Pretend, just for a moment, that you’ve never seen nor heard fireworks; you haven’t heard anything about them and do not know that they exist. Then imagine how you might react if one were set off directly outside where you lived; where, previously, you had felt safe. You would be beyond terrified.
We don’t know how our animals think but we can tell by their reactions how much fireworks frighten them. And while it is distressing to see a dog trying to make itself small enough to squash under a bed or sofa, or a cat cowering in a corner, with bigger animals such as horses the consequences can be devastating.
A post on social media last week showed a horse with a bloody wound to its leg that resulted in it being put to sleep because it suffered extensive damage to its cannon bone and a severed tendon.
The distraught owner posted: “Today we have to say goodbye to our boy, which could have been avoided if people weren’t so bloody stupid and setting fireworks off in the field above our horses! Can you be aware where animals are when setting off your fireworks because this is what happens. Now this perfectly happy, healthy and much-loved horse has to be put to sleep today because the damage is too great. Thanks idiots.”
This is an extreme — and tragic — occurrence, but there are many stories of horses injuring themselves, whether in the field or in the stable. Not all horses are bothered by fireworks but it is best to take precautions. Many horse owners find that playing loud music, either a CD or the radio, can help, while those who live near busy roads or shoots say that their horses are largely unaffected.
A friend who has retrained racehorses says: “My horses take absolutely no notice of fireworks. I learned that around seven years ago, after spending two hours sitting in a field with the [then] three of them, in the dark, cold, with it chucking it down with rain…”
Another offered this suggestion: “Mine are in with all the lights on in the yard and radio on loud. The one that’s frightened goes on Global Herbs FireworX mid-October and comes off mid-November, then back on at Christmas ready for New Year’s Eve.”
The British Horse Society features a checklist on its website for horse owners concerned about firework displays distressing their horses (you can also read the Derby House Post’s own tips to keep your horses as safe as possible).
Much of it is common sense, such as checking fields for broken fencing and any debris that cause injury, doing the same in the stable, and ensuring someone will be able to stay with the horse. The BHS also advocates playing music and, more seriously, ensuring that your third-party insurance is adequate and that you have an emergency fire procedure in place.
You can find out via local press when and where there are displays in your locality, and let the organisers know that there are horses in the area. Horses feel safest in a routine, so it’s best not to change that unless you feel it is essential.
The Kennel Club also warns that this time of year can be traumatic for dogs, which could lead to them running away or acting aggressively out of fear. Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club secretary, suggests: “In the run up to Bonfire Night, try playing a sound CD with firework noises, or firework sound videos on YouTube at a low level, to let your dog get used to the sound in the background. On Bonfire Night itself, it’s best to close the curtains and turn the television or radio up and try to behave as normally as possible to encourage your dog to do the same.”
But maybe a more drastic solution is in order, especially now that, unfortunately, “firework night” as it used to be known, has become “firework fortnight”, or longer. I’m no killjoy, but I’m in favour of banning the sale of fireworks to the public and only allow licensed displays on or near 5 November and 31 December. A petition has been started to achieve this. The ban is unlikely to happen anytime soon, though, so as Bonfire Night approaches, look after your animals — they don’t have a clue what’s going on.