The importance of a good night’s sleep before a physically or mentally demanding day has been ingrained in us since childhood. If you don’t get enough ZZZs pre-half-marathon or bar exam, for instance, you know you’re at risk of feeling groggy, sluggish, and unfocused. Why should your horse feel any different when asked to perform on little sleep?

A group from Hartpury College’s Centre for Performance in Equestrian Sports that involved Darcy Murphy, Linda Greening, and Lucy Dumbell, MSC, PgCE, BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences, in the United Kingdom, recently investigated whether horses’ sleep patterns affected their performance.

Dumbell, the acting Associate Dean Quality and Standards, presented the research at the 11th International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held Aug. 6-9 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Research in human sleep patterns demonstrates links between sleep—particularly REM sleep—and cognition, memory, and performance,” Dumbell said. “Knowing if sleep patterns in horses affect performance may instigate interest in considering sleep as an important management factor.”

The researchers observed nocturnal sleep behavior of seven horses from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for two consecutive nights under the same conditions. The researchers looked specifically at the frequency and duration of horses’ sternal recumbency (lying with legs tucked under and neck off the ground), lateral recumbency (lying flat on one’s side), and standing sleep. On Day 3, each horse jumped a seven-jump, 0.76-meter (two-and-a-half-foot) course twice, while the team noted the time it