"Horses and Bonfire Night
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"Horses and Bonfire Night

Horses
Pet Psychology

Horses are not alone amongst animals in disliking fireworks so what is the best way to manage your horse on Bonfire Night and the days that surround it? Well some horses, like people, are not fussed by fireworks whereas others most certainly are. Horses are flight animals so their instinctive reaction is to run away, it can be hard to keep them safe therefore.

Know your horse

On Bonfire night, try and stick as closely as possible to your horse’s normal routine – if your horse usually lives out then he may panic more, if you shut him in a stable for the night. He may be better remaining in his field with someone on hand to keep an eye on him or if you can, move him to a field further away from any firework displays. Likewise, a horse that is usually stabled at night in the winter months may possibly cause themselves more harm if left out in the field as this is out of their normal routine.

Observation and supervision

The simplest way to ensure your horse remains safe is to stay with him and then if the worst does come to the worst, you are on hand to deal with any problems. Here are some tips to see if you can keep him occupied and safe:-

  • Keep his routine the same as usual
  • Distraction can help either feeding or grooming or using a stable toy such as a likit in a holder suspended from the ceiling
  • If you do tie the horse up to groom him, use a quick release panic clip on the head collar just in case
  • See if you can establish who in your locality is going to have a firework display and try and see if you can pin them down on times
  • A radio in the yard can help confuse the horse’s hearing and make bangs and thuds less clear, leaving all the lights on minimises the visual effects of fireworks

Equine calmers

There are lots of products available on the market designed to help horses cope with stressful situation, competition nerves, dislike of clipping, travelling and of course these may be used for firework night. These products are synthetic and mostly magnesium based and may be bought without prescription. Some need a few days to work and are designed to be administered for a period of time added to the horse’s feed daily, others are more immediate and are administered via a syringe directly into the horse’s mouth.

Anecdotal reports seem to indicate that some work better than others and that certain types seem to suit certain horses more than others. A post on a forum will provide many different recommendations and so usually it comes down to trial and error.

Handling skills

The key thing in difficult situations is to remain calm as horses read people very accurately particularly handlers they know well, and a tense person can cause the horse more upset than the actual environmental problem. The horse looks to his handler as the leader and protector in difficult situations so it is really important to remain calm and if you feel that the situation is likely to defeat you, it is better to ask someone else to handle and supervise the horse. Always remember that a frightened horse is potentially a dangerous horse so your own safety must be your first concern.

Firework season and legislation

When November 5th falls at a weekend then it is a bit easier to anticipate when there will be firework displays but be aware that people have parties either side of the date and if it falls mid week, then there could potentially be bonfire parties on weekend both before and after November 5th.

Fireworks are classified as explosives and they are controlled by legislation including the Fireworks Act 2003 one of the aims of which is to control the noise, nuisance and injury that fireworks can cause. There is a stated curfew in place of 11pm which on Bonfire night is extended to midnight and on New Year’s Eve, also a popular time for fireworks, the curfew is 1am.

Under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, it is an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to a captive or domestic animal through the use of fireworks in close proximity, however the statute which uses the word ‘near’ does not define a distance, relying instead on interpretation, probably by case law, of whether a particular display would be deemed ‘near’ or not. Committing an offence carries a fine of up to £20,000 and/or a jail term of six months. But most horse owners do not want the satisfaction of prosecution after the event, they would rather that their animals were not terrified by fireworks and injured as a result.

Try and speak to householders and organised displays to alert them to the presence of your horses and reminding them of the curfew in force. Not every horse is worried by fireworks, for example, those kept in areas where there are shoots may notice little difference in terms of sound levels and remain unperturbed. Know your horse and if you are on a livery yard, then you can take it in turns to keep watch and remember to check all the fields carefully the following day for the remains of any fireworks.

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