep and soft bedding so that she does not step through onto the floor beneath. Bank it up a little around the wall to help even more.

- I have even found that playing classical music softly in the yard during the day relaxes the horses that are kept inside - try it!

I hope these suggestions help you out. If you can protect her while she suffers from this problem, while you are trying to find the cause of the problem, you will surely make progress with her. Working closely with your vet is a great idea to exclude all possible physical causes of this problem.

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