Horses are flight animals and anything unexpected will startle them. The response will vary greatly according to the individual horse, but reactions can be extremely dramatic and potentially dangerous for the horse or anyone close by.
It is well documented that horses will become desensitised to stimuli to which they are regularly exposed. Part of the problem of fireworks is that they do not usually occur frequently and they produce loud bangs, crackles, sudden strange lights and a burning smell. It is not easy for owners to reproduce this combination of things to enable complete desensitisation of the horse. Horses are big, powerful animals and when they are in a state of blind panic they present real danger not only to people close by, but also to themselves. It is not uncommon for stabled horses to attempt to jump over or crash through stable doors and field-kept horses jumping out of their field onto the public highway – neither of which result in a favourable outcome.
What can we do to limit the effect on our horse?
Prior to firework season:
Find out if there are any commercial displays planned near to where your horse is kept.
Contact the organisers to explain your concerns and see if there are any measures they can take – for example, moving to the far end of a site and ask about timings so you can manage your horse appropriately to keep the situation as safe and calm as possible.
Where possible, display a notice asking individuals who are planning to use fireworks in your vicinity to inform you so you can manage your horse appropriately.
It may be beneficial to try to desensitise your horse to loud bangs and there are various CDs available that can be played to your horse at low level, slowly increasing the volume as they become comfortable with the noise.
Make preparations to secure your yard in case a horse does manage to break out of a stable or field that ensures they cannot get onto a public highway which could cause serious problems.
If you know that whatever you do, your horse will react badly, possibly injuring itself, you could discuss with your vet the possibility of sedating your horse, or consider moving your horse while fireworks are likely to be exploding.
During firework season
If your horse is kept in a barn or enclosed stable area it might be possible to limit the effect of fireworks by keeping barn doors closed.
Playing music within the barn or stable area may dull the sound of the bangs depending on the distance – NB: This should be introduced before the event so that the music is itself not something for the horse to worry about.
Leave stable or barn lights on as this may help lessen the effect of the bright lights and flashes in the night sky.
Unfortunately nothing can be done about the burning smell that accompanies fireworks, except to hope that the prevailing wind direction takes it away from the horses.
Try as far as possible to keep your horse in its normal routine so it feels secure.
Ensure an experienced person, who will remain calm, stays with the horse until the fireworks have ended.
Take care when the horse is startled – an injured owner is no good to anyone!
Courtesy of The British Horse Society