Music for Horses

The Benefits of Music for Equine Well-Being

By Janet Marlow, Sound Behaviorist and Founder of Pet Acoustics Inc.

The horse is one of nature’s musicians. We see equines move to music during dressage routines, and as dance partners in inter-species choreography. As riders, we partner with them in tempos of two and three beats while a walk, canter and gallop.

Sound sensitivity

Horses and humans share the most closely related hearing ranges of any other mammals on the planet. The human frequency hearing range is 20Hz to 20,000Hz -- the frequency hearing range of a horse is 55Hz to 33,500Hz. A whisper in his ear, or a personalized whistle from the barn to come in from the field, represent a significant aspect of how we connect to and bond with our horses through sound.

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.

Do horses like listening to music?

Music is a language that involves pitch, tone, frequency and volume. These elements of sound are what horses and other animals use to communicate with; they also help animals assess their environments for survival purposes. In my clinical research, I’ve observed that horses prefer being in a barn with music as opposed to being there with no music. Playing music helps balance equine behavior because it helps mask outside sounds and vibrations, such as tractor engines, high-pitched tools, thunder, and other non-nature sounds.

I’ve discovered that horses respond best to music with short melodies and strong rhythmic patterns. If you're looking for a style of music that fits this criteria, classical or country music played at a low volume will have a positive effect and help calm horses while they’re resting, eating and being groomed in the barn. It’s not so much the style of music, but its frequency and volume that are most important. However, as a leader in the field of equine music for behavioral balance we want you to consider Pet Acoustics. A two year study of the music with 40 horses has been published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science is available with a request to hello@petacoustics.com

Over the past 25 years, starting with dogs and cats, and then horses, I developed a sonic design called species-specific music that provides repeatable and measurable results of calm and balance behavior in animals. For three years, I researched Animal Behavior Studies at Universities around the world collecting data on the frequency hearing ranges of dogs, cats and horses. As a recording artist and having an understanding of how to modify music in my recording studio, over time developed species -specific music. This means composing music and modifying the decibel and frequency levels of each note according to the comfort hearing range of a specific animal. Using this process and then testing the music through clinical studies at veterinarian hospitals, barns, shelters and pet homes, the music elicited a release of physical tensions and stress behaviors.

Species-specific “equine music”, which contains rhythms and melodies composed specifically for their listening comfort, helps them relax in their stalls, stay calm during farrier sessions, and recuperate faster from surgeries. Music is a profound environment for sensitive equine ears!

Behavioral scientists have correlated stress to illness in animals, as well as in people. And music is as soothing to animals as it is for humans. Paying attention to what your horse’s ears are saying and how to appease noise-anxiety should be a part of his care.

Psychoacoustics – the study of sound perception

Psychoacoustics describes psychological and physiological responses to sound. Horses can associate the trigger of comforting music. Talk radio is not as effective because human speech requires analytical interpretation and has little vibrancy to create relaxation in animals. As long as the music is pleasing and calming to your horse, you can play it for ten years and he will not get bored. Humans need variety because we evaluate music through subjective thinking, whereas the equine response to music is an immediate physical evaluation. If the horse feels safe and connected, he will release high alert instincts and feel calmed.

Observing your horse’s ears in response to sound is one of the most insightful key that trigger equine behaviors. Today, caregiving to our animals is evolving to better health and understanding. We are learning more and more how to balance their needs for well-being and sound as a trigger for behavior is an important tool and understanding for their best life!

Purposeful scenarios using Pet Acoustics equine music

While riding – Playing music while you’re on the trail adds an entertaining dimension to riding for you and your horse. However, for safety’ make sure the volume level doesn’t overwhelm your ability to hear what’s going on around you.

In the barn -- Play the music at a moderate level on your sound system. Horses don’t need loud music to experience the sound waves. Position the sound source at approximately ear level or slightly above your horse’s head so he can both feel and hear the music.

During farrier, dental and veterinary visits – These are often not a horse’s favorite experiences, so play music to distract him and diminish anxiety. Music also helps mask sounds from any medical equipment being used.

For massage and grooming -- Horses love to be massaged. Use music to bring your horse into a deeper state of relaxation.

During post-surgery recuperation -- Music is especially beneficial for horses on stall rest while recovering from surgery. It will allow for deeper muscle relaxation during difficult stages of healing.

For trailer transport -- Engine frequencies and vibrations are very potent to equine ears. Music can help him feel a little less anxious, especially when he’s being backed into the trailer.

Masking thunderstorms -- Thunder can reach volumes up to 115 decibels. The horse and human hearing comfort range is 60 to 80 decibels. If thunder is disturbing to you, you’ll understand why it can trigger behaviors of anxiety and flight in your horse.

For therapeutic riding -- Blood pressure studies that compared the cortisol levels of riding horses, racehorses and therapy horses revealed that the latter have the highest levels, which means they have the highest levels of stress. The ability of therapy horses to restrain their behaviors during student/instructor/horse sessions is a remarkable empathic trait, but also physically distressing. Playing calming music during student/horse sessions can make the experience more entertaining while helping the horse feel calmer.

Janet Marlow, a composer, researcher, author, and founder and the global company Pet Acoustics Inc., Marlow is internationally known for her breakthrough contribution to the understanding of animal hearing and how sound and music affect their behavior. Pet Acoustics Inc. award-winning products have been clinically proven and endorsed by veterinarians helping thousands of pets and pet owners worldwide. Entrepreneur Magazine named Pet Acoustics one of the “top 100 companies for brilliant ideas”. To learn more please visit www.petacoustics.com

JANET MARLOWComment