Researchers from Poland[i] set out to determine the effect of music played in the barn, on the emotional state of race horses. Many horse owners have found that music has an apparent calming effect on fear, aggression, and overall stress. Race horses, in particular, have demands of increased cardiac activity and speed that may be improved through music exposure.
Forty 3-year-old Arabian horses were placed in a barn where they listened to specifically composed music[ii] for five hours each day. Their emotional state was assessed by measuring heart rates at rest, saddling, and warm-up walking. Racing performance and number of wins were also recorded. At the end of each month, for three months, data were compared to a control group of horses subjected to the same activity, without having listened to music.
Results: The music positively impacted the emotional state and performance of treated horses, compared to the control group. What was so remarkable was that the effect was noticeable throughout every activity, even during the heightened excitement of being ridden at a gallop.
Even more noteworthy was the positive influence the music had after the second and third months, improving with each subsequent month, exhibited by the number of races won. Beyond three months, however, the impact leveled off, presumably because the horses became accustomed to the music.
Implications for your horses
Horses are individuals and respond to stress in a variety of ways. This study offers one approach toward helping your horse calm down and better respond to performance demands. But all horses, not just athletes, can benefit from a relaxed, stress-free environment.
Increased amount of stall confinement, often seen with the onset of winter weather, can agitate many horses. Soft music, such as was used in this study (see endnote for more information), can be a useful tool in helping your horse cope with being indoors, as well as veterinary and farrier visits, travel, and other stressors.
[i] Stachurska, A., Janczarek, I., Wilk, I., and Kedzierski, W., 2015. Does music influence emotional state in race horses? Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 35(5), 650-656.
[ii] Composed by Janet Marlow of Pet Acoustics, a specialist in music for animals. Her CD, "Relaxation Music for Horses" can be purchased at Dr. Getty's Free Shipping Store