Do soothing vocal cues enhance horses’ ability to learn a frightening task?

You would presume the answer is “yes” otherwise all riders have spent many hours making silly noises for no good reason.

However, according to research recently-published in The Journal of Equine Behaviour by a group of international behaviour specialists, it seems that horses don’t naturally differentiate between our soft voice tones and our angry ones.

Scientists from the United States, Italy and German, tested 107 horses across America and Europe on their ability to learn to walk over a piece of tarpaulin.

They discovered there was no difference between horses that were told “good horse” in a soft, soothing manner whenever they moved forward and those that were told to “quit it” in a loud, harsh tone.

Virtually the same percentage of both categories took longer than 10 minutes to complete the task and the heart rates of the horses were the same in both groups.

“The risk of failing the task was not different between treatments,” the study stated.

“Also, for those horses who did cross the tarpaulin, the total time to achieve the calmness criterion did not differ between treatments.

“There was no difference between the average heart rate of horses that crossed versus those that failed.

“In the context of this study, soothing vocal cues did not enhance a horse’s ability to perform a novel, potentially frightening task,” the study concluded.