Horses respond to music. Many yards have a radio playing continually during the daytime to entertain both grooms and stabled equines. When my horse was on box rest following an injury, I left a radio playing quietly to 'keep him company' during the times when he was on his own. I used to compete in dressage to music competitions too and the horse I had at the time was extremely sensitive to different types of music which sometimes made the compilation of suitable soundtracks a little challenging!
Music has been used for a long time as therapy for people and research has shown that different types of music influence the transmission of different nerve impulses in the brain causing changes in mood and affecting heart and respiration rates. There is evidence to suggest that the effect is similar in animals, including horses. Chickens played classical music reacted with fear whereas primates experienced lowered heart rates and increased social activity. Country music encouraged dairy cattle to enter an automatic milking parlour whilst experiencing an apparently calming effect.
Horses which were played country and western music spent more time eating during a stressful period but jazz seemed to decrease the desire to feed. Not surprisingly the quieter the music was played, the more relaxed the horses became. Research indicates that 21 decibels is the most suitable level of volume. This equates to the levels of sound you would expect to experience in a quiet living room. This preferred level is probably because horses have a much keener sense of hearing than we do. So, it would appear that horses react in a similar way us when listening to different types of music. Slow tempo pieces with unobtrusive vocals produce relaxation whereas lively, quicker tempo styles can cause excitement and even anxiety.
Research at the University of Queensland, New Zealand has shown that music may help to reduce the stress experienced during weaning. Their experiment used a dozen weanlings split into two groups. Both groups were turned out together at weekends then during the week one group remained turned out and the other group was stabled. Soothing music was played randomly until both groups had spent five days stabled with music and five days without.
The music selected for its constant rhythm and predictable melody was the main theme from the movie, Forest Gump and was played continuously from 9am until 3pm. The weanlings' heart rates and behaviour were recorded each day. Whilst the median heart rates themselves were unaffected by the music the variability of the heart rates was significantly reduced. The weanlings were more relaxed and spent more of their stabled time eating and chilling out while the music played.
The weanlings were exposed to stallions in a stable block nearby twice a week in order to provide an opportunity to evaluate the effect of music on the stress response. This showed that while the music played, the weanlings' peak heart rate was considerably lower and the duration of increased heart rate much shorter. Taken overall, the research team's findings indicated that soothing music did have a relaxing physiological and mental effect on the young horses studied.
You could carry out your own experiments on the yard with your horse. But I might stick with Faith Hill and steer clear of Green Day unless you fancy a lively ride!
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