Night Lights and Music in the Barn
Updated December 9, 2022
Having music playing might be something you enjoy listening to while picking stalls or find relaxing during your ride. You might also find it helpful to have the barn already lit up when you walk in for night check. But when the music and lights are left on every day and night, we must ask, are these disruptive or comforting to horses?
Why Barns Leave the Lights On
Some barns purposely use artificial lighting to bring mares into heat earlier in the year or to keep horses’ coats short. 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 functions, they’re doing it right. And if your horse is close enough to that light source, she might be getting an extended lighting regimen “benefit.”
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
One concern with leaving lights on inside or near a barn after dark is that it attracts bugs in the warmer months. However, the biggest question is probably: will my horse get enough sleep if it’s never dark?
Your Horse’s Sleep Cycle
Horses need 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. He needs to perceive his immediate area as not dangerous. 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!
How Music Effects Horses
A study from 2008 by Lester et al
 showed that there is a link between playing the radio and gastric ulcers in thoroughbred racehorses. Although talking 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 recordings, videos, and CDs that can be found online or purchased that are specifically modulated to the hearing range of horses. These sounds are recommended for use during stressful times such as veterinary work, hoof trimming, dental care, clipping, etc. Buying or creating your own playlist of classical music or soothing nature sounds might be an option for a particularly nervous or hot horse.
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.
Click on the link to learn more about sleep, sleep deprivation, and narcolepsy in horses.
- Houpt KA, Houpt TR. Social and Illumination Preferences of Mares. Journal of Animal Science;1988, 66:2159-2164.
- Lester GD, Robinson I, Secombe C. Risk Factors for Gastric Ulceration in Thoroughbred Racehorses. Canberra: Australian Government: Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation; 2008. 1–42
- Wilson, M. E., Phillips, C. J. C.; Lisle, A. T.; Anderson, S. T.; Bryden, W. L., and Cawdell-Smith, A. J. (2011). Effect of music on the behavioural and physiological responses of stabled weanlings. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 31(5), 321-322