Have you ever seen your horse having a snooze standing up? Does your horse love to have a roll in the field and then lie down for a rest? Yes? It’s true, many horses love to have a sleep in the most unconventional ways, but for them, this is normal everyday life and we can’t help but think having a rest standing up is pretty talented!
We had a question from a worried owner this week asking whether it was normal for their horse to stay in a sit-down position (similar to a dog). This is a very valid question and one we wanted to delve into much deeper to give you a full understanding of this behavior and help you decide how normal this position really is for horses.
So can horses sit? Yes, horses can sit. However, it is not a position you will see them in very often. They do not opt to rest in this position of their own accord and it can usually be witnessed when they are transitioning from laying down to standing up. You can also train a horse to sit on command.
Keep reading to learn more details about why it’s not common, but not impossible, for horses to sit.
Can Horses Sit or Not?
Horses have not been designed to put themselves in a seated position, and you will that not find many horses opt to stay in this position for very long.
When we think about the way that horses are designed physically sitting on their back legs can cause quite a strain to the horse as a whole. Our equine friends can weigh anywhere from 350kg – 1000kg which can put an enormous amount of pressure on their legs as a whole.
Due to this weight, standing can also take its toll, but you will find the horse’s weight is distributed much better when they are on all four legs.
In the seated position, most of the horse’s body is not supported and therefore the back legs take nearly all of the strain. For this reason, most horses will not choose to stay in this position for very long and will usually prefer to either stand or lie down on the floor completely where the body as a whole is better supported.
This isn’t to say that you will never ever see your horse sit down and there are some very valid reasons which we will discuss further as to why you may see your horse in this position.
Sitting down isn’t particularly comfortable for horses and most do not find this a very relaxing position. When you see a horse in a seated position there no doubt about it, it looks uncomfy!
Why Would a Horse Choose to Sit?
Generally, horses do not choose to sit down and would much prefer to rest either standing up or lying down completely. It may seem strange to you and me that a horse would choose to rest standing up on all four feet, but horses have mastered the art of this perfectly.
It isn’t uncommon at all to see a horse having a snooze standing up in their stable or out in the field. Our equine friend finds this much easier to do than us humans. It makes you wonder how they manage to stay upright and not topple over when they nod off.
Sometimes you may see horses lying down to have a snooze. Stables can be pretty comfy with the right type of bedding and flooring and horses love to lay around in the sun outside in the field on a summer’s day.
You will notice horses sleeping on their feet far more than lying down, although this does vary quite considerably from horse to horse.
Sitting down is not something a horse would decide to necessarily do out of choice since lying down and standing up is far more comfortable for them. There are some key situations that you may want to look out for where you will see your horse in a seated position. This is however not through choice, but more of a necessity.
When a horse transitions from a lay-down to a stand-up position, there is often a brief moment where they will appear to be sitting down.
This is a natural way for a horse to get back on their feet. They will start by lifting the front end of their body with their front legs and rolling their back end so they temporarily appear to be in a position that resembles sitting down.
Once they regain their balance, they will use their strong back legs to haul themselves up to a standing position. It’s true to say it doesn’t look overly elegant, but it works well for our equine friends.
Sometimes when out horses are transitioning from a lie down to a stand-up position you will notice they move into a sit-down position and pause in this position. It could be for much longer than you were expecting.
This is usually (not always, but more often than not) a sign of pain. This doesn’t always mean a huge issue is present since many horses (the older ones in particular) often suffer from arthritis which can be painful in varying degrees. It can also restrict movement which can make getting up from the ground difficult.
Horses will sometimes have a temporary pause in the seated position to regain their movement and let the temporary pain subside either from arthritic symptoms or injuries.
It’s important to note that if you have a horse that does suffer from arthritis or an injury you should already have a pain management plan in place.
Horses are very talented creatures and over time have proven to be very trainable. Liberty horses and those that are used in shows often show the sit-down behavior. This isn’t something they would choose to naturally do, but many are willing to carry out this behavior through hard work and training.
Some horses take to this behavior like a duck to water however others find this pretty difficult to do since it puts so much strain onto their back legs.
It isn’t a position you would want your horse to stay in for a long period of time and therefore caution must be taken.
How Long Can Horses Sit Down For?
Horses should not sit down for very long at all. When a horse is transitioning from a lie down to a stand-up position you will notice that they will only be seated for a matter of seconds before they haul themselves up to a standing position.
You may find that this is a little longer for those equines that suffer from pain due to arthritis or injury whilst they prepare themselves. Horses do not get comfortable in a seated position and choose to spend as little amount of time as possible in this pose.
Sitting down can cause an enormous amount of strain on your horses back legs since their bodies are so heavy and their weight in this position is not distributed evenly. The horse usually prefers to have a snooze either laying down or standing up. You will notice that the latter usually preferred.
A horse can rest and snooze anywhere from 4 – 15 hours a day on their feet which when you think about it, is quite astonishing! Horses tend to rest a lot less lying down however it isn’t uncommon for them to lie down in the field or stable for a couple of hours of the day.
Horses’ sleeping habits vary quite considerably and some horses lie down much more than others. If you do notice that your horse is spending much more time lying down than normal then there is a cause for concern especially if you approach your horse and they continue to lay down.
This could be a sign of abdominal pain such as colic which needs veterinary attention ASAP.
Amongst domesticated horses, colic is the leading cause of premature death and it is important as a horse owner that you understand your horse’s normal behavior so you can identify if something is wrong immediately.
Know how long your horse usually spends lying down and act accordingly if this pattern changes significantly.
Why Is It Bad For Horses to Sit Down?
Horses are large animals with relatively thin legs and small feet (hooves). They require their body weight to be distributed evenly over all four legs. This is not something that occurs when a horse is seated since all the weight and pressure is transferred predominantly to the horse’s back legs.
Imagine weighing 3-4 times your body weight now and then having to carry that weight over your own two legs? That’s an enormous amount of weight to carry and you would do everything in your power to keep that weight as evenly distributed as possible.
Your horse is exactly in the same mind-set. They choose not to get themselves into positions that are awkward, uncomfortable, or cause unnecessary pain. For them, a seated position causes exactly that and therefore they avoid this position unless completely necessary (i.e. during transitioning from lying down to standing up).
The vertebrae is a horse’s back is fixed and therefore only somewhat flexible. It is not as flexible as, say, a cat or dog vertebrae, who you will often see comfortable sat in a sit-down position. For a horse, the seated position is a lot more difficult to achieve and puts lots of strain on the most delicate parts of the structure of their body.
If a horse were to sit down for too long it can cause injury to their back legs since the weight being pulled down by gravity is far too strong. Muscles and nerves can become damaged easily from excessive pressure and reperfusion injury is common.
Horses instinctively know when something isn’t quite right and if pain is involved in the process they will choose to avoid carrying out that activity further. This is why you will not often see horses naturally sitting down.
Can Horses Sit Like Dogs?
When we see a horse in the ‘sit down’ position it is likely to be because they are transitioning to another position, are in some sort of pain, or have been trained to do so.
When a dog sits, it is a very natural behavior for them. You will frequently see dogs in a seated position and it is fair to say they find this pose very comfortable.
I guess you could say that, for most dogs, their body is much more in proportion than a horse’s, and therefore they do not put anywhere near the amount of the same strain on their muscles, nerves, and joints.
Dogs also have very flexible vertebrae compared to a horse and can get into a seated position much more easily and with less pain and awkwardness. This is why you will often see dogs sitting down of their own accord without any training. It is a much more naturally ‘go-to’ position for them.
When a horse is in a seated position it may appear to look similar to when a dog is sitting down, but a dog is far more flexible in this respect. Dogs can really tuck in their back legs underneath them without their bodyweight causing any serious strain or damage to their bodies.
Horses are unable to bend their hind legs in the same way so the position is much more rigid for them and they are unable to achieve the same flexibility and grace that a dog does. When a dog and a horse is sitting down it may appear to look the same, but if you look at the finer detail and the way their bodies align the two postures are very different.
Can You Train a Horse to Sit Down?
Yes, you can train a horse to sit down for sure. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do, but many horse trainers around the world choose to teach their horses this behavior. How easy that training process largely depends on how trainable your horse is and also their level of flexibility.
For instance, you really wouldn’t want to start teaching this to a horse that suffers from severe arthritic symptoms since it is likely to cause them much pain.
If you decide to teach your horse to sit down on demand, there are a few things you need to consider:
- How trainable is your horse? Are they likely to be willing to want to do this?
- Does your horse suffer from any underlying health issues that may cause pain or upset in this process?
- Why do you want to teach your horse this? Is it completely necessary?
- Remember this is not natural for your horse and may cause unnecessary stress.
- Take small steps and only allow your horse into the seated position for a short moment.
- Never make your horse do anything they are not capable of.
- Stay calm and patient. Training can take a considerable amount of time.
- Use a praise and reward method. Never punish your horse.