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You’re probably aware of the benefits of listening to classical music while you’re anxious or need to concentrate. You might’ve even heard that some dairy farms play classical music to their cows to stimulate milk flow. But did you know horses also have a taste for music?
Studies have shown that horses like listening to classical and country music. Music can be a very effective tool for calming a horse down in stressful situations. It can also enrich their environment and make horses more docile and willing workers.
Researchers have found evidence that horses are happier overall with music playing in the barn than without. Therefore, we should all consider where music could fit into our horses’ day-to-day care. After all, by making them happier in their environment, horses will also be happier to be with us!
Does Music Affect Horse Behavior?
Over the past decade, scientists have conducted various studies on how music affects horse behavior. What they found is that music has both short and long-term benefits when it comes to the well-being and performance of horses.
Music has a considerable effect on horse behavior. When listening to music in their comfort hearing range, horses let go of their flight instincts and visibly relax. On the other hand, loud or electric music can agitate horses and cause distress.
Janet Marlow is a researcher and music composer who is well-known for understanding how animals react to music. She spent years collecting data on the hearing sensitivities of horses, dogs, cats, and birds. Marlow then successfully composed “species-specific” music to suit the need of each animal.
In Equine Wellness Magazine, she wrote the following about the benefits of playing music to horses: “Playing music helps balance equine behavior because it helps mask outside sounds and vibrations, such as tractor engines, high-pitched tools, thunder, and other intense sounds.”
However, Marlow wasn’t the only one who investigated what music sounds like to equine ears. In the following sections, we take a closer look at the existing research and the fascinating findings they brought to light.
Music Calms Horses During Traveling
Claire Neveux, a research engineer in equine welfare was looking for a new way to reduce acute (sudden onset) stress in horses. She was already aware that classical music reduces anxiety-related behaviors during chronic (long-term) stress.
And so, Neveux partnered with researchers from the University of Caen and the University of Strasbourg in France to investigate whether classical music has any benefits during acute stress. The team examined 48 horses from the French National stud in two separate groups.
The first group was trailered for around 21 minutes, while the second group had a farrier visit. Both groups were exposed to these stressors under three different conditions:
- Music playing through special in-ear headphones
- Music playing through earplugs
- No music
As for the tune, the scientists used Alan Silvestri’s track from Forrest Gump.
The findings suggested that music helped horses’ heart rates recover faster following stress in the trailer, but not during farriery work. The team put the results down to transport being more stressful for horses than a visit from the farrier.
Music Increased the Performance of Racehorses
According to a group of researchers from Poland, music can even increase the performance of racehorses! In their study, the team used seventy 3-year-old Arabian racehorses and divided them up into a test group of forty and a control group of thirty horses.
The test group listened to specially composed music for five hours every day. Meanwhile, the researchers monitored the horses’ heart rate during rest, tacking up, and warm-up. They also recorded each horse’s performance during a race and the number of wins.
The experiment ran for a total of three months. When comparing the test group to the control group, the researchers found music had positive effects in every activity. Believe it or not, horses that listened to music even won more races than those who did not!
Also read: Why Don’t We Eat Horse Meat? 4 Reasons Why
Older Horses Like Music Too
In 2019, Polish scientists ran a study to find out whether music reduces stress in older horses. They examined the heart rate and heart rate variability of twenty warmbloods aged 20 and older.
Similar to the previous study, the researchers formed a test group and a control group. They played the test group relaxing new age music for four weeks, while the control group received no music.
Interestingly, the benefits of music in this study were only temporary. While music did lower the heart rates of the test group during the first few weeks, the horses eventually got used to the music which no longer had an effect.
Here is a fun video of man playing the flute to his horse:
Should You Play Music to Your Horse?
You should consider playing music to your horse if they are particularly nervous or excitable. Music has proven benefits in calming horses down in stressful situations and helping them relax.
However, there are a few things to consider before you commit to introducing music to your horse. Simply turning the radio on isn’t going to do the trick. On the other hand, if you do things right, music will be a wonderful addition to your horse’s life.
Horses Have Good Hearing
Horses can hear just about as well as we can. Their frequency hearing range falls between 55Hz and 33,500Hz, whereas ours is 20Hz to 20,000Hz. However, horses can improve their hearing by turning their ears towards the source of a sound.
If you decide to try out music with your horse, keep the volume down. According to experts, horses enjoy music best at 21 decibels, which is barely louder than the rustling of leaves. Loud music will only make your horse more nervous and won’t achieve the desired effect.
Make sure the speakers or radio is well out of your horse’s reach. Horses are curious by nature and will investigate any new object that is placed in their environment.
The position of the speakers relative to your horse’s head is also important. For best results, place the sound source approximately level with your horse’s ears or slightly higher.
Time of Day
No matter how much a horse enjoys music, they will always require a period of peace and quiet. Ensure the radio is turned off at night and also schedule breaks during the day.
With that being said, there are certain times when you might want to consider having the music on overnight. If there is an upcoming thunderstorm, for example, music might help mask unnerving sounds and maintain order in the stable.
Also read: 4 Horse Personality Types & Traits Explained
The Benefits of Playing Music to Horses
As you already know, music is great for helping horses stay calm and can even increase performance. However, there are lots of other situations where you can use music to your advantage. Below is a summary of the main benefits playing music offers to you and your horse.
Just like in humans, music induces relaxation in horses. To help your horse loosen up, play his favorite tunes during a ride, in the barn, or during a grooming or massage session. Once your horse associates music with being relaxed, you can use it as a coping strategy in stressful situations.
An interesting study in 2017 compared the effects of massage and music on reducing stress levels in racehorses. In the study, 120 Arabian racehorses were divided into three groups.
The first group listened to new age guitar music in the barn for 5 hours a day. The second group received massages after exercise, while the third group had no special treatment.
After measuring the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the saliva of horses, the scientists came to the following conclusion. While massages were more effective at reducing stress, music helped horses relax more than nothing
Reducing Stress In New Environments
One of the best things about music is that it’s portable. Horses can enjoy it at the barn, on the go, and when staying somewhere new.
Once music becomes part of your horse’s daily life, he will also associate it with home. Traveling is often stressful for horses, especially if it involves staying at an unfamiliar place. Horses live in the here and now and have no way of knowing if they will ever return home.
Therefore, taking a piece of their home with you when traveling can make a huge difference to a nervous horse. Having a familiar tune playing in their new stable will give them a sense of security and reassurance.
Also read: Do Hairless Horses Exist?
Smoother Vet/Farrier/Dental visits
Are veterinary or farrier visits unnerving to your horse? You could try playing a relaxing tune to distract them from the procedure and cover the sounds of any equipment being used.
Some vets also use music to speed up the horse’s recovery after surgery.
Masking of Disturbing Noises
As mentioned above, music can be an effective tool in masking irritating sounds for horses. This tactic can work wonders with horses that live in stables and don’t have the option to flee from the upsetting noise.
Thunder, for example, can be as loud as 115 decibels and occurs at irregular intervals. Considering the hearing comfort range of horses and humans, which is 60 to 80 decibels, it’s no wonder a thunderstorm can be so stressful for horses. Playing music during a storm will likely have a calming effect in the barn.
“Sounds trigger both positive and negative behaviors in horses. An inability to flee the paddock during a loud thunderstorm can cause high agitation. A sudden jarring noise or shrill frequency can tense muscles, causing stress. Providing the best sonic environment for your horse can be as important as giving him the best veterinary care and diet. One tool you can use to balance his environment is music.”
Believe it or not, music also has a way of preventing stress-related illnesses in horses. It is a scientific fact that stress can trigger certain diseases in both animals and humans. Therefore, using the soothing qualities of music to decrease anxiety in horses should be a part of equine care.
Here is video of man playing the violin to horses:
What Type of Music Do Horses Like?
Horses like classical and country music with strong rhythmic patterns. Playing the right type of music during routine daily activities will have a positive effect on the horse’s overall mental health and well-being.
According to scientist and musician Janet Marlow, horses pay the most attention to the frequency and volume of a song. The style and singing have little importance to them as horses can’t analyze the words separately from other sounds.
Horses Dislike Rock and Jazz
If you feel inclined to play your favorite rock song to your horse, don’t! A study by Clare Carter and Linda Greening at Hartpury University found that rock and jazz agitate horses while classic and country music calms them down.
The scientists observed the behavior of 8 Thoroughbreds while the horses were listening to rock, jazz, country, and classical music. The first two genres noticeably increased stress levels in all horses, while the latter two had a calming effect.
Avoid the Radio
Since radio stations are unpredictable when it comes to music, their use should be kept to a minimum around horses. A 2008 study found that racehorses were particularly stressed out by talk radio stations as well as music radio.
The study looked at factors that contribute to the development of ulcers in racehorses, which is a sign of chronic stress. Alongside intense exercise, little turnout time, and early backing, the radio was one of the variables that caused significant stress to the horses.
More specifically, horses that listened to talk radio for over two hours a day were four times more likely to develop ulcers than horses that did not. Music radio also increased the prevalence of stomach ulcers two-fold.
As you can see, the radio is not the best instrument for playing calming music to your horse. Experts actually recommend playing songs on repeat, as horses don’t get bored of music like we do.
Using the data she collected over the years, Janet Marlow composed music that falls in the comfort hearing range of horses. She then started Pet Acoustics with the mission of delivering the right sonic environment to horses, cats, dogs, and birds.
Pet Acoustics developed a speaker system called Pet Tunes that comes with a range of songs composed specifically for horses. The product is Bluetooth® compatible and has a handy lanyard strap for portability.
According to Marlow, horses visibly release tension after just a few minutes of listening to Pet Tunes. In addition, you can download more equine-specific songs through the Pet Acoustics website. There’s also a Pet Tunes for birds, cats, and dogs.