Why should a horse and rider fall asleep together

Do you know one of your horse’s favorite things when you’re not around? Exactly: sweet laziness! Besides eating, sleeping and resting in horse groups fill most of the day.

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sleep for friendship
How snoozing together enhances the relationship

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Even friendships are fed by horses in twilight, so why not use the power of snooze for knights, too? “If we are going to rest with our horses, it could take the relationship to another level,” said wild horse photographer Mark Lubitsky.

Horses fall asleep in short repetitions

Horses sleep a lot, but usually not for long. While humans sleep over eight hours at a time, horses usually only sleep between 13 and 40 minutes. In general, however, a horse’s resting time is also six to nine hours out of 24.

Animals go through different stages of rest and sleep (see the “Numb or Sleep?” section), and most of the resting stages are spent standing.

This is followed by a distinct phase of drowsiness in nature after the morning meal: “The horses come close together again after sparse grazing,” Mark Lubetzky describes.

A snooze is a sign of friendship

Whoever sits next to him next makes friendships visible: “Horses like to nap next to animal friends with whom they have social ties. Ponies and young horses usually nap in the immediate vicinity of their mother,” says behavioral researcher Professor Constanze Krueger.

A study of young horses at the University of Maryland also showed how important group is for sleep: When observing the animals in groups and individually in a barn, researchers found that sleep periods were longer when the animals were in a group and thus felt safer than alone.

For Mark Lubetzky, napping is the most important social contact between horses: “There is a lot of physical contact while they are resting,” he notes. Horses often stand 50 cm apart at first and then very slowly approach each other.

“Stomach bellies touch very lightly, or a horse leans its head gently over the other’s body,” he says. “That’s a big difference from the way we humans touch horses’ heads, for example.”

Watch the soft touches

But we can recognize the special kind of touch when we fall asleep, Lubetzki suggests. To do this, stand next to your horse and make very good contact with your hand or, for example, your shoulder. “I tried it with my mare and she obviously enjoyed it a lot, and it stayed with me freely,” Lubetzki says.

Marie Heger, an equine behavior coach, sees naps as an enjoyable time with a horse, which can deepen the bond. She also points to the science: “If we spend time together, the bonding hormone oxytocin is released. This allows my horse to better join me in training,” explains Heger.

Oxytocin is associated with social interactions and enhances bonding in both humans and animals.

Breaking pressure to perform

“I advise everyone to spend the whole day with their horses and also try the rest phases,” says the behavior coach. “If we only take a horse for training, we often don’t even know what it looks like when it’s completely relaxed.” But this is important so that you can properly assess the horse during training.

Additionally, most horses expect that they always have to perform and be taken out of the herd when humans come along. “Breaking this pattern can be beneficial and enhance the horse’s confidence,” says Marie Heger.

However, problem behavior cannot simply be neglected: “Once the energy with which you meet the horse changes, so does the behavior of the animal. Therefore, together relaxation can strengthen the bond, but it cannot replace structured training,” explains the problem horse expert.

Learn from snoozing for training

Doing nothing with a horse is not easy for many riders – in any case, the guilty conscience of not providing an adequate program for the horse suffers. Animal psychologist Stefan Valentine advises taking this pressure off: “We always want to enjoy our horses. When they are kept in a species-appropriate way, they don’t always have to do something to please them,” says Valentine.

“This often becomes more apparent when we watch horses fall asleep peacefully.” Can the newly acquired serenity of pasture also be taken into training? Yes, to some extent.

Stefan Valentine builds short rest periods together as a rest period when the horse is performing an exercise correctly. “I let go of the idea of ​​the exercise and completely relax. This way I create a pause moment in which the horse and I can rest together.”

Valentine refrains from stroking, at most gently approaches the horse with his head. This is also consistent with his observations in herds of horses: “If a member of the herd sends it away, the horse raises its head and avoids responding to the request. Then it lowers its head again and returns to a relaxed state.”

Please do not fall asleep!

Marie Heger also relies on breaks. It is advised not to extend it for a long time. “It would be unfair to let a horse go into a state of complete rest during training, as it would have a hard time recovering its energy levels and body tension afterward,” she explains.

It’s a different story when a sleepy horse is supposed to learn: “I’ve taught my mare to lay her down, crawl to her, then snooze and start snoring—which is very useful at fairs.” Napping together is also a good idea at the end of a training session.

Try it, maybe you will discover the sweetness of doing nothing for yourself.

snooze or sleep?

Standing, lying down, or lying on their side like a flounder – horses rest in many different ways. What are the states between nap and sleep?

Nap: Horses spend approximately 10 to 20 percent of the day sleeping. Fall asleep while standing so they can escape immediately in an emergency. The horse is at a relaxed state, with the ears lowered to one side, the lower lip drooping, and the eyes half closed.

Nap: When horses are asleep, they lie on their chests and legs under their bodies. So they can quickly jump in case of danger. In this case, horses perceive sensory impressions from afar and wake up very quickly.

light sleep: The process of falling asleep and the subsequent time. The organism relaxes, the pulse slows down and breathing becomes deeper.

Deep sleep and REM sleep: A horse can achieve deep, restful sleep (also SWS sleep) while standing, but many horses also lie in this sleep stage. Horses only achieve REM sleep when lying on their side.

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