The next time your horse shows signs of anxiety, you may want to turn on some Beethoven. At least that’s the implication of a study conducted at the French National Stud at Haras Du Pin.
As much as we love our horses, we often put them in situations that simply aren’t natural and that can cause them anxiety—from trailering to taking them out of a herd setting, from farrier work to exposing them to unexpected stimuli. And tension can lead not only to dangerous behaviors but also to chronic stress, which itself can create health and behavior problems.
Claire Neveaux, of equine-behavior consulting firm Ethonova, teamed with researchers from the University of Strasbourg and the University of Caen to see if they could identify a simple way to reduce these types of stresses.
Neveaux knew that classical music had proven to create relaxation in other species. And in horses, it had already been shown to regulate heart rate and reduce anxiety-related behaviors during long-term stressful situations. She and the team wondered if it might work for acute (sudden, relatively short-term) stress conditions as well.
The researchers selected 48 horses and separated them into two test groups. One group was trailered for about 21 minutes, while the other underwent farrier work. Each horse was exposed to the stressor under three conditions: with music played through specially designed in-ear headphones, with earplugs and with neither (the control group). During the music test, researchers played Alan Silvestri’s score from the movie “Forrest Gump.”
The team found that classical music decreased several stress indicators during transport, but had no significant affect during farrier work. (The researchers believe that transport is generally more stressful than farrier work.) The music also appeared to speed heart-rate recovery after both situations.
In short, says Neveaux, the study confirmed that playing classical music can be a simple way to reduce a horse’s stress and contribute to his overall welfare.