Music and massage the perfect remedy for the stresses of race training, study suggests

Easy-listening New Age stable music and relaxing daily equine massages are excellent antidotes to the pressures and strains of racehorse training, a study in Poland has shown.

Scientists from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin used 60 healthy purebred Arabian racehorses in their research, centred on Służewiec racecourse in Warsaw.

Witold Kędzierski, Iwona Janczarek, Anna Stachurska and Izabela Wilk set about comparing the effects of massages and easy-listening music on stress levels in the horses.

Racehorses, they noted, can come under stress from unfamiliar environments, transport, training routines and the challenges of stable living.

The study team said relaxing music and relaxing massage had been shown in previous research to calm horses, but it was less clear how much was needed for the desired result.

The 60 stabled three-year-old animals used in the study were divided into four experimental groups of 12 horses each, as well as a control group, for the six-month racing season. They were stabled across four buildings and were managed comparably.

The experimental groups were treated with various mixes of New Age music and massage. Different groups were exposed to the music at a sound level of 65 to 70 decibels for either one hour a day or three hours a day, always after their training sessions.

Two massage protocols were used across the different groups: they either received daily massages or only on the day before their races, which was every three weeks or so.

The same two masseurs were used throughout the study, both with the same horse physiotherapy qualifications. The 25 to 30-minute massages, designed to be relaxing rather than therapeutic, were given after the horses’ training sessions.

The study team checked heart rate and heart-rate variability, as well as salivary cortisol levels – an indicator of stress – before and after training sessions.

The measurements were taken three times during the study. The first was at the start of the season, before the horses had been exposed to the music or received any massages. They were taken again mid-season and just before the end of the season.

The researchers also examined the horses’ racing performances, relating their results back to their massage and musical exposure.

“The most positive changes in the parameters under study were found in horses massaged every day, which shows that relaxing massages are beneficial for horses’ welfare and performance,” Kędzierski and his colleagues reported in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.

The massages given only once every three weeks or so (the day before racing) also provided some positive effects.

The findings showed that playing relaxing music for three hours a day had a more positive effect on the horses’ emotional state than for one hour.

A comparison of race performance showed that horses massaged every day achieved the best race results, whereas listening to music one hour a day had no significant effect on a horse’s race performance.

“The practical goal of the study,” they said, “was to find the most optimal frequency of massages and how many hours of music are the most effective.

“The results indicate that horses which had a relaxing massage every day were much more relaxed than those in other groups.

“The results . . . indicate that having a relaxing massage every day is much more beneficial for the horse’s emotional excitability than a massage only given a day preceding the start in an official race, i.e. about once every three to four weeks.”

It seemed that the more often a relaxing massage was given, the better the results, they said.

The study was supported by a grant from Poland’s National Centre for Research and Development.

Comparison of effects of different relaxing massage frequencies and different music hours on reducing stress level in race horses
Witold Kędzierski, Iwona Janczarek, Anna Stachurska, Izabela Wilk.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jevs.2017.02.004

The abstract can be read here

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