Most horse owners have no need to “remember, remember the fifth of November” because we’re all too aware of the stress caused by fireworks. In fact, we should think more in terms of preparing for “firework season” rather than a one-off bonfire night as fireworks seem to be set off from Diwali through to New Year and beyond.
“We know fireworks may be an enjoyable way for some people to celebrate but we also need to remember the significant trauma and distress they can cause to horses,” says Alan Hiscox, Director of Safety at the British Horse Society (BHS). “Since 2010, we have received almost 1,030 incident reports involving fireworks, including 270 horse injuries, 69 human injuries and 35 horse fatalities. With one in 10 incidents estimated to be reported, these numbers could be much higher.”
The experience of professionals illustrates the variety of problems fireworks can trigger. “I’ve dealt with everything from stress colics, choking, wounds caused by running through fences, injuries to heads and nosebleeds caused by hitting the tops of stable doors, overheating, lameness and even leg breaks because of fireworks,” reveals equine vet Lucinda Ticehurst.
Loud bangs and flashes of light can make some horses extremely anxious
“Many animals are fine with fireworks. I often spend bonfire night with my horses, and we watch the local display over the hill together from their barns,” she continues. “However, caution should always be exercised because the loud bangs and flashes of light terrify some.”
Staff at Redwings are painfully aware of the danger fireworks pose. “We’ve lost three wonderful horses to firework-related incidents in the past decade,” says Rachel Angell, Head of Norfolk Equine Operations.
“Even if fireworks have not upset horses in the past, each situation is different and fireworks that are a little closer, a little louder or go on for a little longer may affect the wellbeing of individuals in unexpected ways,” she continues.
There are steps equestrians can take to help minimise stress and reduce the risk of serious injury.
“We try to stick to the same routine and preferably keep horses out if they usually live out as bringing them in may cause more problems than it solves. If they are stabled, distraction may help in some cases – we give them play balls and put the radio on. We’ll also keep lights on if horses are in stables,” Rachel says.
“For horses that are out, we find that giving additional forage to keep them occupied and placing them furthest away from any firework activities can really help. Our staff at Redwings make lots of additional checks during the evening, ideally from a distance so the horses aren’t unsettled by a surprise visit.”
Alan Hiscox from the British Horse Society believes doing research into where and when local displays are taking place is a must: “Let organisers know the location of your horses and inform them of the challenges faced by horses and other animals. We also urge all equestrians to report to us any incidents involving fireworks, regardless of the severity, using the BHS i app. This helps us understand better the rate of equine-related incidents across the UK.”
Vet Lucinda Ticehurst also advocates sticking to a usual routine, especially if horses usually go out. “The old and young are most at risk, and isolated animals too. Horses are usually calmer in a herd environment and take comfort from the company of others. Make sure they have adequate safe space and now is a good time of year to check your fences,” she suggests.
Most horses take comfort in the presence of others
With horses prone to extreme anxiety, Lucinda advises speaking to your vet. “It may be that some kind of calmer can be given pre-emptively but a full health check would need to be carried out first,” she adds.
Tips to help reduce firework stress in horses
- Do your research and find out where and when displays are going on near you.
- Try, as much as possible, to stick to your usual routine.
- Distractions, such as a radio turned on or extra hay, can be useful.
- Make regular checks on your horses.
- Ensure fencing is secure and safe.
- Clear your yard/paddocks of any fire risks in case of stray fireworks.
- Try to stay calm yourself. Horses take their cues from us.
- Talk to your vet in advance if you have particular concerns.
For more advice on how to help your horses during fireworks season please visit - https://www.redwings.org.uk/horses-and-fireworks and www.bhs.org.uk/go-riding/riding-out-hacking/common-incidents/fireworks/
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