For horse owners, the Fourth can be a stressful holiday, given that fireworks can pose a number of safety hazards for our horses. As owners we are always looking for ways to prepare and to prevent harm from coming to our equine companions, and the fourth is one event that definitely requires some forethought.
Some horses are sensitive to the loud noise created by fireworks, and others can be frightened by the flashing lights. The fireworks themselves can pose a significant risk as their hot debris falls from the sky, potentially landing in pastures, close to barns, and around animals. With some careful planning and preparation, and some common sense during and after, we can minimize these risks and help keep the holidays a relatively stress-free, and safe time for our horses.
Before the fun can begin, the preparation must too. It’s a great idea to make sure you have current pictures of every horse - these will be invaluable in the event a horse panics and ends up escaped or lost. Horses are prey animals with a strong flight instinct. In times of high stress it’s not unheard of for a horse to break a previously respected fence, or jump a barrier that they may not have attempted under normal circumstances. In the event anyone gets loose, being able to find and identify them is key. This is also a great opportunity to walk fences and check for broken or loose boards, or other defects that could injure, or allow your horse to escape.
Location for the event is also important. It’s best to decide who will stay where during the parties and firework displays in advance. If you know a certain neighbor will be shooting off fireworks, politely ask them to shoot them away from your property and animals, and if possible move your horses to a pasture further from the action. If you plan to keep horses who usually live outside in the barn, its best to make the transition a little early. By letting a usually outside horse spend a few nights in the barn prior to the Fourth, you can give them time to adjust to this change in routine without the added stressor of fireworks on top of a new, or newly revisited, environment.
Some horses deal with loud noises and flashing lights better than others. If you think your horse may struggle, or know from past experiences that the holiday will be a stressful time for them, it’s crucial to talk to your veterinarian beforehand. Some calming supplements can help horses to relax, but many of them have a loading time of at least a few days and will need to be started in advance. If your horse is a particularly bad case you may consider some form of sedation to help prevent them becoming a danger to you or themselves, during the festivities. Again, this will need to be discussed with your veterinarian and planned for ahead of time.
Despite our best efforts, things can and do still go wrong. The final part of your preparation should be making sure your first aid kit is clean and up to date, your emergency contacts for your veterinarian and help is on hand, and you are well prepared to deal with any issues should they arise.
During the celebrations stay alert and check on your horses periodically. Giving everyone ample hay for the night can help keep them entertained and relaxed. If horses are in the barn, consider some low level background noise, such as a radio, to help make the sounds of the fireworks a little less scary. Keeping the lights on inside the barn can help to offset some of the flashes.
When the party is done, likely the next morning, check everyone over for any new injuries or issues. It’s also worth walking property and pastures to check for any firework debris, or damage to fences.
With a little preparation and some diligence during and after, your horse can celebrate the Fourth of July safely and more comfortably.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday, from the Arabian Horse Association’s magazine - Arabian Horse Life.