July has 2 Independence Days. The 4th in America and the 14th in France. This month fireworks could frighten a fair few horses. Here is how to cope.
I am not very good at history. But I know that America declared themselves independent from Britain on 4 July 1776, and France declared themselves independent from their monarchy on 14 July 1789. Although France did it by storming a nearly empty fortress in Paris, and America did it by signing something. I think I missed my calling as a historian. I shall now do a 3-second version of the English Civil War…
France celebrates with large-scale public events such as the military parade in Paris where the military schools, the Navy, and French Foreign Legion parade through the streets. Nationwide, there are communal meals, dances, parties, and fireworks.
They celebrate Independence Day in America with parades, concerts, family gatherings, BBQs, and … fireworks! At least they have stopped the 13-gun salutes with cannons and muskets.
July is a loud month with bangs and swooshing noises and monstrous dragons fighting flying flowers in the night sky. Enough to frighten the poop out of some horses. Here are a few “firework meets horse” tips that might help.
1. Plan Ahead
Arm yourself with knowledge. Are there any planned firework displays near your horse? Does a close neighbor plan to have their own firework display? Knowing what time they propose to start and finish could prove helpful, especially if your horse needs sedation before the fireworks begin. Also, you can encourage the neighbor to choose a firework site that is not right next to your horse’s barn or field.
2. De-sensitize Your Horse to Fireworks
If you have the time, you can start a gentle de-sensitization regime for your horse by playing CDs that have bangs and other noises. You begin with the CD on a low volume and as your horse becomes used to the noises slowly increase the volume. I did this with a horse who feared the music played at horse shows, and it helped immensely. For an example of a Sound Training CD for phobias, click here.
3. Tidy Up Before the Fireworks Start
Make sure there is nothing in the field, stables, or yard that a horse frightened by fireworks can injure themselves on. Then check all your fencing is as secure as possible. Now is not the time of year to change where your fencing is. A horse running in fear from fireworks will not remember you changed the fence yesterday.
4. Stick to Your Horse’s Normal Routine
It is usually better to keep your horse(s) to the normal routine during firework displays. Changing their environment could cause more stress. If you normally stable your horse, then put her or him in. Likewise, if you usually keep your horse in the field, then don’t put them in a stable tonight. However, treat each horse and each firework fear individually. If you have to change their routine, remain calm, and make your horse as comfortable as possible.
5. Be There for Your Horse During Fireworks
If possible, stay with your horse(s) during the firework display. You must remain calm, especially if all hell is breaking loose. If you are at a shared yard, discuss your strategy with the other horse owners and the yard owner. You all need to have the same plan if a firework frenzy happens. The last thing you want is a scared horse running loose in the yard, with three horse owners all trying to do something different. Not only could you further terrify the horse that’s already scared, but you could also scare the other horses in the yard!
6. Minimize the Effects of the Fireworks
Many owners have reported that music works very well to make the loud bangs of the fireworks less obvious. But perhaps not the 1812 Overture, eh? We did a little research, and it looks like some places recommend playing classical or traditional country music. For more information, click here. Ensure your horse is not scared of music, though, like the one I mentioned earlier!
Another good tip is to leave lights on everywhere. This lessens the effects of the fireworks’ flashes, which will help to keep your horse calm during the celebrations.
7. Stay Safe
Don’t put yourself in danger. Your horse might love you dearly, but in a blind panic they are just that – blind to everything other than getting away from the fireworks.
If you know your horse is prone to panic at the sight and sound of fireworks, then sedation is always an excellent option. Talk to your vet about the various products available. Below are two quick video clips of Koop, a Shire horse who does not like fireworks. In the “before” video you can see he flinches at every pop of fireworks, but in the “after” video he is most zen.
Do you have any horsey fireworks tales you would like to share? Please make good use of the comments section below.