Stress in horses during transport: Beethoven might bring the solution

People prefer to work in the stables with the radio playing as loudly as possible. Because, let’s face it, mucking out the stables goes much better with your favourite song playing in the background. But what do your horses think about this?

“There has not yet been much research into the influence of music on horse behaviour,” says an equine behavioural therapist. “The main reason for this is that horses are simply too expensive to really experiment with,” she laughs. “The studies that have been carried out do not yet provide sufficient results to draw extensive conclusions. However, a few results have emerged that are worth discussing.

In 2013, the University of Hartpury conducted a study on the state of mind of horses when listening to different genres. The horses were divided into five groups: each of the groups was exposed to a different genre of music (jazz, rock, country, classical and the last group heard nothing). The horses’ behaviour was analysed as long as they were listening to the music. The horses that did not hear music, classical or country, did not behave very differently from normal. The horses that listened to jazz and rock were more alert than normal. So rock and jazz do not seem to be recommended if you want to bring ‘peace’ to your stable.

In 2016, French researchers from the University of Caen studied how the mood of horses exposed to classical music changed. Classical music was played while the horses were being treated by a farrier. The horses were also exposed to classical music during transport. Not much difference was noticed at the farrier’s, but in the trailer there was a difference. Horses that were played classical music in the trailer showed significantly less stress and seemed more at ease.

That classical music has a reassuring effect on horses was also demonstrated in a Polish study conducted in 2019. These researchers also concluded that horses that are exposed to more classical music seem to be more at ease.

“An important note here, however, is that horses also get used to this classical music,” they say. “So music cannot be used as a solution against stress. Just like people, the horses will get used to classical music. So there is no point in playing classical music in the stable all day However, in the short term it can have a positive effect,” says the therapist.

This is also confirmed by another Polish study from 2015. This tested whether racehorses performed better when exposed to music. Although there was only a small difference, the group of horses exposed to music turned out to perform better. This was not a lasting effect: habituation occurred so that the performance of both groups of horses was soon similar again.

“Music can be used to temporarily reduce the stress of your horse, but it does not offer a permanent solution. When your horse experiences stress, it is important to look for the underlying problem”, concludes the therapist.