Do Horses Sleep in a Stall?

Horses can sleep standing up, but they only enjoy REM (rapid eye movement) sleep when they are lying down. Keeping an eye on your horses’ sleeping habits can help you catch the signs of trouble.

If a horse isn’t getting enough restful sleep, it can cause problems like daytime drowsiness and abrasions on their knees and fetlocks.

Sleeping Positions

Unlike most humans, horses sleep in short periods throughout the day and night to get adequate rest. During these times, they may lie down to get deep sleep or they may snooze while standing. It’s important to provide a safe place for them to doze, so that they can rest and feel comfortable.

Horses are able to sleep while standing up thanks to a special anatomic feature called the stay apparatus. This grouping of ligaments and tendons allows them to lock their legs in place while they sleep, shifting all of their weight onto those locked joints in portable horse stalls. This position is a useful survival tactic, as it leaves them ready to flee in the event of danger.

When they’re sleeping while standing, it looks like they’re dozing or snoozing, but they’re actually entering a light deep sleep phase. This is a precursor to REM sleep, and it helps them rest their neck muscles so that they can support their heavy head.

If they’re laying down, it’s likely that they’re getting a good amount of REM sleep and are feeling completely rested. This is a great position for them, as it’s the most natural and effective way to rest their body and mind. It’s also the most common sleep position for horses that are healthy, and they tend to choose it if they feel stressed or uncomfortable.

Light and Noise

A horse’s sleep habits can be unpredictable. They can go days or weeks without a full night of rest, but they will eventually find a way to lie down and sleep, even if it means that they are not in their stall. This is particularly important when they are in new environments, such as a show arena or the fairgrounds. It may take a while for horses to adjust to the noise and light of these places, and any change in the environment can jolt them out of their deep sleep and back into activity mode.

In addition to lighting, a stall’s bedding is an important factor in determining whether or not a horse will lie down and sleep. In a recent study, Kentucky Equine Review found that horses who had only mats to sleep on tended to lay down less often and for shorter periods of time than those who had bedding (either shavings or straw). They also found that horses with smaller stalls were more likely to compete for a place to lie down, because they were sleeping in closer proximity to their peers.

Installing windows and electric lights in a stall is one way to provide more natural light while keeping the area safe from predators and rodents. The fixtures should be mounted high enough that they cannot be reached by the horse, and they should be installed to decrease glare and shadows. An equine lighting specialist can help you choose fixtures that meet these requirements for your stalls.


Horses need soft, cushiony bedding to keep them comfortable in their stalls and prevent their legs from becoming sore from standing on a hard surface like concrete. The bedding also helps absorb urine and slows the development of ammonia odors that can damage the lungs of the horses standing on it. Stall mats offer some shock absorption and may reduce the amount of bedding needed, but typically you need to add a light layer of shavings or straw.

There are many options for stall bedding, including wood shavings, rice hulls, paper bedding and flax. The best choice will depend on what is available in your area, the potential for dust and palatability. Horses that are prone to respiratory issues or allergies need a bedding material that is as dust free as possible. Your veterinarian is a good resource for information about what type of bedding is best for your horses.

Some people use pelleted wood bedding, which is made from kiln dried sawdust that has been pressed into small pellets. This bedding is highly absorbent, does not produce a lot of dust and is easy to clean from the stall. Some horse owners like to mix their stall bedding with straw for a softer, more cushiony effect. If you decide to do this, make sure the straw is sweet smelling and does not contain any mold or foreign materials.


Stall flooring plays an important role in a horse’s health and wellbeing. It needs to be durable, easy on a horse’s legs and feet, provide good traction, allow drainage and be easily cleaned. The stall floor also can affect how well the horse sleeps and whether the horse is comfortable enough to relax in the lateral recumbent position, which is a key to restful REM sleep.

For example, an extremely hard sand or dirt based flooring can cause hock sores and pastern sores for horses that are used to soft bedding. Uneven, damp floors can breed bacteria and off-gas ammonia that can damage a horse’s respiratory system. Uneven flooring can also contribute to dust inhalation, which can cause a horse to overbreathe and lose a significant amount of fluid from its lungs.

On the other hand, a concrete or asphalt floor is often very difficult on a horse’s feet and legs, provides no traction and can be slippery when wet. It can also retain odors that can make the horse uncomfortable.

For these reasons, many equine facilities use mats as a first line of defense against dust and odor. These mats come in a variety of thicknesses and can be textured to help with traction. Some mats can even reduce the amount of bedding that is needed to provide cushioning, reducing a facility’s bedding costs and time spent mucking stalls.