It’s fair to say that it is incredibly difficult to keep a horse calm during celebratory nights that involve fireworks. The sudden bangs can be very stressful for them. Research performed by the RSPCA discovered that 55% of horses show clear signs of distress during firework displays. This is an alarming figure and definitely something some horse owners are petitioning to reduce.
The horse evolved as a prey animal and its first response to anything scary is flight, so they react poorly when sudden bangs are produced. This has led to horses colliding with fences, the interior of buildings, and other harmful objects as they flee resulting in them getting seriously injured.
According to the The Animal Welfare Act (2006), it is an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to any captive or domestic animal. This includes the use of fireworks. Fireworks are not permitted to be set off near horses in fields or close to buildings housing livestock. Failure to comply with this law can result in a fine of up to £20,000 and/or a prison term of up to six months. The Act is enforced by local councils, animal health officers and the police.
As such this article, we will discuss how to spot a distressed horse and the necessary steps you can take to keep your horse calm throughout the night.
How to Spot if a Horse is Distressed:
The main thing to be aware of when looking for distressed signs of your horse is their body language. Stress and anxiety can trigger serious health issues for your beloved horse which is why we have detailed the following signals to look out for:
If a horse’s fight or flight response is triggered by fireworks, they may start to rear up or kick out to defend themselves. It’s advisable to avoid riding on the evening of Bonfire Night or celebration nights where you might suspect fireworks may be let off. If you’re riding at the time, this can be particularly dangerous and could cause serious injury to you or the horse.
Tail Swishing –
When a horse slowly swishes its tail, it is generally to flick flies away from them. However, when a horse’s tail is vigorously swishing from side to side, it is generally a sign of anxiety and that something is bothering them.
Wide Eyed, Rotating Ears and Flared Nostrils –
While we have discussed that a horse’s body language is a major signal to realise if they are stressed, it’s actually easy to recognise an anxious horse by the expression on their face.
A raised head, wide eyes and flared nostrils are all classic signs of anxiety which happen when a horse feels they are in danger. There is also some science to their wide eyes too, as it helps enhance their vision while flared nostrils heighten the horse’s sense of smell. Rapidly rotating ears are a sign of heightened alertness or anxiety.
Decreased Appetite –
In general, horses stop eating for two reasons. 1) When they are sick or 2) When their routine is disrupted. The loud bangs of fireworks is enough to cause distress to the horse and for them to lose their appetite and break their normal routine.
Solutions to Keep Your Horse Calm:
When a horse expresses their anxiety, it’s your job to help calm them and alleviate their stress. As such, we have listed some solutions on how you can keep your horse calm during firework season below:
Be Prepared –
First and foremost, a good owner is always prepared for their horse when they show any signs of distress, especially when fireworks are likely to be set off. It’s a good idea to conduct your research and see which local fireworks are likely to be proceeding when you decide to ride your horse. Assume people are unaware that there are animals nearby so make sure you have all the equipment you need in the event of your horse being overloaded with anxiety.
Keep The Stable Safe –
Your horse’s stable is a place where your horse is likely to spend most of their time throughout the night. With this in mind, if there are firework displays going on, there is always the potential that a fire could break out. We think it’s fair to say a stable fire is every horse rider’s worst nightmare, but taking a few simple steps in advance could help save the life of yourself and your beloved horse.
This would be the perfect opportunity to check your fire evacuation plan, extinguishers and alarms in your stable. Make sure the area is clean and tidy so that no obstructions will prevent you or the horse from leaving the vicinity in the event of a fire.
It is also worth checking around the entire stable for any harmful objects, such as nails or jagged edges which can easily cut your horse if they were to make any sudden movements. It only takes something small to cause serious injury to your horse so always conduct the necessary safety checks in your horses stable.
It is best to provide your horse with as much as you possibly can to keep them occupied. This is because the more objects they have, the less chance fireworks will cause them to become distressed. In addition, whether your horse is in a stable or in a field, make sure they have access to plenty of hay. This will provide an excellent distraction from whatever else is going on nearby.
Another way to distract your animal is by playing music. By positioning a speaker outside the stable, any sudden noises may be muffled. Just make sure you position the source of music out of your horse’s reach and to make sure to play calming, soothing music.
Finally, your presence can also act as a good distraction. Make sure to keep your horse clam by regularly checking to see if they are showing any signs of distress. The comfort knowing their owners are within close proximity of them is sure to keep their minds at ease when fireworks are on display.