A lot of animals can get frightened by fireworks. The loud bangs and flashing lights that come with a fireworks display can be stressful for pets, farm animals and wildlife. According to figures from the RSPCA, 62% of dogs, 55% of horses and 54% of cats show distress during fireworks.
Horses in particular can have extreme reactions to the sounds of fireworks; they find unexpected, intermittent noises highly stressful. Horses will often take off when they are scared, increasing their risk of colliding with fences or other objects. One survey revealed that 35% of owners had reported their horses breaking through fences in response to the sound of fireworks. While 26% said their horses had been injured – 7% with broken limbs.
It’s not just bonfire night that you’ll see fireworks lighting up the night sky. Christmas, New Year, summer festivals and other big occasions are often celebrated with the help of rockets, bangers and Catherine wheels.
Research tells us that 52% of adults in the UK planned to hold fireworks displays at home in 2021. This is higher than the 29% of adults who held private displays with friends and family during 2019.
With more fireworks displays taking place than ever before, horse owners need to be on their guard. There’s a reason you take out horse rider insurance – make sure you take the same level of care when it comes to all aspects of horse ownership. Luckily, it just takes a bit of planning and preparation to make sure your horse stays safe and calm during a fireworks display.
In this article we look at the impact of fireworks on horses – and the steps you can take to ensure your animal remains as calm as possible throughout.
How to spot if a horse is stressed or anxious
Being able to recognise the body language of your horse can help you take better care of them. Stress and anxiety can trigger serious health issues such as weight loss, stomach ulcers and colic.
Fireworks can bring on feelings of stress, so it’s important you minimise the impact. Horses that are anxious, nervous, or stressed will often display the following behaviour or body language:
- Tail swishing: When a horse slowly swishes its tail, it’s about fly control. But when it’s tail is jerking quickly from side to side, it’s a sign of anxiety.
- Frequent whinnying: If a horse feels nervous (especially if it’s not with other horses) they may start whinnying incessantly.
- Pawing: Pawing the ground can signal boredom or playfulness, but can just as often be triggered by nervousness or stress.
- Excessive sweating: Just as humans get sweaty palms when they’re in stressful situations, horses can sweat when they’re nervous, too. When anxiety hits, their heart rate accelerates, their breathing becomes more rapid, and they start to sweat and grind their teeth.
- Weaving: Weaving is when a horse walks in place – that is, shifting weight alternately between the front two feet. This is accompanied by rhythmically moving their head from side to side.
- Kicking or rearing: If your horse’s fight or flight response is triggered by fireworks, they may rear up or kick out to defend themselves. If you’re riding at the time this can be particularly dangerous and could see you claiming on your horse rider insurance.
- Wide eyes and flared nostrils: It’s often easy to recognise an anxious horse by the expression on its face. A raised head, wide eyes and flared nostrils are all classic signs of anxiety which happen when a horse feels they are in danger. The wide eyes help enhance their vision, while the flared nostrils heighten their sense of smell.
- Decreased appetite: In general, horses stop eating for two reasons: when they are sick or when their routine is disrupted. The loud bang of fireworks is enough to cause enough stress that a horse loses its appetite.
7 ways to calm a horse
No one wants their horse to feel anxious. Spending time around these animals soon makes you realise just how nervous they can be. When a horse expresses their anxiety, it’s your job to help calm them down and alleviate their stress – especially during fireworks season.
Try the following techniques to reduce your horse’s distress and make them realise everything is going to be OK.
1 Be prepared
Preparation is key to keeping your horse’s nerves steady when fireworks start popping.
Anyone arranging a fireworks display in a rural setting will tend to let local farmers and animal owners know in advance. However, you might prefer not to leave things to chance and ask around anyway.
Keep a look out for local displays so you know what is happening locally. Let your neighbours and firework display organisers know there are horses nearby so they can set off fireworks as far away from your animal as possible.
2 Stick with their usual routine
If your horse is usually stabled, keep them stabled. If they are usually out in a field, keep them there. Logic would suggest that a horse will feel safer in a stable when fireworks are going off, but there is no evidence to support that.
Some animals will feel much safer in a field where they can see the causes of the bangs and have other horses nearby. Others will prefer being in their stable. A scared horse can injure itself wherever it is. In a stable it can knock against an object or barrier. In a field, it can bolt when frightened, building up speed and potentially knocking into a fence or gate.
If you do decide you want to stable your horses and they are usually out in the field, start bringing them in a couple of weeks before the display date so they get used to their new surroundings. Set up the stable exactly as you would on the night itself – for example with the door shut and a treat ball to act as a distraction.
If you decide to keep your horse in its field as usual, make sure the field is secure and safe if they get spooked. Check for any potential escape routes and remove any unnecessary large objects.
3 Keep the stable and yard safe
The chances of a fire breaking out in the stable area on the night of the fireworks is relatively low. However, it is still a potential risk, and one that should be taken seriously. A stable fire is every horse owners’ worst nightmare, but taking a few simple steps in advance could help save lives.
This is the perfect opportunity to check your fire evacuation plan, extinguishers and alarms. Make sure your horse’s stable area is clean and tidy. Don’t leave unused hay or straw lying around, and keep the muck heap to a minimum. If you keep your horse at a livery stable, familiarise yourself with the fire drills and assembly points.
Finally, it is worth checking around the entire stable for any protruding nails or jagged edges that could cause injury to your horse if they were to make a sudden movement. It only takes something small to cause serious injury.
4 Stay calm, stay safe
Horses can be highly sensitive to the mood of the humans around them. As an owner, if you are feeling stressed, this will have a direct impact on your horse. If there is a local display you weren’t expecting, make sure you do not get upset or angry in front of your horse. If you are able to remain calm, then hopefully your horse will follow suit.
You should also remain aware of your own safety. A startled horse can be very dangerous so it’s important you don’t put yourself at risk when trying to calm them down. Do not try to handle your horse if it is acting in a dangerous or unpredictable manner.
And it probably goes without saying you should not ride your horse when fireworks are being set off. With loud and unpredictable bangs and bright lights, it is more likely that you or your equine could get injured. Having horse rider insurance is one thing. Deliberately riding a horse at a time when your horse could get scared is not a risk worth taking.
5 Use distractions
The more you can keep your horse occupied with other things, the less fireworks will cause them to become distressed.
Whether your horse is in a stable or in a field, make sure they have access to plenty of hay. This will provide an excellent distraction from whatever else is going on nearby. Another way to distract your animal is by playing music. By positioning a radio or speaker outside the stable, any sudden noises may be masked. Obviously, opt for something calming to help soothe and distract your horse as much as possible. Just make sure you position the source of music out of your horse’s reach.
Your presence can also act as a good distraction. Go and check on your horse regularly to make sure they are OK. If possible, try to stay with them as you being nearby can have a significantly calming effect. Come armed with a flask of tea and some food and you could finally get round to doing some of those jobs you keep putting off.
If it is absolutely necessary that you leave your horse in the care of someone else when you know there will be fireworks displays, be sure to leave clear instructions and contact details for you and your vet. If anything should happen while you’re not there, you’ll want to know as soon as possible.
6 Make sure all is well the morning after
Things will have calmed down by the next morning, but it’s important to make sure your horse is safe and sound. Keep to their usual routine, but make sure they don’t have any new cuts or injuries.
Before letting them into their field, it’s also a good idea to check for any stray fireworks that may have landed overnight. Be very thorough, checking the entire area including the water trough. Any debris that is not cleared away could end up injuring your horse, causing harm to wildlife, or contaminating the area.
7 Make sure you have the right horse rider insurance
During fireworks season, your horse is more likely to cause injury to itself or those around it. With the right insurance policies in place, you can cover yourself if your horse does get spooked or scared.
Although you probably won’t be riding your horse during a fireworks display, you never know when they might be set off around you. If a horse throws you, you may be injured or need dental treatment. Horse rider insurance from Equesure provides for this and helps you get back on your feet after an accident.
Equesure: the equine insurance experts
Whatever way you look at it, fireworks and horses are never going to be a good mix. If you are worried about your horse’s welfare when fireworks are going off, you’re not alone. There are various petitions and legal debates about reducing the impact of fireworks on animals and wildlife.
At Equesure, we know that the welfare of the horse you ride is of the utmost importance to you – whether you own the horse or not.
With more than 60 years’ experience in the insurance market, we have the knowledge needed to find products and services best suited to you. Maybe you are a regular rider, or perhaps you only ride occasionally? Either way, our team can help you find a great deal on insurance for horse riding.
With two types of policy to choose from – Junior (5 to 17 years) and Adult (18 to 75 years) – there are a range of features and benefits that come as standard. These include:
- Public liability up to £1 million
- Personal accident cover up to £20,000
- Personal dental treatment cover up to £1,750
- Saddlery and tack cover available on all policies up to £2,500
- Vets fees up to £1,500
- Death of horse cover up to £3,250
To find out more or to get a free quote, get in touch with the team today and find bespoke horse riding insurance that meets your needs.
Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.