Spooky Sounds and How to Reduce Them

Spooky Sounds & How to Reduce Them

Why do horses spook?

Often a horse's natural reaction to something that it doesn't understand is to spook or shy. A spook is usually a startled jump sideways, or a quick change of direction with the intention to flee. In the wild, this quick reaction is a response that would allow a horse to flee a predator very quickly.

What makes horses spook?

Anything and everything! Even their own shadow can make them spook. It completely depends on the horse.

What time of year are horses most spooky?

It’s generally accepted that horses are spookier in the autumn and winter. When they’ve had the sun on their backs and suddenly the weather changes, they have a certain edge to them which hasn’t been there all summer.

The windy days of autumn seem to equate to danger with unusual movements and sudden sounds that could be from a predator who wants to eat them, or it could be from another creature running from a predator. Therefore, they are more anxious and alert and liable to spook. 

What can I do to reduce the loudness of the noise?

It's almost impossible to avoid every spook but there are some measures that you can take to reduce the number of times your horse spooks at loud or sudden noises or how badly he reacts to these.

 

Ear Plugs

Whilst it’s not as if your horse is likely to be snuggled up in a stable with a snoring companion or spending time at a loud rock concert, horse ear plugs definitely have a use, especially for a spooky horse who doesn’t like loud or sudden noises. Even heavy rain on the roof of the indoor school or the bigger competitions where the noise is much louder, can cause an extreme and unpredictable reaction. Ear plugs can muffle the noise and keep your horse from his natural “flight” instinct. 

Busse Pomms Ear Plugs

Busse Ear Plugs

PROs

  • Foam construction - they expand or contract to fit their particular slot, meaning they can be used in a variety of different sized ears.
  • Competition compliant – there’s no dilemma about whether this is competition compliant as they can be used freely at affiliated and unaffiliated competitions.
  • Storage – they come with their own storage, so you won’t have to worry about losing these in the bottom of the tack box as they are supplied with a handy plastic tube to keep them safe.
  • Light and unobtrusive – these little plugs are barely visible, so only you would know your horse is wearing them. They are also so light that your horse will barely know either!

CONS

  • Easily lost – they are relatively easy to lose as they’re not attached to anything. If your horse shakes his head too vigorously, they can drop out.

 

Supreme Products Ear PlugsSupreme Ear Plugs

PROs

  • Made of fleece – they can be washed regularly.
  • Competition compliant – there’s no dilemma about whether this is competition compliant as they can be used freely at affiliated and unaffiliated competitions.
  • Available in different colours – means that you can select the colour that’s moist suitable for your horse.
  • Discreet – unobtrusive and small earplugs that will gently mould to the inside of your horse’s ears.
  • Inexpensive - if lost, they’re relatively cheap to replace.

CONs

  • Easily lost – these ear plugs too can be easily lost but probably won’t roll away in the same way as the round foam ones will!

 

Ear Bonnets

Ear bonnets are a great way to improve your horse’s concentration and focused on the job at hand. Whether you’re schooling at home, or at a competition, these are able to soften sounds and help improve performance.

HKM Ear Bonnet

HKM Ear Bonnet

PROs

  • Competition compliant – there’s no dilemma about whether this is competition compliant as they can be used freely at affiliated and unaffiliated competitions
  • Colour range – a colour to suit every colour scheme going!
  • Dual purpose – an ear bonnet can also be used to keep the flies out of the horse’s ears in the summer
  • Inexpensive – affordable for most budgets.

CONs

  • Quality – This is an entry level ear bonnet and might not be considered smart enough for competing at the higher levels.

 

LeMieux Acoustic Ear Bonnet

LeMieux Acoustic Ear Bonnet

PROs

  • Noise reduction design – the first dedicated acoustic equine ear bonnet specifically designed to dampen sound
  • Competition compliant – British Dressage compliant in accordance with rule no. 86.
  • Quality – most certainly smart enough for competing at all higher levels
  • Size range - available in cob, full and extra full
  • Dual purpose – an ear bonnet can also be used to keep the flies out of the horse’s ears in the summer

CONs

  • Colour range – very limited but new colours are being added to the range regularly.

 

Supplements

Another option is to feed a supplement that helps with spookiness. These are called Calming and Behaviour Supplements (calmers) and are fed to horses to calm and relax them before they’re ridden. 

Lincoln herbs calmness

But do horse calmers really work? The short answer is yes.

There's not an enormous amount of research into the subject of horse calmers. However, the studies that have been conducted indicate that calming supplements do have a beneficial effect on horse’s temperaments.

Calming supplements can feature a variety of ingredients but many include magnesium. Magnesium reduces the release of the brain hormone dopamine, which is linked to hyperactivity. 

The range is vast. So what should you look out for?

Supplements that contain magnesium: In 2007 Myerscough College conducted research into magnesium and calming supplements by studying their effects on police horses. These horses often face extremely stressful situations including heavy traffic and unruly crowds but it is vital that they remain calm. The study looked at two groups of horses. One group received an active supplement, the other group received a placebo. Researchers monitored the horses' heart rates while exposing them to stress. It was clear that the group receiving the calming supplements containing magnesium had lower heart rates under stress than those receiving the placebo.

Supplements that contain Valerian: Valerian features in many natural remedies for humans. This is a medicinal herb often used in products formulated to address sleeping disorders and anxiety. Valerian appears to act as a sedative but there is limited scientific research into this herb.

If you are using a horse calming supplement during a show or competition, read the ingredients of your supplement and make sure they are approved by your organisation, as many equine organisations have prohibited common ingredients found in calming supplements.

PROs

  • Range – huge range to choose from with a wide variety of ingredients
  • Different types of application – available in the form of a powder, paste or liquid

CONs

  • Ingested – once they’ve been ingested, you must wait until it wears off
  • Competition non-compliant – some preparations are not competition compliant. Check well before the event and switch to an alternative noise reduction method.  

 

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    Author

    Kim Horton

    Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.

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