SLEEPING LIKE A BABY
New horses, like new humans, spend a lot of their time asleep. In fact, a study done years ago at the University of Georgia showed that in his first week of life the average foal spends about 32 percent of his time in recumbent (lying down) sleep.
The researchers found that this percentage steadily decreases over the next four months of life. A month-old youngster spends 27.5 percent of his time lying down sleeping; at 3 months, this percentage drops to 15.1, and at 4 months he spends only 5.1 percent of his time in recumbent sleep.
The Georgia researchers also found that a youngster’s sleep habits change as he grows. Upright rest, meaning dozing or sleeping while standing, begins to appear during the first week of life. At first, a foal spends only 3.6 percent of his total sleep time on his feet, but as he matures that percentage steadily increases until he spends 23 percent of his sleep cycle upright. Foals were more likely to rest upright while their mothers were doing the same, as opposed to eating or engaging in other activities.
Finally, observations of foals in a herd setting led the researchers to posit that the youngsters have an innate understanding of the importance of having a peergroup sentinel, even when adult horses were present: One foal would remain standing on guard while the rest slept, usually in lateral recumbency.