Horses and fireworks are not a good mix. As natural flight animals, loud bangs and bright lights can send even the most laidback of horses into a panic, meaning firework season is a particularly worrying time of year for owners and riders around the world. According to a 2020 survey carried out by Blue Cross in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, 69% of horse owners were found to be concerned about their horse’s welfare due to fireworks.
With a bit of forethought, there are things you can do to make firework season easier for you and your horse, and any other animals you own. The British Horse Society (BHS) shared the following six tips for helping to ensure the safety of your horse when there are fireworks happening near your yard:
1 Desensitise your horse
You can prepare your horse for loud bangs by playing the sounds on your phone; start with the volume low and gradually increase it. You can also use colour-changing LED lights to acclimatise the horse to the flashing lights. Again, build this up gradually over time so that you don’t over-face your horse. If you share a yard, check in with your fellow liveries before doing this. If you don’t own/run the yard, you’ll need to get permission first.
2. Find out if there are any local events planned
Events can take place over a number of days, so keep an eye on what is happening locally so that you can make sure you’re prepared. Check for local events on social media, in your local paper and on posters/shop noticeboards. Of course, not all fireworks displays are public and private ones are trickier to predict. It is a good idea to calmly enquire about any plans your neighbours might have.
Bear in mind that some people, especially those without horses or pets, may not realise the impact that fireworks can have on animals. You can’t stop them, but you can find out when they might be letting fireworks off and calmly ask to be informed about future private fireworks being planned by any local homes.
3. Check your yard and stables are safe
Reduce the risk of a fire by ensuring your stables are clear and tidy. Check your fire extinguishers, fire alarm and evacuation plan so everyone at the yard is aware of the procedures.
4. Is your horse best in the stable or out in the field?
According to the BHS, there is no evidence to say whether your horse is safer in or out of their stable. Some horses may be better stabled, while others may cope better in a field with their companions; there are risks either way. Check your fields are secure and not too close to any displays if you do decide to turn them out. Walk around the perimeter of your field checking the fence line the day after any fireworks too, checking for any damage that needs fixing.
5. Speak to your vet
If your horse particularly struggles with fireworks, then it could be worth discussing the matter with your vet so you can put together a plan to help keep them as safe and calm as possible. Sometimes a sedative that you can administer at home via oral paste can be given to protect a horse who is vulnerable.
6. Report any incidences of fireworks
The BHS is urging horse riders and owners to report any incidents or near misses involving fireworks via their Horse i app. This helps the charity to better understand and monitor the rate of equine-related incidents across the UK.
The law about fireworks
In the UK, there are restrictions around when and where fireworks can be offered for sale and bought, and when they can be let off:
- You can only buy fireworks (including sparklers) from registered sellers for private use on these dates:
- 15 October to 10 November
- 26 to 31 December
- 3 days before Diwali and Chinese New Year
At other times you can only buy fireworks from licensed shops
- Fireworks must not be set off between 11pm and 7am, except for on Bonfire Night (5 November), when the cut off is midnight, and New Year’s Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year, when the cut off is 1am.
Read the full fireworks advice from the BHS here.
Have an action plan
Sainbury’s became the first major supermarket to ban the sale of fireworks at its in 2019 as part of its yearly review of products. It followed a number of petitions calling for stricter firework regulations that amassed over 700,000 signatures. There are legal debates ongoing about reducing access to fireworks, but in the meantime other shops and supermarkets are continuing to sell fireworks.
Blue Cross launched its ‘Have a Heart: Don’t Take Part’ campaign last year, encouraging people to stop and re-think their plans to host or attend home firework displays this year in order to protect pets. “Horses can become distressed by the sound and sight of fireworks, so it is important to have a plan of action in place to keep them as safe and relaxed as possible,” Ruth Court, Blue Cross’s Horse Welfare Manager, told Your Horse.
An equine vet stated that they are “traumatised” after having to put to sleep two ponies belonging to Redwings as a result of fireworks. Meanwhile Blue Cross charity advises the following to keep your equines as calm as possible around fireworks:
- Plan ahead: Horses and ponies are easily spooked by fireworks but with preparation and planning you can keep them safe and calm throughout the season.
- Keep horses in familiar surroundings: If your horses are kept out in the field, then make sure it is secure and there is nothing lying around that they can run into or hurt themselves with, such as low hanging branches or buckets. It may be an idea to remove temporary electric posts and wiring if you use it to divide your field – in case your horse becomes entangled if running around.
- If your horse is rugged, make doubly sure these are well secured and fitted and will remain in place should they get spooked and run around.
- If your horse is stabled, then make sure they have a deep bed and consider removing water, feed buckets and haynets to prevent injury.
- If your horse isn’t normally stabled, but you prefer to bring them in during fireworks, then prepare them by bringing them in a few days in advance of Bonfire Night to get them used to their surroundings and being inside.
- Avoid big changes: remember, your horse will cope best in a familiar environment and with familiar companions.
- Play music or put the radio on a few days in advance so that your horse gets used to hearing it, and continue playing it up to and around Bonfire Night. Also leave the yard or stable lights on to help your horse.
- Be present: if you can, and you can remain calm, stay with your horse when you know there are going to be fireworks, so that you can take quick action if they should panic and/or become injured. Keep yourself safe though and remain outside their stable or field.