Learn how music can benefit his well-being.
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 walking, trotting and running.
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 over the past ten years, I’ve observed that horses prefer being in a barn with music as opposed to one without. Playing music helps balance equine behavior because it helps mask outside sounds and vibrations, such as tractor engines, high-pitched tools, thunder, and other intense sounds.
I’ve discovered that horses respond best to music with short melodies and strong rhythmic patterns. If you’re looking for a style that fits this criteria, classical or country 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.
Over the past 15 years, starting with dogs and cats, and then horses, I have designed a principle called species-specific music. This is music placed in the “green zone” according to each animal’s hearing range. With digital abilities, a composer can analyze the exact placement of sound bytes.
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. Also, being a recording artist and having an understanding of how to modify music at my home studio, I developed a concept called species-specific music. This means composing music and modifying the tones and frequencies and placing them in the comfort hearing range of each animal according to the data research. Using this process and then testing it through clinical studies at veterinary hospitals, barns, shelters and pet homes, I was successful in creating just the right sonic environment for each animal and saw them calm and release anxious behaviors within just a few minutes of listening.
Species-specific “equine music”, which contains rhythms and melodies composed specifically for the listening comfort of horses, helps them relax in their stalls, stay calm during farrier sessions, and even 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. So paying attention to what your horse’s ears are particularly sensitive to, and how to appease any noise anxiety with music, should be a part of his care.
Variations on a theme
Music can be used to relax your horse in a wide variety of situations.
While riding – While you’re on the trail, it 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 a CD player or sound speaker 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 it.
During farrier, dental and veterinary visits – These are often not a horse’s favorite experiences, so play music to distract him and diminish anxiety. It 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, thanks to his acute hearing combined with his sensitivity to atmospheric changes.
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.
Psychoacoustics – the study of sound perception
Psychoacoustics describes psychological and physiological responses to sound. Horses associate music with comfort just as they do their owners’ voices. Talk radio is not as effective because human speech requires analytical interpretation and has little vibrancy to create relaxation in animals. As long as it 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 spatial-conceptual thinking, whereas the equine response to music is a physical evaluation. If the horse feels safe and connected, he will release high alert instincts and relax.
Observing your horse’s ears in response to sound is one of the most insightful key that trigger equine behaviors. Today, care-giving for our animals is evolving to better health and understanding. We are learning more and more how to balance their needs for well-being. The horse is our guide to new awareness. In conclusion, I’d like to share my philosophical view of the power of animals in our lives: “follow the trail of an animal into the human heart and you’ll find a better world!”
Janet Marlow, a composer, researcher, author, and founder and CEO of Pet Acoustics Inc., is internationally known for her breakthrough contribution to the understanding of animal hearing sensitivities and how sound and music affect the behavior of dogs, cats, horses and birds. Janet’s music for animals is based on species-specific frequency modifications designed for balance and wellness. Pet Acoustics Inc. products have been clinically proven and endorsed by veterinarians. petacoustics.com
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