Bonfire night is almost upon us. It is the night horse owners dread, many with good reason. Loud bangs and whizzing noises are accompanied by flashes of white and coloured lights and a burning smell pervades the air. As pyrotechnics become ever more sophisticated, families can now put on fireworks that were once the preserve of a few organised displays. So what can you do to keep your horse safe on Bonfire Night?
1. Keep your horse in a familiar area
If he lives out, it is generally best to keep him in the same field provided the gates and fences are secure. He will feel happier in his familiar surroundings. If your horse is particularly nervous, however, you might consider sending him to a different area or a friend’s yard for the night.
2. Desensitise your horse to noise and light
This could be done through playing the radio or recording loud noises on your iPad and replaying them while your horse is stabled. Remember to start off quietly and build up, however, or you will defeat the object. Ideally on the night keep the same radio station playing so that the bangs of the fireworks become absorbed into the music. Also leave on a light in your horse’s stable to lessen the effect of the sudden flashes from the fireworks.
3. Keep your horse busy
Leave your horse with things to occupy him, such as a large haynet
4. Consider a calming product
If you know that he has a particularly nervous tendency and could come to harm talk to you vet about prescribing a calmer
or even sedating him.
5. Ask your vet for his opinion on using earplugs
If he recommends them, don’t use them for the first time on bonfire night. Instead get your horse used to them beforehand.
6. Talk to your neighbours
Think about dropping a polite letter through local letterboxes stating that you have horses who tend to be frightened by fireworks and asking anyone planning a display to contact you with timings. You may even be able to come to an arrangement which sees the neighbours move their fireworks further from your yard. You can contact the organisers of commercial displays in the same way. If you are having regular issues with neighbours and fireworks, the law states that no private individual can set off a display between 11pm and 7am, except on certain nights of the year, while it is also an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to a captive or domestic animal — so report them to the police if your horse is suffering.
7. Talk to other horse owners
If your horse is in a livery yard, or if there are other horse owners very local to you, devise a Bonfire Night strategy with them. A problem shared is a problem halved.
8. Launch an awareness campaign
The BHS produces an impactful poster that can be downloaded free from their si. Consider putting it up locally — in the post office, school or on a noticeboard, etc — to inform unhorsey local people how badly some horses can react to fireworks.
9. Be at hand on Bonfire Night
Stay on the yard — but not in the stable or the field — during the firework display. If you lack experience, ensure that you have a knowledgeable helper on hand in case your horse panics and risks injuring himself. Make sure all gates on the yard are closed on the night in case a horse is badly spooked and manages to escape from his stable.
10. Report any accident
If your horse is unfortunate enough to suffer an accident, report it using the British Horse Society’s dedicated firework accident online form