healing effects of music

Whether you’re a country fan or a jazz buff, we all enjoy music of some type or another. It is essentially a universal language, transcending cultural and religious differences, but did you know that music affects horses too?

Nature is full of sounds that have similar qualities to music. Pitch, tone, frequency and volume, all important facets of music, surround your horse on a daily basis. Studies have shown that sound can have positive and negative effects on animals, and can trigger specific responses. So it follows that music can be one of the easiest and most useful tools for keeping horses calm and balanced.

Horses have a wider range of hearing than humans do, and can detect sounds that are much higher and lower than we can hear. This makes them more sensitive to their environment. Being unable to flee a paddock during a loud thunderstorm, for example, can be particularly agitating to a horse. A sudden jarring volume or high frequency can suddenly tense up a horse, causing physical stress and anxious behavior.

Even though horses can hear sounds we can’t, we still share the most closely related hearing ranges of any two species of mammal. Knowing we have this close connection with horses, we can ask ourselves questions like: “Would we want to hear music blaring from a radio 24/7?” Music is transmitted through the air by sound waves, so playing it constantly doesn’t allow for stillness.

It is best to teach your horse to associate music with calm energy, and to use it as a tool at certain times and for specific responses.

Music has been proven to enhance feelings of safety, balance and tranquility in both humans and horses. Many people play music in the barn. I have found through five years of research that to achieve repeatable results from the music/horse connection the music needed to be within the comfortable range of hearing for the horse. Eliminating high and low frequencies elicits calm and diminishes alert responses from the horse.

Music in the equine environment offers several advantages:
• Elicits relaxation by calming the frequency content of the air.

• Lowers stress levels in different scenarios, such as during thunderstorms, trailering, and massage and grooming sessions.

• Masks jarring sounds and noises outside, which trigger agitated behaviors.

Horses live by rhythm; their physical movements are in beats of two or three. According to my studies and observations, rhythmic patterns combined with short melodic phrases are best for creating relaxation in equines. In comparison, dogs and cats respond to meditative long phrases and compressed frequencies accommodated to their much wider ranges of hearing.

While visiting stables, riding, working with veterinarians and speaking with horse owners and breeders, I gathered the consensus that no matter what style of music was played, horses respond well to rhythmic patterns and short melodies for calm and rest. Talk radio is not as effective because human speech requires analytical interpretation and has little vibrancy to create relaxation in animals.

• Barn time: Play it at a moderate level, on a CD player or sound system. Position the speakers, CD player, or sound source at approximately ear level or slightly above your horse’s head so he can feel and hear the vibration of the music. Put the player on “repeat” so it will continuously play during this time. Keep it at a reasonable volume so that no jarring volumes jolt your horse’s resting state. If you do use a radio for music, make sure the tuner is directly on the station and not creating “white noise”, which is irritating to the horse’s ears.

• Farrier, dental and veterinary check-ups: Using soothing music to calm horses is a natural fit for these sessions and helps mask the frequencies and jarring sounds that come from tools and equipment.

• Massage sessions: If you have had a professional massage, you know that therapists often use background music. The frequencies, vibrations, melodies and rhythms fill the room and become part of a calming environment that is meant to relax you. Music can do the same for horses during a massage session.

• Grooming: Music provides a soothing atmosphere that promotes less movement.

• Post-surgery recuperation: Music is especially beneficial for horses recovering from surgery while in the stall. Those with horses who have had serious injuries report that it allows the animals to relax into a deeper state of rest during difficult stages of healing.

• Trailer transporting: Engine frequencies and vibrations are very potent to some horses’ ears. If we can help them relax just a little in the trailer it is certainly worth the effort.

• Masking thunderstorms: Thunder can reach volumes up to 110 or 115 decibels. The sound of thunder can be disturbing enough to people, so you can understand why a horse’s acute hearing – combined with his sensitivity to atmospheric changes – can trigger behaviors of anxiety and flight.

By understanding how your horse hears and experiences music, you can effectively use it to help him feel more at ease in whatever environment he or she is in. Who knows – he may even develop his own stylistic preferences!

Janet Marlow, M.A. Is well known from her frequent appearances On Animal Planet, support of rescue and adoption agencies and for her workshops on The Magic of Music for Pets. She is recognized by the Animal Behavior Society, MSPCA-Angell in Boston, and the Connecticut Horse Council. She is also a Consultant for New York Presbyterian Dog Therapy Program. In 2009, Barnes & Noble is publishing a book kit by Janet entitled Zen Dog: Music and Massage for a Stress Free Pet. She also developed a series of CDs to enhance states of well-being in animals, including Relaxation Music for Horses for Equine Well-Being. www.musicforpetsandpeople.com