Horses Sitting: Can a Horse Sit?

Here’s whether horses sit:

Horses can’t “sit down,” but they can “sit up” after they rise from lying down.

The duration of this “sit-up” position can be improved with training.

Anyway, this behavior is neither natural nor essential for horses.

If you want to learn all about why horses can’t sit and why that is so, then you’re in the right place.

Keep reading!

Table of Contents

Do Horses Sit?

Horses don’t sit.

Believe it or not, horses actually can’t “sit” as we do.

Let’s learn a bit more about horses to see why:

Do Horses Need To Sleep?

Obviously, the answer is yes. All creatures need to rest or sleep. Yet, how do horses do it? Let’s explore that question. 

The scene of a rider seated on a saddle and enjoying the sitting trot is common to most of us. But sleep is a vitally important necessity of any living being, and horses are no exception. 

After hours of physical exertion, a horse is in dire need of rest. The consequences of sleep deprivation can be disastrous for a horse. 

Dark bay horse asleep in dry winter grass.

A sleep-deprived horse can become emaciated, and its ability to control its body is severely curtailed. The animal’s metabolism is also disturbed, and it can lose weight despite more feed intake. 

During the deepest phase of sleep, the brain develops the animal’s long-term memory. It is also when much of the nutrients it consumed are absorbed into the blood.

Hence, sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on the memory, learning, and overall well-being of the animal. 

So, it is clear that horses need sleep. But, their sleep is different from ours.

Is Horses’ Sleep Different From Humans’ Sleep?

So, what’s unique about the sleep of a horse? 

The Duration

The sleep pattern of an adult horse is quite different from humans. While humans require at least eight hours of daily sleep, an adult horse sleeps for only three hours every day—the sleep pattern of a horse changes with age. 

A young foal may sleep for as much as twelve hours a day until about three months of age.

As they move towards adulthood, they reduce the number of naps and prefer to rest in an upright position. 

Sleeping Behavior

The horses also use a buddy system when sleeping. In this system, one group member allows others to sleep while he himself acts as a watch. 

Dark horse sleeping in the stable.

The watch-horse position is rotated among the group. This is an evolutionary adaptation because the horses are prey animals in natural ecosystems and are continuously faced with threats.

Although many are now domesticated, they still retain the natural instincts of wild horses. 

The Position

It is a well-known fact that horses sleep while standing. The details of that phenomenon are discussed below:

Don’t Horses Need To Sit Or Lie Down for Sleep?

Now, let’s come to our main point. Can our equine friends sit or lie flat on the ground as we do to sleep? 

Gelding horse in halter sleeping in paddock in daytime.

The answer lies in the unique anatomy of a horse’s legs. The horse is blessed with a unique group of core muscles, tendons, and ligaments which “lock” various joints in the hip region of both fore and hind legs. 

This arrangement allows a mare or stallion to enjoy the light phase of its sleep without sitting or lying down. This feature is very useful for the horse because it allows it to ward off muscular fatigue without collapsing to the ground.

How Does the Joint Locking Work?

This “stay apparatus” allows the muscular giant to enjoy the sleep in a standing position with virtually no muscular activity. 

The animal shifts its entire body weight on the three legs, allowing the fourth to rest in a flexed state with almost no weight on it. 

Horse on paddock in riding school.

The animal shifts the weight periodically to rest a different leg each time. The horses play with this apparatus by shifting their hip and locking the patella bone into position afterward. 

In this way, a horse can reduce the muscular fatigue of each leg without lying flat. So this “stay apparatus” is very helpful for large mammals. 

In the absence of this apparatus, an animal may never handle the fatigue incurred during its running activities.  

What Is the REM Phase of a Horse’s Sleep?

Is this standing-while-sleeping sufficient for a horse? 

Although they can get rid of fatigue while in a standing position, they also have to lie down for the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase. 

During this phase of deep sleep, a horse relaxes its muscles completely. The length of this phase is only 30-40 minutes in 24 hours and is usually accomplished in phases of variable length. But horses don’t have to sit to lie flat on earth to sleep.

Why Is Sitting Down Impossible for a Horse?

It’s quite a surprising fact that the strongly muscular legs of horses can’t help it to sit down as a dog or cat does. Why? 

The bending of its legs is an anatomical impossibility for the horse. The upper body of a horse is quite massive, while their legs, although strongly built, are relatively thin. 

So, if the animal tries to bend its hind legs, its own huge weight could result in the animal crashing down onto the ground with the risk of severe and life-threatening injuries. 

White horse sitting up on grass.

Moreover, the digestive anatomy of the horse is such that the weight of the horse will be placed on its digestive tract in the sitting position.

So, the sitting position of a horse can lead to digestive issues, such as disrupting the flow of blood towards the digestive system leading to the development of excessive gas pressure and colic. Hence, resting in a standing position is a better option. 

This evolutionary adaptation is very advantageous for them in the wild because their ancestors continuously faced threats from their natural predators. 

So, they had to be ready to respond quickly to any predator threat and run away. So by sleeping in a standing position, the horse will be able to react swiftly to any danger. 

Why Do Horses Lie Down?

Because of these challenges, you may be thinking that horses don’t need to lie on the ground. This is not the case.

A horse requires a brief period of REM sleep each day to sustain its rigorous physical activities. So, it’s clear that the horses will lie flat on earth for a brief period.

However, a prolonged stay in the lying position is not good because their internal organs are subjected to enormous internal pressures in this position. Yet, sleep without a REM phase is incomplete sleep. 

A horse deprived of this type of deep sleep may very often collapse to its knees, then wake up suddenly.

The horse owners may not notice it, but they will see unusual traumas or injuries to the horse’s knees and ankles. 

Dark bay Arabian horse resting lying down in dry grass.

What if a horse is observed in this prone position for unusually long periods of time? Such a horse may be suffering from some pathological problems. 

It may suggest colic because colicky horses are often observed in lying positions for prolonged periods.

Muscular or bone pain, neurological problems and generalized weakness can also be associated with this behavior. 

What Is a “Sit Up” Position For a Horse?

While horses do lie down for the deep REM phase of sleep, they don’t sit down. Whenever we see a horse in a sitting position, it is usually transitory.

Most likely, he is actually rising up from a lying position. So horses usually don’t “sit down.” They actually “sit up.” 

Also, a horse is not able to sit down by itself. However, it can be trained to sit down by professional trainers.

The trainers use many techniques. However, a horse doesn’t need to sit. It is a learned behavior, not a natural one. 

Can Horses Sit For a Prolonged Period?

It is assumed that the whole weight of a horse is placed evenly on all of its limbs.

In a sitting position, most of the weight is placed on hind legs. Hence, a lengthy stay in a sitting position is an uncomfortable one for our equine friends. 

Another limiting factor is related to their spines. Their spines are partially fixed, making a horse’s back a comfortable and smooth seat for a rider.

But this peculiar nature of spine structure doesn’t favor a prolonged stay in a sitting position. 

How Can a Horse Be Trained To Sit?

Training a horse to sit is a challenging task. They need rewards for effective training.

To train a horse to sit, it is first trained to lie down on command. While it is rising up from the lying position, it will have a very brief sitting phase. 

When the horse is in the sitting phase, it is rewarded with feed.

The repetition of this step trains a horse to remain in a sitting position for a prolonged period. 

Young woman horseriding in sunset on the fields.

After this, the trainers usually add a command, such as “sit,” as a condition for receiving a reward.

After some practice, a horse will become accustomed to this process and will sit down when commanded to do so. 

What Is the History of Horse Domestication?

The galloping horses of Huns and Mongols were terrifying for their military opponents, especially the Romans and Chinese, respectively. 

Battle-hardened, expert nomadic horsemen destroyed many ancient civilizations.

The art of evenly balancing their seat bones on a saddle allowed these steppe warriors to remain for days on the backs of their horses. 

Rapid running free horses on blossoming grass.

The horse’s speed and agility, coupled with their riders’ skills, were something the infantry-based armies of empires like Rome found most difficult to confront. 

The domestication of the horse happened approximately 6,000 years ago. It was perhaps one of the key developments that helped to revolutionize ancient warfare. 

So, why were horses preferred for warfare over plenty of other large animals?

Of course, their speed, strength, and grace—their beautiful cantor, trot, and gallop—are some of the reasons, but horses have even more unique features that proved beneficial.

Let’s explore some of them.