Design for Your Horses’ Sense of Hearing

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Credit: Courtesy Heather Lewis

Credit: Courtesy Heather Lewis

The way your horse hears is different from the way you hear.Knowing what and how horses hear will help you design more comfortable and enjoyable spaces for your equine companions.

Horses' hearing is tuned to the upper frequencies.A human typically hears sounds between 20Hz and 20kHz, while a horse hears sounds between 55Hz and 33.5kHz.Therefore, your horse can pick up on sounds that you aren't aware of, such as the rustling of grass.

In a building, high-frequency noises emanate from electronic equipment and light fixtures.Using fluorescent fixtures with electronic ballasts rather than electromagnetic ballasts will reduce high-frequency buzzing noises.While we don't know for sure that horses are bothered by this sort of noise, we know that they enjoy environments that are more natural.

Horses can become acclimated to all sorts of noise, including loud and percussive sounds, which is why they can be used in military and police work.However, because horses are prey animals, they are frightened by noises that are surprising or unknown.Horses are particularly alarmed by noises that are accompanied by unusual visual stimuli or ground vibration, which they pick up in their hooves.Traveling to a horse show can be a very stressful experience for a horse, in part because of the cacophony of sounds.

Here are some ideas for creating more peaceful auditory surroundings:

  • Reduce chaos by carefully segregating vehicular and equine traffic flow.
  • Consider designing barns with more mass in the walls to isolate interior environments from noise that occurs outside.For example, the medical barn stalls at Woodside Equine Clinic are constructed of tilt-up concrete walls that are finished on the inside and outside.The effect is a peaceful place for recovering equine patients.If you are planning to build a wood-framed barn, then adding insulation can help.
  • Move air with the quietest fans that you can purchase.High-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans are often used in agricultural and equine environments.They move a lot of air very quietly.See the website for Big Ass Fans for more information.
  • In equine treatment, work, and tacking spaces that are constructed of all hard surfaces, you will need some sort of sound dampening material to reduce unwanted reverberation.Examples include:

o Rubber flooring or mats.Rubber is good at dampening sound.

o Sound baffles.These come in many different materials, including wood.

o Acoustical ceiling treatments.These can be carefully selected to be cleanable and appropriate for use in equine environments.

Once you have done as much as you can with your buildings, install a background noise system that masks other sounds.Examples could include a water fountain or soft music.Because horses aren't very skilled at localizing sounds, overlaying a pleasant masking sound can help to reduce the perceived effect of distant noises.

Take time to consider your horses’ sense of hearing and reduce and eliminate unnecessary noise.Your horses will appreciate the effort!

Heather joined Animal Arts in August 2000 and has been a principal in the firm since 2004. Her primary area of expertise is the design and management of equine and large animal projects.Examples of Heather’s equine and large animal work include master planning for Woodside Equine Clinic in Ashland, Virginia, the repurposing of existing buildings for equine hospitals in Kamuela, Hawaii and Murrysville, Pennsylvania, and freestanding equine facilities such as Evergreen Equine in Reading, Vermont.Heather has worked on the design of two significant equine facilities in Australia, including the Equine Health Centre for the University of Adelaide, Roseworthy Campus in Roseworthy, South Australia.Heather recently completed work on the renovation of the equine adoption center for the Harmony Equine Center for the Dumb Friends League in Franktown, Colorado.