In addition to being cautioned to move slowly around horses, many new riders are also instructed to speak in a soothing tone, in the belief that it can effect calmness in the animal. A recent study investigated whether such advice had a beneficial impact on the horse.
According to Katrina Merkies, PhD, “Anecdotally, we know that horses respond better to calm and soothing tones, so our hypothesis is that speaking in a calm and pleasant voice will inspire calm behavior in a horse.”
Merkies and colleagues used eight draft horses to discover whether emotional tone and pitch of voice did have any effect on horses.
After establishing baselines, a familiar human approached the pen, and one of four recorded voices was played for 10 seconds: a pleasant voice low tone (PL); a pleasant voice high tone (PH); a stern voice low tone (SL); and a stern voice high tone (SH). Researchers found that the horses all elevated their heads in the presence of a human or sound. The playing of a pleasant tone resulted in the horses positioning their bodies toward the human. While there was no treatment effect on ear position, the horses did orientate their ears more toward the sound if the human was present.
Horse heart rate did not increase solely in the presence of the human, but it did increase coupled with sound, with SL in particular resulting in the greatest effect. Results would indicate that fewer signs of behavioral distress are observed when a human speaks to the horse in a pleasant, low tone vs. a stern tone.
“We’ve shown that horses do in fact display different physiological and behavioral responses to different tones and