I board in a barn where several people leave the lights on all night and play their radios all night very loud next to their stalls. They seem to think this is comforting to their horses but I have to believe this is disrupting to them. Can you please comment?
The answer is: it depends. Let’s talk about the light issue first. Some barns purposely use artificial lighting to bring mares into heat earlier in the year and to keep horses’ coats short. Basically it takes 16 hours of continuous light (any combination of incandescent, fluorescent or natural) followed by 8 hours of continuous dark to fool horses’ brains into thinking it’s summer, not winter. If your horse is at a barn that specifically uses light for either or both of these functions, they’re doing it right, and if he is close enough to the light source, he might be getting the “benefit” of an extended lighting regimen.
Another reason for keeping lights on at night is horse and human safety. Night lights at human entrances, bathrooms, etc. help people find their way in the dark, while large overhead lights on the outside of barns may deter criminals and trespassers. There is even some evidence suggesting total darkness in a horse barn should be avoided (Houpt). One concern with leaving lights on inside or near a barn after dark is that it attracts bugs in the warmer months. However, your biggest question is probably: will my horse get enough sleep if it’s never dark?
Fortunately, horses need way less deep sleep (REM) than us, only 30 to 60 minutes a day and probably not even every day at that. But they must lie down to experience REM sleep and for that, a horse must feel completely relaxed in his environment; that is, he must feel safe and comfortable. So he doesn’t necessarily need it to be dark (sometimes horses get their best sleep stretched out in the middle of a pasture on a bright, warm sunny day!), but he does need to perceive the immediate area as not dangerous.
Now to the radio question. Turns out it’s the same answer as the light question: it depends. I was able to find a study from 2008 by Lester et al that showed a link between playing of the radio and gastric ulcers in thoroughbred racehorses. Although talk had more of a negative effect, playing either music or talk radio increased the odds of moderate to severe ulcer disease by almost three times. In contrast, another study demonstrated that music had a modifying effect on stabled weanlings exposed to a stressor. It is important to note that the music selected in this study was considered relaxing because of its constant rhythm, continuity and predictable melody. A radio station—even one that plays music—would not provide continuous, soothing songs but be subject to talk, commercials and a wide variety of music styles. There are CDs that can be purchased that are specifically modulated to the hearing range of horses and recommended for use during stressful times such as veterinary work, hoof trimming, dental care, clipping, etc. While leaving the radio on may cover up noises that tend to excite horses, the “con” to this practice is that white noise may also mask sounds that horses want and need to hear, like cars driving up or people approaching.
As you can see there are a lot of different factors to consider and think about! I encourage you to check out the links below for even more information that can help you make your decision.
For more on sleep, sleep deprivation and narcolepsy, visit: