Guest Blog: Design for Your Horses’ Sense of Hearing

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 this website 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:
    • Rubber flooring or mats.  Rubber is good at dampening sound.
    • Sound baffles.  These come in many different materials, including wood.
    • 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 E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB is a principal at Animal Arts, an architectural firm that has exclusively designed animal care facilities since 1979.  Heather’s primary area of expertise is the design and management of equine and large animal projects.  She is also highly experienced in the streamlined management of animal shelter projects.  Heather was the Project Manager for the country’s first LEED Platinum animal shelter designed for the City and County of Denver.  Heather speaks regularly about the design of large animal facilities at such conferences as the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference for the Central Veterinary Conference and the American Association of Equine Practitioners Annual Conference.


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