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Does My Horse Have Sleeping Sickness?

Dear Franklin,

I recently purchased my first horse. She is a 20 year old appaloosa/quarter horse named Shiloh. I wanted an older horse that would be kind and gentle and forgiving of my mistakes as a first time horse owner. I also wanted an older horse because I have asthma and tire very easily. So far, we seem like a good match. Well, she IS calm and quiet, but the problem is (and maybe it's not even a problem, I'm not sure) sometimes when she's in the crossties and I'm brushing her, she actually falls asleep! Now, I'm happy that she feels that relaxed and comfortable with me, but it is also kind of scary because she starts to stumble and I'm afraidshe's going to fall in the crossties! I'm not sure if this is because she's an older horse, or if there could be something medically wrong with her, or if she's just THAT relaxed. She was examined by the vet when we purchased her about 3 weeks ago, and she got a good report. I would also like to add that the man who owned her before me only used her for trail rides now and then (and not that often) and he didn't spend time grooming her other than brushing her girth area, so I was thinking that maybe she just forgot how nice it felt to be brushed! Also I have only ridden her twice because I've been spending as much time as I can building our relationship with grooming and groundwork so it can't be that I've tired her out from a long trail ride! Please tell me if you think she's just relaxed or if you think it could be a warning flag. Have you ever heard of this before?

Thank you, Alyson

Hi Alyson,

For some horses the sensations accompanying being groomed will sort of 'put them to sleep' or kind of hypnotize them. I have seen it before. There is a malady that causes a horse to fall asleep when moving which is very dangerous. If your horse is fine when being ridden, it is not that (thank God it is not). Try changing the spot you groom her in from time to time. While cross ties are nice to use, a change of location once in a while might keep her awake. Groom her with a slightly stiffer brush. That may help. Not too rough, but not quite so relaxing. Don't make it so uncomfortable that she gets upset about it. But see if that helps as well. You also could take her to a different spot (not cross ties, with maybe just soft ground and a hitching rail), loosely wrap the leadrope around the rail so it slides and groom her as normal. Go for it and see if she does actually fall totally down. That would be good information to have. It is most unusual if she would actually fall all the way down before she catches herself. If she actually falls all the way down, that may be something medical to look at. That might be a warning flag. If she doesn't go all the way down, but rather wakes herself up, don't worry about it.

Good Luck, Franklin

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