Even the calmest horse can get scared of the loud explosion noises and flashing lights of fireworks. The Fourth of July weekend is enjoyed by most people, but it spells out concern, anxiety, and nervousness for horse owners and their horses.
During firework season, horses can get startled by the loud bangs, noise, and flashing lights of the fireworks going off. There are a few things you can do to help your horse deal with the fear and stress of fireworks, like keeping your horse in the stable for the night, playing music in and around the stable, keeping the lights on in the stable, and staying with your horse during the firework display.
Let’s look at all the ways you can help your horse deal with the stress and fear of fireworks.
Fear response in Horses
With horses, the fear response to fireworks is triggered by the intermittent and unpredictable high-intensity noise. Horses are flight animals that have acute hearing and are considered to be unpredictable and known to be highly reactive to loud noises and sudden flashing lights.
Fear triggers the natural flight response in horses, which can be particularly dangerous as it can injure your horse or yourself.
The horse’s natural instinct is to flee from threatening sounds and situations. Looking from the horse’s perspective, the louder a noise, the closer the threat to them the faster they want to move away.
What risks do fireworks have to my horse?
People should be made aware of how fireworks can affect and cause injuries to horses and other animals, and wildlife. Most animals and wildlife have acute hearing and suffer greatly from stress and even physical pain due to firework displays every year.
Fireworks can be extremely dangerous and can result in serious injuries or even death to your horse.
Each year, many injuries and deaths are reported and documented of a horse getting hurt during firework displays.
It was reported to police that a pregnant mare in her 5th month aborted her foal when a firework display went off near her stable. Another mare was found dead when she tried to escape from the fireworks resulted in her fall, causing internal injuries, and she died as a result.
Projectile fireworks have hit horses, and some have even lost an eye. Another horse died when the fear of the fireworks so overcame him, and he kept running around frantically; the horse got his gut twisted and died.
Horses trying to get away from fireworks suffered severe cuts and deep lacerations, and some with broken legs are reported by veterinarians and police each year.
Fireworks can have a devastating effect on your horse’s health and safety. Try to do anything you possibly can to keep your horse safe and protected away from any firework display.
How to help your horse stay calm during fireworks
Put a plan of action in place ahead of any firework display. Find out the dates and times, and locations of the firework displays in your area. By preparing in advance, you can minimize some of the effects that the fireworks will have on your horse.
Let your neighbors know you have horses and find out if they plan any firework displays. If they plan to set off any fireworks, ask them to point them away from your property.
It is well known that horses can become desensitized to stimuli to which they are regularly exposed. However, the problem with fireworks is that they do not usually occur frequently for horses to become desensitized to them.
It is difficult for owners to reproduce the combination of sounds, flashing lights, and smells representing a firework display to desensitize their horse before an event.
When a firework display is planned near your area, make sure you have an emergency fire plan in place. A fire started by a rogue firework is a horse owners’ worst nightmare. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher, sand, and water ready at your stable if a fire starts near your stable.
Talk to your local fire department and determine if they are aware of the forthcoming firework display and ask about the measures they are taking to prevent any mishaps.
Ask your neighbors to please aim the fireworks away from your stable and property direction to reduce the likelihood of embers setting fire to stables and hay barns.
One horse owner reported her stables burning to the ground and her stallion’s death due to smoke inhalation and severe burns after a rogue firework hit her barn roof.
Bring your horse into his stable during fireworks
Knowing when a firework display will happen in advance gives you a heads up and allows you to bring your horse into his stable even before the firework starts.
When you bring your horse into the stable, check and remove any objects from your stable that can injure your horse in case your horse startles while in the stable.
Close the stable top door and keep the stable light on during the firework display. It will help lessen the contrast of the bright flashing lights.
Give your horse some extra food to keep him occupied and distracted during the fireworks. A bigger than usual flake of alfalfa or hay and some food toys will keep him busy and focused on something other than what is happening outside.
If you don’t have a stable, try to borrow one for a few nights, specifically if you have a very nervous horse.
If you cannot stable your horse during the firework display, try to accident-proof the paddock or pasture your horse lives in as much as possible, make sure the paddock fencing is safe, remove any wire, fill in potholes and remove any foreign objects that can cause an injury.
Also, tying some white feed sacks to fencing will help to make it more visible at night. Make sure they are tied tightly on the top and bottom, so they do not flap around and frighten your horse.
Play some music in the stable
Playing some classical or country music in or around your stable can help soothe and calm your horse. Music help drowns out the loud noise of the fireworks.
Suppose you don’t already play music in the barn on regular days like most of us do; start playing music a week or so in advance of the firework display to get your horse used to the sound of the music in the barn. Studies have shown that music help horses to relax.
Stay with your horse
It is a good idea to stay with your horse during the firework display. Use the time to do the odd jobs around the stable you don’t usually have the time for or give your tack a good clean. Bring a picnic basket or a flask of hot tea. Make it fun.
Try to stay calm. Your horse will inevitably pick up on your mood, and hopefully, if you are calm, your horse will remain calm too.
If you cannot stay with your horse, ask a friend or family member to stay with your horse and make sure they know where to contact you in case of an emergency.
Keeping yourself safe during the fireworks display is paramount. Try to have your horse settled safely in his stable before the fireworks start. Do not try to handle your horse during the fireworks if he is acting nervous.
He might unintentionally hurt you if he bolts or startles. If your horse is startled during the fireworks, your horse’s primary concern would be to get away from the perceived threat, and if you get in his way, you could end up getting hurt.
One owner got kicked in the chest and face by her horse, startled by the firework display, and ended up in a critical condition in hospital.
Consider taking your horse to another area
You could take your horse to another barnyard or stables away from the proposed firework display area. Putting some distance between your horse and the fireworks could be another solution to reduce the stress of a firework display to your horse.
If you have a horse trailer and are capable of traveling with your horse, visiting a friend for a day that lives further from the area might be a good idea.
Check your insurance
Insurance isn’t something most people want to think about and is often neglected or overlooked. If you have insurance, make sure your insurance offers third-party liability coverage. If your horse is startled and escapes and runs away, causing an accident, you could be held responsible.
A good plan is to add primary medical coverage to your policy. A major medical insurance plan added to your insurance would allow any veterinary bills that could arise if your horse injures himself to be paid. It is an excellent plan to have insurance in place just in case something does happen.
Talk to your veterinarian
Give your veterinarian a call and inform him of the pending fireworks display in your area and discuss the option of sedating your horse with him. If your horse is highly anxious during a firework event, ask your veterinarian if it is possible to give your horse some prescription medicines to help them stay calm.
If possible, try to avoid sedation. It may lead to your horse becoming more nervous next year at the next firework season. Unfortunately, horses are big and powerful, and if a horse is particularly anxious and stressed, it may be necessary for the horse’s safety to be sedated.
Your vet will be able to give you the best advice on sedation and the best strategy for your horse. Sedation should only be considered as a last resort and for only the most severely affected horses.
Know the law
Every state sets its own laws on firework displays, but many of them will prohibit fireworks from being set off near horses or livestock and stables. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the law in your county, and if you feel that the law has been broken, you should contact your local police department.
Call and report it to the police
In some instances, it is illegal to set off fireworks near equine facilities or stables. If you find that the fireworks are being set off dangerously close to your horse’s barn and stable and you fear it can cause a fire on your property or severe injury to your horse, call the police and file a complaint.
However, do not call 911 to report illegal fireworks. You should call 311, the police non-emergency number, to report the use of fireworks in your area. However, try to be patient when calling 311 on the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve nights when the lines are most probably busy.
For your horse’s safety
The following day check your barnyard and pasture for any stray firework casings which can still be dangerous to your horse and contaminate the area. Fireworks can travel in any direction so give your area a thorough comb through to look for any firework casings that might have landed in your immediate area.
Keep an eye out for any dropped sparkler metal and wires attached to Chinese lanterns; even though they are banned in most countries, some people might still decide to set one off and drifted into your pasture.
Pay special attention to water troughs for any firework casings that might have ended up in the water troughs. Chemicals used to make fireworks can be harmful to your horse if ingested. Horses are curious, and finding an empty firework casing in their pasture might tempt your horse to nibble on it.
Check your horse for injuries
On the morning after the firework display, make sure you give your horse a thorough check for any injuries on his body and legs. It would have been difficult for you to see any injuries at night so make sure you check your horse for any scratches, scrapes, and cuts thoroughly in the morning.
If you notice any injuries on your horse that occurred during the night and need veterinary care, call your veterinarian as soon as possible. If your horse has only a few scrapes and abrasions, treat it accordingly.
Can you take legal action if your horse gets injured due to a firework display?
Suppose your horse gets injured during a firework display set off by your neighbor, you might consider taking legal action and claim compensation.
Even if you are outraged by the injury caused to your horse, you might not be entitled to compensation if the neighbor’s set off the fireworks on their own property.
The neighbors can claim that the fireworks were set off in the manner that they were intended and not with the direct intent to harm your horse; your neighbors are most likely not going to be held responsible for any injuries that occurred to your horse.
Unless someone directly aims a firework towards your horse to cause it distress or direct injury, it is hard to claim compensation from fireworks for an injury to your horse. Familiarize yourself with the firework laws of your state your county to see what you can and cannot claim.
What ‘NOT’ to do during fireworks
Don’t go riding during fireworks. It is not a good idea to be out riding during firework season. Your horse might react to the flashes and bangs of the firework, and you both might end up getting hurt or even worse.
Do not leave any empty water or feeding buckets in your horse’s stable or out in the pasture where your horse stays during a firework display. Your horse might startle and step on or in any feeding buckets near him and hurt himself.
Don’t leave your horse alone during fireworks. Leaving your horse without supervision when you know it will be stressful for your horse is considered bad form. If you cannot be there yourself, arrange for someone else to be with your horse.
Always put the health and wellbeing of your horse first. Being with your horse during a firework display, you will be able to act and deal with any situation that arises.
Most horse owners don’t like fireworks because of how they affect their horses and other farm animals. Horse owners witness the stress, anxiety, and injuries caused by firework displays to their animals each firework season.
It is hard for horse owners not to feel nervous and anxious during firework season to anticipate any injuries that might occur to their horses. However, there are things you can do to help and make it easier for your horse to deal with the stress of fireworks season.
A conscious, caring horse owner will do whatever they can to help minimize their horse’s fear and anxiety during firework season. Horses suffer during firework season. Try to make it as stress-free for your horse as you can.