Fright Night

Fright Night

Loud bangs, high pitched whistles and whines, flashing lights, screams, squeals and the smell of burning. It's scary, right? Something we might imagine the Blitz could have been like!

The scene just described, however, is something many of us Brits deliberately set up and indulge in on or around the 5th of November every year. Guy Fawkes/Fireworks/Bonfire night is celebrated as an exciting thrill for young and old as we send thousands of pounds worth of noisy incendiary devices up in smoke - all to commemorate the failed "Gunpowder Plot of Fawkes and 13 co-conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament on 5th November, 1605.

What is great fun for people can be a source of great distress and trauma for animals, who cannot fathom why we subject ourselves to such pandemonium for pleasure.

Using Ear Plugs is an option

Horrifying for Horses

Horses, in particular, are often dramatically affected by fireworks being let off within their sight and hearing. As we all know, horses are flight animals, and anything unexpected is likely to startle them to some degree, no matter how de-sensitised and well trained they are.

The British Horse Society (BHS) reminds us that horses "are big, powerful animals and when they are in a state of blind panic they present real danger not only to people close by, but also to themselves".

The BHS says it has received reports about stabled horses trying to crash through doors and turned out horses jumping over fences on to public highways during fireworks season.

Click here to read about one such tragic event.

The psychological effect of fireworks fear on the horse itself is exacerbated by the fact that horses have long memories, and a traumatised horse may never again feel comfortable or secure in the environment where he experienced the frightening firework experience.

Some might argue that owners of horses likely to be living in the ambit of either a domestic fireworks party, or a commercial fireworks display, should take the trouble to condition the animals to the experience. The problem is that since fireworks are not a regular occurrence (Bonfire Night and New Year being the usual occasions for their use), desensitising and conditioning is difficult to achieve. Also, even the most robustly "toughened up" horses have been known to spook when faced with bangs and flashes!

For example, read the case of the police horse that ran amok in London!

Plan and Prepare

Fireworks are unlikely to be banned any time soon, so the best you can do to limit the effects on your horse/s is prevent, plan and prepare for the explosion!

Here are some tips we picked up from around the web:

  • Keep your eyes and ears open (posters/local radio/newspapers) for some weeks before 5th November to ascertain if there are likely to be any Bonfire events near to where you keep your horse. Check the time the event is happening, and if necessary talk to the organisers so you know exactly what is planned, and can ask them to fire off the fireworks in the opposite direction to where the horse/s are sited. Forewarned is forearmed!
  • Make sure gates, doors and fences are as secure as possible to prevent break-outs.
  • Make sure the livery or yourself have all the relevant emergency contact numbers (including the vet) to hand in case of problems.
  • Either you or an experienced person should stay with your horse during the letting off of fireworks - playing a radio, perhaps, and remaining calm and soothing. If you think your horse may startle though, take care not to be in kicking distance.
  • Follow the normal routine - leave the horse out if that is the usual practice, or stabled if he expects to be. Keep things as regular as possible.
  • Stock up with a tried and trustedcalmer. There are dozens of reliable, natural preparations available which will help your horse weather Bonfire night and all other stressful situations, including thunder storms. You could even consider using earplugs or pheromones.
  • If you know that your horse is likely to react extremely badly to fireworks, it may be advisable to arrange for your vet to sedate him, or even to move him elsewhere for the night.

Confidence EQ Pheromone Gel

The Law

Finally, just for your edification, here's the law on fireworks:

  • It is illegal for anyone under 18 to possess a firework in a public place
  • Fireworks cannot be set off by a private individual between 11.00pm and 7.00am except for certain nights of the year
  • It is an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to any captive or domestic animal
  • Unless retailers possess a special licence they may only sell fireworks from 15 October to 10 November and 26 to 31 December