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Horse fell over - cause?

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  • Horse fell over - cause?

    I was grooming my old horse today (22) and he seemed to be enjoying himself and dozing a little, when he dropped like a rock. Then he stood right up And shook and seemed fine. Should I be worried, or did he just fall asleep?

  • #2
    Probably fell asleep.


    • #3
      Yup, *probably* fell asleep & was relaxed enough that his knees hadn't locked first.

      A friend's horse when I was a kid was a bit narcoleptic - would fall asleep while being brushed/tacked up & would start to "crumble" to the ground regularly. She had to keep an eye on him & give a little poke when he started looking sleepy. Horse was fine on all other accounts.

      If it happens again or doesn't look normal (eyes, etc) after, I'd worry. If it was just the once, probably just feel asleep...


      • #4
        I had a four year old horse we had bought in February do that with me in June, when we both were cantering slowly in the pasture, on our way back to the house.
        We flopped down, he on my leg and was passed out for a few minutes, when he woke up and got off my leg and stood up and was fine.
        I ended up with two broken ribs from that one.

        Took him right to the vet and we could not find anything wrong, except that he had grown 3" in 4 months, from 14.2 to 15.1 hands, measured with a stick.
        Vet said he probably just fainted and to watch him, but that sometimes, that happens once and never again.
        He was right, horse was fine and never again did that.

        Maybe yours won't either.


        • #5
          With your oldster I would suspect that he fell asleep on his feet. I'd be aware that it could happen again.
          Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

          Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


          • #6
            Narcolepsy. I knew an older horse with this diagnosis. I'm not sure how that was made official. But the owner, a pro, did make the effort to figure it out so that everyone could be safe around him.

            IIRC, they learned to recognize when he started to look a little too relaxed and woke him back up before knees buckled.
            The armchair saddler
            Politically Pro-Cat


            • #7
              It's a good idea to have a vet check his heart!


              • #8
                Oh my gosh! I have a 22YO too. I would have had a heart attack! I would certainly talk to a vet before riding him again. You wouldn't want him to fall with you on him.
                I have a Fjord! Life With Oden


                • #9
                  Does he have a stall big enough, or a field where he feels safe enough to lie down flat to sleep?
                  I wonder if horses can get sleep apnea as humans do.


                  • Original Poster


                    Thanks for your reassurance! I have the vet coming out anyway next week for some routine stuff, so I'll certainly bring it up and have his heart checked etc. He was actually standing outside the stall in the paddock (I have dutch doors that open directly to the paddock) when it happened. He's only 15.2hh and the stall is 12x12, so I'm comfortable that the stall's big enough.

                    I know a young girl with narcolepsy who developed it (or it showed itself) as a teenager. I never thought about horses having it!


                    • #11
                      Raises hand - mine does it too...

                      I have a 28 yr old who's been doing this once in awhile for the past 6 years.

                      Had him checked by the vet who couldn't find anything wrong so he just said be aware when he's on the concrete aisle. He only seems to do it in the aisle while I'm grooming him.

                      I no longer cross-tie him however; only ground-tie. Just in case.

                      Good luck with your guy!


                      • #12
                        It's not narcolepsy, it's excessive daytime somnolence, and it's caused by a lack of REM sleep, which they can only get laying down. As some horses age, due to physical or mental limitations, they don't always get the 20-40 minutes of REM sleep they require daily (the laying flat out kind).

                        You can't always improve it, but you can try making it easier for them to feel comfortable laying down to sleep, ie make sure herd mates are a good match, that there's a nice soft place to lay out flat, and that knees and hocks are comfortable enough that they can flex them to lay down.

                        I have one horse who has mental issues and will not lay down to sleep. He's 17 and does the "sleep-fall" thing.


                        • #13
                          Watermark Farm is correct. It's called "sleep crashing." When horses have pain or difficulty getting up and down (usually due to old age/arthritis) they try to stand up continuously. They do not get the short period of deep sleep (REM) they need when they are standing. Eventually, they will just nod out and crash--and they can be seriously hurt when they fall. The remedy is to treat the reason for not lying down (bute usually helps) so that the horse will be more comfortable and get the rest he needs. As Watermark says, you also want to make his stall or paddock as deeply bedded and padded as possible to cushion him if he does fall down.

                          Some very few horses do truly have the neurological condition called narcolepsy (suddenly falling asleep) but in those cases the horse falls asleep when it gets excited, not just hanging out in its stall or paddock.
                          "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


                          • Original Poster

                            He always lays down to sleep when he's in his stall for the night-the manure stains attest to that! But I wonder if, when I leave him out all night, he's not laying down on those days? I'll have to think about how to deal with that.


                            • #15
                              As others mentioned, he likely just fell asleep. There could be a million reasons why, but the most common in the older guys is not enough REM sleep.

                              The same thing happened to my mare when the farm would start all day/night turnout after she spent the winter nights inside. She just wouldn't get enough sleep right away... but she adjusted her sleep schedule and was just fine. It just can take them a little while to catch on.

                              The manure stains are a good sign, that he is comfortable laying down and sleeping, he might just have been a little more tired than usual and was super relaxed getting brushed and massaged and forgot to secure his position before dozing off.
                              Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.


                              • #16
                                As the others have said ^. Narcolepsy and lack of REM are different things.
                                There have been many threads on this in the past. Some horses just will not lie down to sleep but your guy does, so that is a comfort. Narcolepsy can be dangerous. This falling asleep would not occur while being ridden as the horse stays alert. Just remember not to tie him and leave him.

                                What may happen is he will damage his fetlocks and knees if it happens repeatedly while turned out on a paddock that is hard footing. In my mares case I had to put ankle covering boots on her or bell boots turned upside down. A neighbour of ours has a boarding stable and has a lot of older retired horses in her care. It surprised me to see so many wearing these boots. She is gradually putting pea gravel down in her paddocks.

                                I think it occurs frequently with horses whose hocks are sore. My mare had arthritic changes and I think she found lying down unfomfortable when her hocks were flexed, and getting up and down hurt too. I tried bute on a vet's recommendation every other day, but it didn't make much difference. I gave her a huge deep litter bed for comfort but she would not lie down.

                                Some people think it is an alpha thing where the horse feels he has to stay awake to 'guard' the other horses. Don't know about that.

                                It just seems, in your case, the old guy forgot to lie down before taking his nap.
                                It can be distressing to see, but it is not uncommon at all. Diffeerent management practices may help.
                                Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Watermark Farm View Post
                                  It's not narcolepsy, it's excessive daytime somnolence, and it's caused by a lack of REM sleep, which they can only get laying down.
                                  What Watermark said. If the horse has a stall, you cannot be cheap on the bedding. You need to bed it deep and inviting so they will lie down.

                                  I used to ride a horse who had this problem but only when you tacked him up. Apparently, they have a nerve somewhere that when you tighten the girth, it triggers it. Did some research and it said that geldings sometimes prefer to be with mares because mares are the ones that look out for the boogie man. That if the gelding doesn't feel safe, he won't lie down and sleep. And, if course, if the stall floor isn't bedded deep enough, they typically won't lie down. The place where I rode him had the thinnest damn beds!

                                  The story was in Equus. If you go to Equisearch, you can find it by running a search for narcolepsy (narcolepsy was just one disorder they covered in the article relating to sleep - it is a keyword that will help you find the article faster).

                                  "If you have the time, spend it. If you have a hand, lend it. If you have the money, give it. If you have a heart, share it." by me