Music has the power to evoke emotions and tell stories that words cannot. It can change the mood of a room, or even a whole city. It can inspire passion or fear, or rouse awe and wonder. It can also be a vehicle for social commentary and protest. It is no wonder that horses have been drawn to music for centuries.
In the wild, undomesticated horses had a vast auditory experience that included calls of other animals and plants, trickling water, wind through different types of trees, thunder and rain, bird songs, and more. They would have been very sensitive to the sounds of their environment, and hearing these different noises could have helped them locate food, avoid predators, or warn them of impending storms. Playing music for horses helps recreate the amount of auditory variety that their ancestors experienced in the wild.
British artist, producer and composer Matthew Herbert found a unique way to capture the musical sound of a horse with his project The Body of a Horse Called Music. Working with a full-size horse skeleton and an expansive cast of special collaborators, he explored the soundscapes of a creature that has so much to say to us. From a primordial flurry of flutes carved from thigh bones and bows made from horse hair to compositional suites that seem to reach for the stars, this is a remarkable work with an original voice.
The song’s few lyrics celebrate untamed horses, but the message could just as easily apply to women and relationships. The singer implores women to resist men who try to control their lives, and he consoles them that the challenges they are facing will soon pass.
An acoustic multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer Andrew Bird has become famous for his superior violin playing. However, he is also very adept at creating moody and ominous music with vocal timbres and cryptic, poetic lyrics. His song “Three White Horses” is a good example. The lyrics of this track are not easy to read or interpret, but they suggest that something bad is coming and that it will be very painful for the speaker.
A horsehead fiddle, known as a morin khuur, is one of Mongolia’s most revered musical instruments. It is played at festivals and on family occasions, and it is even used to help settle arguments. This particular recording, featuring a snarling jaguar call, will certainly elicit an alert expression from your horse, as well as possible apprehension and anxiety shown in the photo above.
When introducing new sounds and music to your horse, be sure to start off slowly. It is better to err on the side of a shorter session that your horse enjoys rather than a long time that may be stressful or upsetting. Horses generally get their deepest sleep at night, so it is best not to disturb them with loud or repetitive sounds in this crucial period of rest and recovery. As your horse gains experience with auditory enrichment, you can experiment with longer sessions.