Horse in forest

As we approach this time of year again, it is important to make sure you are prepared. One of the biggest sources of stress for any animal is a firework - especially if you’re a horse.

In this article, we’ll take a look at exactly why this is, and what can be done to limit the impact of this unpleasant seasonal event on our animals.


What’s so terrible about fireworks?

Fireworks are enormously loud explosions of unnatural fire in the sky. Imagine, if you will, that you’re an animal. The idea that such things might be entertaining is totally alien to you. Moreover, the idea that such things could be produced in order to provide such entertainment is even more incomprehensible. It’s a little bit like a human being witnessing a magical spell – or an alien spacecraft, it just doesn’t work.

Now, it’s impossible to explain to a horse what a firework is, and that they pose no harm. Instead, it’s necessary to desensitise them to the stimulus by repeatedly exposing them to it. But this also poses a problem; how is one to expose a horse to a firework in a controlled way? It’s remarkably difficult, and so as theoretically sound as these efforts at desensitisation might be, the horse is still likely to be rattled whenever a firework goes off.


Lots of animals are spooked by fireworks. What’s all the fuss about?

Let’s consider for a moment the sheer mass of muscle that constitutes an adult horse. They weigh as much as ten men, and their hooves can deliver kicks powerful enough to cause untold damage to property – to to mention any humans or other animals unfortunate enough to be standing nearby.

For this reason, we can conclude that horses are quite unlike dogs and cats. Horses being startled is not merely undesirable in and of itself; it can have serious (and even tragic) consequences. Horses have jumped through stable doors – they’ve even bolted over fences and into roads. Suffice to say, this is a serious concern as horses are flight or fight creatures, which explains why their behaviour around Fireworks can be so dangerous.


What can be done?

You’ll be pleased to learn that there are several ways in which one can limit the impact of fireworks on a horse. Let’s run through a few of them.


Get in touch with the fireworks event’s organisers

When solving any problem, the best place to start is by investigating what’s causing it. In the case of fireworks, the cause is the people letting them off. Find out which organisations are going to be letting off fireworks and when. If possible, get them to move as far from your horses as possible. If you know exactly when the fireworks are due to go off, you’ll be in a much better position to limit any negative impact it might have on your horses.

Of course, it’s not always possible to get in touch with everyone who might be letting off fireworks near you – particularly if your horse is based near a densely-packed residential area. While larger commercial displays may be easy to identify, small private parties that set off fireworks will do so without warning.

If you don’t receive much co-operation from those organising an event near to you, then it’s worth checking that they’ve applied for the appropriate licence. If they haven’t, then you can report them and the display will likely be prevented entirely. There’s a licencing system in place for a reason, after all – unlicensed fireworks displays are dangerous for a variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with horses.


Help the horse directly

There are also more direct means of helping your horse cope with the stresses of firework season. This largely means shielding them against the sights, sounds and smells they produce by stabling them. A horse which is safely confined to a safe, familiar place will be far less inclined to panic. 

If you’re around as the fireworks are going off, then you can offer them reassurance, too. Close the door and you’ll limit the effect of those loud bangs, and keep a light on and do the same for those bright flashes. As we’ve touched upon, you might consider desensitising them to the sounds, smells and sights of the firework beforehand. While the sights and smells of a firework are extremely difficult to replicate, the sound is not – just get yourself a device that can replicate the sound of fireworks, and play it every night in the build-up at increasing volumes. 

You might find that you need a larger speaker system to truly prepare your horse for the bass frequencies of those louder bangs – but even a small portable system will help. You can find long loops of fireworks sound effects on youtube to help with this. Simply hit play and then keep a close eye on your horse. This can be hugely beneficial if you start at a low volume and work your way up.


What does the law say about fireworks?

Naturally, the use of fireworks is heavily regulated. Under-18s are prohibited from possessing them in a public place. Fireworks are also not allowed to be set off after 11 pm – except on certain nights of the year, like New Year’s Eve. Finally, retailers require a special licence in order to sell fireworks on days other than the week before New Year’s Eve, and the month leading up to (and just beyond) Guy Fawkes night. These special licences, however, might be granted to particularly large organisations, so if you’re based next to an enormous theme park, you might expect fireworks at other times of the year.

There are also laws governing animal cruelty which might relate to fireworks. It is an offence, for example, to cause a captured or domesticated animal to unnecessarily suffer – and this naturally includes horses. However, it’s extremely difficult to prove that those letting fireworks off near horses are knowingly doing this. After all, the person setting off fireworks might well be miles away from the horse, and not know (or indeed care) a thing for its plight. This law would therefore only apply in extreme cases, where the offender has been made well aware of the consequences of their firework display.

365 Vet supply a variation of horse supplements for you to try in the run up to events like bonfire night - this includes supplements that will help them to remain calm in nervous or anxious situations.