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Study: Noise anxiety among horses

by Jil Wiedemann
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Horses hear almost twice as well as humans. No wonder they are very sensitive to loud noises. A study has now investigated how strongly horses actually react to noise.

As a prey species, horses have to react quickly to potential dangers, and loud noises can be perceived as such. Therefore, they can show several fear behaviours when loud events occur. For example, horses become anxious when it gets windier. This is because when it is windy, horses pick up even more sounds than usual and, due to strong winds, they cannot determine exactly where the sounds are coming from. Horses’ ears are almost twice as good as human ears. We humans can perceive up to 20,000 hertz, while horses can perceive sounds up to 33,500 hertz.

Fear behaviour manifests itself in sweating and trembling. Horses also like to try to escape. However, these can quickly lead to serious accidents for the horse and the rider or owner, explains researcher Maria Giorigia Riva. The scientist now wanted to find out with her team from the university how strongly horses actually react to noise. Online questionnaires were used to determine what horses are afraid of. The result shows: 22 percent, i.e. more than one in five horses, show conspicuous behaviour when exposed to noise.

The reactions to the noise were very diverse. Many horses ran back and forth along the paddock fence when there was noise. Heavy sweating was also frequently reported. But reactions such as loss of appetite, diarrhoea, breaking out, weaving, bucking, trembling or neighing were also triggered by noise.

Horses still suffer after the noise

The researchers were able to divide the horses into two groups: very anxious horses and only slightly anxious horses. The difference between these groups was clearly in the duration of the fear. 80 percent of the slightly fearful horses reacted fearfully only during the noise. For the very fearful horses, it was only 49 percent. However, these horses still suffered after the noise. 35 percent up to two hours afterwards and 14 percent partly until the next day.

This result shows that “they do not get used to the noise”, according to the study. “Our results confirmed that noise anxiety is a behavioural problem that can lead to consequences for the welfare of horses,” the researchers: inside summarise, suggesting that especially those whose horses have severe problems with noise should consider “new management strategies, including the use of medications.” In this way, horses can be helped to cope better with stress.

Source: MDPI

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