What happens when you play your horse music?
Christmas is almost here and everywhere you go you can hear festive songs playing. Shops and supermarkets play us Christmas music (starting in November!) with the aim of getting us to think about Christmas every time we go out, in the hope that, even if we didn’t come to shop for Christmas, we end up buying a gift anyway – sneaky! But a bi-product of this is that every time I go into a shop, I can’t help but bob along to the music, and then, when I leave, I’ve got the tunes stuck in my head! Music is such a big part of modern life and, even if you’re not a big music fan, you hear it everywhere – in the shops, on the radio and the TV, even just walking down the street. Lots of yards even have music playing in the barn as we muck out and go about doing everything us horsey people need to do in the day to keep our equine friends happy.
But I started thinking, do horses actually like music? We make them listen to it not only during rest, but, for dressage horses, we even get them to listen to it whilst they work. And I know I can’t be the only one who sings while I muck out, or even sometimes when I ride!
So I decided to do some digging into the subject, and found that, sadly, there is not much research regarding horses and music. One study I found, published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, looked at changes in horse behaviour whilst being played several different types of music – rock, country, classical, jazz - and no music. Horses were put into pairs stabled next to each other, and their behaviour was observed when their partner was taken away to a paddock out of sight.
No significant difference in behaviour between the music types was observed, however, the horses did spend more time eating when country music was being played and ate the least whilst jazz music was being played. Overall, the horses also neighed less when rock music or no music was played (which can be good or bad; but some scientists do suggest that rock music is the least liked by the horse!).
Another study, undertaken this year, and also published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, looked at whether music affects the emotional state of racehorses. Seventy three-year-old Arabian horses were split into two groups – the control group (30 horses) and the experimental group (40 horses). Each horse was studied over the course of a year and all were managed, fed and trained the same (within reason – obviously a bigger horse was fed more, however the actual feed was the same). The control group heard no music but the experimental group were subjected to five hours of music played in the barn each day. The music consisted of ten different pieces of movie-like music played on a guitar.
Each horse was raced at least once a month, and, interestingly, the results showed that music did have an effect on the horses. The group which listened to music every day had a lower heart rate during saddling, meaning that they were more relaxed. However, this only lasted for the first three months of the study; after that, heart rate returned to normal. But the group which listened to music every day also performed better during the race season than those that didn’t; showing that playing music to a racehorse (at least in the first three months) can improve their success!
So what does this tell us? Do horses like music?
Well first off we don’t know enough about the effects of music on horses, but the study above does seem to suggest that we can use it to increase our horses’ welfare and performance. So it’s definitely something worth researching and is also very interesting as music is something most horses come across. I for one am going to take it as an excuse to sing Christmas carols to the horses (although research into this style hasn’t been done!), and then, when Christmas is over, I’ll have to think of another genre! I think music is just something so obvious that we never really think about whether it affects our horses. I can’t say whether we should or shouldn’t be making them listen to it, but, at the end of the day, if you’re happy listening to music, it will rub off on your horse and make them happier too.
So, happy carolling and a Merry Christmas - and to those of you who don’t celebrate it, a Happy New Year!
Third year BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation student at Writtle College
Houpt, K., Marrow, M. and Seeliger, M. (2000) ‘A preliminary study of the effect of music on equine behaviour’, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 20(11) 691-737.
Stachurska, A., Janczarek, I., Wilk, I. and Kędzierski, W. (2015) ‘Does Music Influence Emotional State in Race Horses?’, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 35(8) 650-656.