Horses first evolved in open plains. As a prey species (one that other animals eat), they needed to be able to see quickly if another animal that might eat them (a predator) was nearby.
Being able to rest or sleep standing up meant they could get their rest, but if they saw a predator, they could quickly run away. That’s one of the reasons horses run so fast - to get away. The early horses that ran the fastest were more likely to survive.
Even though they can sleep standing up, scientists think horses still need to lie down and sleep each day. As even human being sleep is not the same all night. Everyone goes through different stages of lighter and deeper sleep, and horses are the same. The deeper stages of sleep are only seen in horses lying down.
In horses there is a special arrangement of muscles and the parts that connect muscles and bones together (ligaments and tendons). This is called the stay apparatus.
The stay apparatus means that horses can stand on three legs and rest the other leg. They can change the leg they rest so all of their legs get a chance to have a break. A horse can weigh more than 500kg so their legs need a rest!
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It’s true they do have an amazing ability to sleep standing up.