Hit Snooze: Sleep-Deprived Horses May Have Harder Time Learning, Competing


While the effects of poor sleep on human’s mental and physical health has been studied intently in the past decade, the effect of poor sleep on horses has not been nearly as widely researched. However, in completed studies, poor sleep is showing its effects in equine competition results and in rider safety.

While horses don’t sleep in one 8-hour chunk like humans do, sleep is just as important to their overall health. The phases of equine sleep have been observed by studying their brain waves; in horses, Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) happens when the horse is sleeping while standing, resting sternal or laying down flat. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, considered deep sleep, occurs during SWS in horses.

REM sleep in horses can only occur when the horse is lying flat-out, as his muscles can relax completely. Lying flat also promotes glycogen uptake in fatigued muscles, which takes twice as long in horses as in humans.

REM Sleep also allows for the ability to learn and for memory processing. A study using showjumpers showed that equine performance declined significantly (in slower rounds and more jumping faults) when horses had less time in SWS the night before competition.

Horses that are sleep deprived can present with symptoms like narcolepsy, where the animal enters REM while standing, causing him to buckle at the knees or collapse. Signs that a horse is sleep deprived may include calluses on the front of both fetlocks and knees from falling. The horse may also be lethargic, lose his appetite, show a reduction in normal behaviors like grazing and engaging other horses, and have reduced responsiveness to stimuli.

Horses that are sleep deprived normally are in social situations that cause they them to be anxious—they may be uncomfortable laying down in the herd they are turned out with or be kept in a stall they are worried is too small for them to get back up in once they have lain down.

Sleep-deprived horse are generally less healthy, less careful and less motivated, as well as slower to learn, slower in speed and quicker to fatigue, possible endangering their rider. Because of this, it’s important to ensure horses have access to a good night’s sleep.

Learn more at Haygain.

The post Hit Snooze: Sleep-Deprived Horses May Have Harder Time Learning, Competing appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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