With the Fourth of July coming up and summer activities in full swing, there's an increased chance that your horse will have to deal with fireworks. Fireworks can be frightening for any horse, and every year horses are injured and even killed because they panic. They bolt through fences and try to leap over stall doors all in an attempt to escape the sound. And while your non-horse neighbors will never understand the depths of your concerns, it's up to you to do everything you can to protect your horse.
Fireworks are an unavoidable part of celebrating July 4th, and it's one day a year we need to be extra prepared for our horses. If you suspect your neighborhood will be racked with loud booms sometime soon, check out these methods to help keep your horse safe and calm.
Find a Safe Place for Your Horse
The most important thing that you can do to help your horse deal with fireworks is to find a safe place for him. Some horses may do better outside where they can move around freely, but be aware of the fact that if a horse panics while he's outdoors, he could run into a fence, break through a fence, and even get loose.
Many horse owners choose to keep their horses in stalls when they know that fireworks will be set off. Stalls give you more control over your horse, and keeping your horse indoors can be a good option as long as your horse is used to being in a stall. If your horse is not accustomed to being closed into a stall, putting him inside may cause him even more stress.
Play Background Music
If possible, put your barn's radio on as background music for your horses. Choose a soothing station, like a classical music station. Having this background noise can help to distract horses from the noise of the fireworks.
You might also consider using earplugs on any horses that you know to be highly sensitive to noise. Horse ear plugs are typically little foam puffs that help block noise. They don't work perfectly, but they can essentially lower the volume of whatever's happening around them. Make sure that you get your horse used to wearing earplugs before the night of the fireworks, or they may add to his stress.
Keep Your Horse Occupied
Provide your horse with plenty of hay so that he constantly has food in front of him during the fireworks. Food can be an excellent way to distract horses. Many horses even feel a natural urge to eat when they're nervous. As an added bonus, hay can help to buffer your horse's stomach from the stomach acid generated by stress, reducing the chance of him developing stomach ulcers.
Besides food, you can also offer your horse stall toys or boredom-busting licks. You just need something to keep your horse's mind off the explosions happening nearby.
Try Desensitizing Your Horse
If fireworks and other loud noises are unavoidable, it's a good idea to try desensitizing your horse to loud noises. This means you gradually expose them to the scary sounds in a safe environment. For this to work, you need to start before the first fireworks are ever lit. You might need weeks to get your horse comfortable with the sounds. The time frame will ultimately depend on their level of fear.
Start off by playing recordings of fireworks with low volume. Pair the sounds with something your horse really enjoys, like a special treat or scratch. When they seem comfortable, gradually increase the volume and repeat your positive reinforcement. If your horse shows signs of discomfort, lower the volume and try again. The goal is to eventually turn the volume all the way up and have your horse remain completely calm. This way, when the real deal happens, they'll already be accustomed to those loud sounds, and they won't panic.
Transport Your Horse Somewhere Else
If you know that your horse doesn't like fireworks, or if you won't be around to check in on your horses, it may be a good idea to transport your horse to another stable for a few days until the displays are over. A stable in a quiet, rural area could give you and your horse a night of relaxation.
Unless your horse is comfortable with trailers, this should be your last resort. You don't want to stress your horse out more by trying to load and dropping them off in an unfamiliar place. But, if it's the only thing that will protect your horse this July 4th, it's an option worth considering.
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Hopefully the fireworks displays near you will be small. With a bit of preparation, you can help to keep your horse comfortable and safe.