Classical music is well known to sooth the minds and bodies of stressed humans – but research shows it could also have a relaxing effect on horses.
French researcher Claire Neveux was asked by the founder of HorseCom, a start-up company set up to develop headphones for horses, to conduct the study.
She worked with the University of Strasbourg and GMPc-University of Caen on the project.
The aim was to find out the effect of classical music on the stress levels of horses in different situations.
Funding was provided by HorseCom and the Institut Francais du Cheval et de l’Equitation, which is a public organisation.
The classical music theme from Forrest Gump by Alan Sylvestri was played to 48 horses at the French National Stud.
The music, chosen for its repeatability, was played through HorseCom’s in-ear music diffusion system.
Horses were divided into two equal groups for the test.
One group was played the music for 45 minutes while being shod. The other listened to the theme while travelling on a 21km journey.
“During transport, the diffusion of classical music decreased several stress indicators and induced a faster post-stress heart rate recovery,” said Miss Neveux, who owns a research company called Ethonova.
The effects of the music on the horses’ behaviour with the farrier were “not significant, but music showed a trend to accelerate the post-stress heart rate recovery.”
The volume of the music was tested before being played to the horses and they showed no signs of discomfort or stress with the in-ear device.
The research showed that, from a physiological and behavioural view, classical music “appears to reduce the intensity of stress responses to these common management practices”.
Less stressed horses are less likely to exhibit dangerous behaviour such as kicking, Miss Neveux said.
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Repeated acute stress “can lead to chronic stress, which is detrimental to horse welfare” she warned.
The results of the study were presented to the International Society for Equitation Science in June and are being reproduced in a scientific journal later this year.
Further studies are planned next year testing horses in different types of stress situations using a variety of music.