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How Long Is It Safe for a Horse to Lay Down?

Some Horses spend more time lying down napping than others. Have you ever wondered how long a horse can safely lay down on his side? This article looks at how long a horse can lay down before seriously affecting its health. Let’s find out everything about horses lying down.

Horses lay down around 3 hours a day when they nap or rest. If a horse lays down on its side for more than 5 hours at once, it affects the blood supply to vital organs and causes reperfusion injury. The pressure from its body stops the organs from functioning correctly if a horse lays down too long.

Even though horses can sleep standing up, they often lay down for a nap. All horse owners know horses cannot lay down for too long. Here we discuss why they can’t and exactly how long lying down is safe before severely affecting a horse.

How Long Can a Horse Lay down Safely?

The most important thing any horse owner can do is familiarize themself with the behavioral signs of their horses, like how long and why they lay down.

Horses comfortable in their environment will often rest lying down in the shade or sun if they feel tired. A quick nap after a strenuous workout is normal if it is for a short while.

Like humans, horses show us how they are feeling. It is essential to know what signs to look out for. A clear sign when your horse is not feeling well is when he lays down for an extended period. Horses that lay down could be sick or in pain.

Healthy horses will not lay down for hours at a time. They mostly lay down for a 20 to 45 minutes nap during the day. Horses can safely lay down for 2 hours flat before getting back up again.

Why can Horses Not Lay Down for Long?

When a horse lays down for a short while, it is normal behavior, but when it is down for extended periods and in distress, it can indicate a medical issue that needs veterinary help. 

A horse lying down and unable to get up can die quickly. Their heavy bodies place too much pressure on their organs and block blood flow. When a horse can’t get up, it is imperative to call the veterinarian immediately. The horse’s heart and intestines do not function well when down. 

If a horse lays down for hours, the blood supply to its vital organs is blocked, and as a result, the horse’s organs can get damaged. There are many health risks to a horse laying down on one side for too long, like respiratory, circulation issues, and reperfusion injury.

A horse’s digestive system cannot function while crushed and upside down. If a horse is left long enough, it will shut down. The horse’s lung on the “down” side can also get damaged as excess blood pools in it. 

Horses who undergo surgery hoisted up into a sling often develop pneumonia because the pressure from the sling keeps the lungs from inflating completely and causes fluid to accumulate. A horse lying down for hours on one side is at serious risk of lung damage. Immediately call your veterinarian if you have a horse that won’t or can’t stand up. 

What is Reperfusion Injury?

Reperfusion injury is also called reoxygenation injury. Tissue damage happens when blood supply returns to tissue after a lack of oxygen. Reperfusion injury occurs because horses are large animals, and the weight of their bodies can prevent blood flow to organs.

This causes severe issues when they stand up, and the blood supply returns. Excessive pressure and lack of oxygen will damage nerves and muscles on the “down” side of the horse’s body.

Reperfusion injury occurs at the cellular level when sudden reintroduction of oxygenated blood is restored to tissues. 

What Cause a Horse to Lay Down for a Long Time?

Horse owners should suspect a health problem if their horse is not cast between fences or walls and can’t stand up when urged to do so.

Horses with colic will lay down, and if your horse is lying down and rolling on the ground showing signs of listlessness and not interested in food or water, it is probably colic.

Colic is a common reason horses lay down and often roll around while they are in pain. However, some horses with colic will lay quietly.

Horses with neurologic issues might not be able to coordinate well enough to get up. Old horses with arthritic problems will lay down and be reluctant to get up because it is painful.

Horses with laminitis will lay down because of the painful condition in their hooves. Horses in a severe state of malnourishment will lay down because they lack the energy to get up.

Horses lying down for extended periods could be suffering an injury resulting in pain and could be unable to get up.

When a horse suffers from musculoskeletal pain, it could also cause them to lay down. However, an injury or pain to a single limb is not usually enough to cause a horse to lay down.

Whatever the reason for your horse lying down, it is crucial to get your horse to stand up as soon as possible a horse that won’t or can’t get up is in a difficult situation and need immediate veterinary help.

Getting treatment to your horse on-site might help him feel better and get him to stand up. The longer a horse has been down, the less likely it will recover, and severe tissue or organ damage can set it.

Assessing a Horse That is Lying Down for Too Long

To get a horse that is lying down due to a health problem to stand up can be extremely dangerous and difficult and should not be attempted by one person alone. Only experienced horse owners should try to assist the horse in standing up, and only if they know how to do it safely.

In this situation, the decisions you make significantly impact your horse’s survival. Quick and clear thinking is vital. Assess the situation, get help, and gather equipment like padding and ropes. Always put safety first; you cannot help your horse if you put yourself in harm’s way. 

  • Stay away from your horse’s legs
  • Always approach your horse from the back.
  • Don’t try to do it alone.
  • Three or four persons can help roll the horse over or help him stand.
  • Check the horse’s mental and neurologic status to see if he is responsive.
  • Try to establish why the horse is down—for example, a medical reason like colic. See if the horse responds to food.
  • Or if a neurologic disease is a problem, like if the horse behaves in an uncoordinated way.
  • Or if it is a muscle disease like muscle tremors.
  • Check if the horse has injuries like swellings, scrapes, or cuts.
  • Check if the horse is down because he slipped or is on bad terrain. 

Rolling a Horse Over with Ropes

You can roll the horse over when your horse is cast by using ropes to roll him away from the fence or stall wall.
If your horse is not cast, you could try to get your horse to get up by slapping him on the rear. If you don’t get a response from your horse after the slap on the rear, try clapping your hands right next to the horse’s ear.

If you get no response from that, fill a bucket with water and throw it over his rear depending, he is not on a slippery floor. If he still does not get up. You might want to roll the horse over. Sometimes when rolling a horse over, it encourages them to stand up. 

When you attempt to roll a horse over, you need two ropes and at least three people. You should check if there is enough space for the horse to stand up before you try to roll the horse over. 

Begin at the back and stay away from his legs. Put a long rope under the front legs and another on the back legs, crossed over, not knotted or tied, over the pastern.

One helper should hold loop the rope around the front legs, and the other person should loop the rope looped around the back legs. Count to three, and both persons simultaneously pull the rope back and over the horse, folding the legs and slowly rotating the legs over the body steadily.

Another person should assist the horse’s head and gently rotate it as the horse rolls, turning it with the body to stop the horse from twisting its neck.

The helpers must get out of the way fast when the horse rolls over to the other side. A horse might kick his legs out and can injure persons.

You will be able to assess the situation as your horse try to get up. If your horse does not respond or tries but is unsuccessful, he might stand for a moment but then lie down again; your veterinarian should be informed about this. Once you have assessed the situation and figured out why your horse is down, you should call your veterinarian directly. 

Safety Tips When Dealing with a Downed Horse

A horse that is down can be dangerous when he kicks out or rush to get up, injuring people in the vicinity. 

Always stay clear from a horse’s legs that are lying down. A horse that is down can roll fast and trap you under them. A horse can accidentally kick you when he rolls over. Approach a horse that is down from his back.

Always be ready to jump out of the way, stay alert, ready to get out of the way fast. Always keep your feet under you; don’t sit or kneel, rather squat next to the horse.

Never approach a horse that is down on your own; always have another person with a phone standing by.
Remember, horses can be unpredictable. Horses that are scared, injured, or unsure are likely to act unpredictably in the circumstances. Make sure you can move freely around the horse, and there is enough space and footing.

Be calm and use a soothing voice when approaching and working around a horse that is down. Don’t make a lot of noise unless you are trying to coach him to stand up.

When using a sling or a power lift, make sure all rescue equipment is rated correctly for the horse’s weight and enough space for lifting. Only experienced persons should use power lifts and slings. Untrained personnel should not attempt to use such equipment.

Always remember that your safety is the most important you can’t help your horse if you are injured.  Call your veterinarian if your horse appears injured, agitated, or sick. 


Healthy horses don’t lay down for long periods. Horses can lay down safely for up to two hours during the day, but any horse that is lying down for an extended period is in a risky situation.  

A horse that is down is at risk of the weight of his body, causing severe damage to organs and tissue when blood supply is cut off. A horse’s body is not made to cope with lying down for a long time. Horses can die very quickly if they can’t get up.

A horse’s lungs, heart, intestines, and organs cannot function properly when they are down for too long. The heavy weight places immense pressure on the horse’s lungs and can cause blood to accumulate.

There is no exact figure to the minute for how long a horse can lay down safely; however, it is generally not more than 2 hours straight. A horse lying down for a 30-to-40-minute nap is perfectly normal behavior, and usually, there is no reason for concern.

When a horse is lying down for extended periods and showing signs of pain or illness, you should call your veterinarian immediately.

We hope you found this article informative and that you understand why horses lay down sometimes and how long they can safely do so.


Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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