American Pharoah sprinted to win the first Triple Crown in 37 years. His trainer, Bob Baffert selected brown ear plugs—rather than the typical white cotton used with other horses—that better match the bay colt’s coloring. Many race horses wear ear plugs.
Horses have a wider range of hearing sensitivity than humans. We typically hear from 20 Hertz out to 20,000 Hertz. Horses hear out to 35,000 Hertz. This means they hear a lot of sound not perceived by human ears.
Breeders carefully mate and breed thoroughbred horses to become highly valued racers that perform at exceptional levels. A horse needs a certain amount of alertness to perform at the top, however, galloping hooves, yelling jockeys, cracking whips and cheering fans create a cacophony of noise. Even urban noise such as rescue vehicle sirens on city streets nearby can be heard on the track.
This creates a sound environment that might increase startle responses and make the horse skittish. Because of the noisy environment and the need for a high level of performance, trainers condition them to run at their best with a ‘noisy crowd’ live audience and with unusual noise distractions down on the track.
Some thoroughbreds, like American Pharoah, find this excessive noise unsettling and confusing. They lose focus and become nervous, distracted and might not perform as expected. Ear plugs offer damping and filtering of noise to assist the horse to focus on the race. They are not worn as hearing conservation but rather as a way to calm the horse.
Interesting facts about American Pharoah:
- Foaled February 2, 2012
- Owned by Ahmed Zayat
- Trained by Bob Baffert
- Ridden by Victor Espinoza (for most races)
- 12th Triple Crown winner in history
- Name is misspelled, through an error in registration of the name but is now permanent. Pharaoh is the correct spelling
- Both the correct and incorrect name spellings are registered so another horse cannot use the correct spelling.
Pamela Mason, MEd, CCC-A, is ASHA director of audiology professional practices. firstname.lastname@example.org.