Equine Earphones Could Help Horses Relax

Equine Earphones Could Help Horses Relax

From a practical point of view, headphones can offer rider and handlers a supplemental tool in the individual management of the stress of their horses, Neveux said.

Photo: Courtesy Horsecom

Time to trailer out to a horse show? Try a little bit of Bach. Need your steed to relax for a new set of shoes? How about someTim McGraw?

Researchers know that horses benefit from certain kinds of music—classical and country, for example—in stressful situations; these sounds tend to lower their stress parameters. But that research has now led to a new high-tech innovation for equine welfare: earphones.

Controlled by Bluetooth technology, the custom-designed apparatus offers riders and handlers a way to put a little melody into their horses’ stressful experiences.

“By putting the music into specially adapted earphones for horses, we can individualize the music that each horse is hearing for each situation, knowing that every horse is a unique individual with his own ‘preferences,’” said Claire Neveux, MSc, researcher and equine behavior consultant with Ethonova, in Normandy, France.

Neveux and her colleagues from the University of Caen and the University of Strasbourg, both in France, recently tested the stress-minimizing effects of the newly developed equine earphones (by Horsecom) in two situations: trailering and during farriery work. They presented their results at the 42nd French Equine Research Day held March 17 in Paris.

The scientists fitted 48 sport horses from the French National Stud at Le Pin with classical-music-emitting earphones and with earplugs on separate occasions. As a control, the horses were also tested in the stressful situations without either apparatus.

Half the horses traveled in a trailer in pairs for 20 minutes. Each horse took the journey three times, once for each of the three testing treatments.

The other half of the horses received farrier work, always in the presence of a second horse so as to avoid social isolation, Neveux said. Each horse received three rounds of farriery work, to test the three kinds of experimental treatments.

While the horses were stressed during both travel and farriery work regardless of treatment, they showed fewer signs of stress during trailering when they listened to music on their earphones, compared to having earplugs or nothing at all, Neveux said. Mainly, this involved holding their ears more forward and their heads more upright, without muscular tension—a state of calm alertness, she said.

In both the travel and farriery situations, the horses tended to recover from the stress faster if they listened to classical music through their headphones.

Photo: Courtesy Horsecom

In both the travel and farriery situations, the horses tended to recover from the stress faster if they listened to classical music through their headphones, Neveux said. While certain stress parameters, such as increased heart rate, were similar among all treatments, when the horses listened to the music, those stress parameters returned to normal levels much more quickly once the stressful situation ended.

“From a practical point of view, this apparatus can offer rider and handlers a supplemental tool in the individual management of the stress of their horses, while improving the welfare and security of both the horses and the humans involved,” Neveux said.

“However, the use of such a device must be reasonable and methodical, with initial tests for each horse in nonstressful situations,” she added. “Each rider or handler must monitor his or her horse for any unusual reactions.”

Ludovic Dickel, PhD, of the University of Caen, and Mathilde Valenchon, PhD, and Odile Petit, PhD, of the University of Strasbourg, contributed to this research.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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