Classical music has been shown by French researchers to reduce acute stress in domestic horses.
The study was carried out at the French National Stud at Haras du Pin and involved 48 saddle horses.
Claire Neveux, of equine behavior consulting firm Ethonova, outlined the findings of the research to delegates at the recent International Equitation Science Conference in Saumur, France. The study was conducted with the University of Strasbourg and the University of Caen.
Neveux said domestic horses were regularly subjected to stressful situations due to management practices, such as social isolation, transport, farriery, or exposure to new or sudden stimuli.
“Our goal was to develop a simple procedure that may reduce animal stress when subjected to such acute stressors,” she said.
Neveux and her colleagues assessed the effects of providing classical music to horses exposed in stressful situations.
She noted that classical music had been shown to relax various species. In horses, it had been shown to regulate heart rate and reduce stress-related behavioral reactions when played in the horse’s environment during long-term stressful situations.
The study team tested classical music’s effect when played with an in-ear device on the intensity of stress reaction when horses were exposed to two stressful situations – short-term transport (around 21 minutes) and farriery work. They used the original score composed by Alan Silvestri for the hit movie Forrest Gump. The in-ear device (headphone) was specially designed for horses by the company Horsecom.
The 48 horses were divided into two groups – one for transport and the other for hoofcare. The groups were exposed to the stressful element under three different conditions: with the music being played with the in-ear advice, with earplugs, and with neither in the “control” element.
Playing music with the in-ear device did not trigger any sign of discomfort or stress during the whole experiment, Neveux reported.
Transport was assessed in the study as being more stressful than farriery.
During transport, the classical music decreased several stress indicators, such as time holding the ears backward. It induced a faster post-stress heart-rate recovery, she reported.
During farriery, the effects on behavior were not significant but music appeared to hasten the post-stress heart-rate recovery.
“From a physiological and behavioral point of view, classical music appears to reduce the intensity of stress responses to these common management practices, which can have several applications,” she told delegates at the conference, organized by the International Society for Equitation Science.
“Less stressed horses are less likely to exhibit dangerous behaviors, such as fleeing or kicking, which reduces the risk for humans moving around them.
“Also, repeated acute stress can lead to chronic stress which is detrimental to horse welfare, becoming manifest as health and behavioral consequences.
“Reducing the impact of acute stress will also prevent the onset of chronic stress and contribute to this fundamental component of welfare that is the absence of fear and distress.”
The annual conference showcases key research centered on the science around horse training and performance.