It's that time of year again when pet owners start to dread the terrors that go 'boom' in the night. Fireworks, while stunning, just can't be appreciated for their beauty when furry family members are cowering and panting in fear because of them. We all know that many dogs (and sometimes cats) are negatively impacted by fireworks in the area during a holiday like the 4th of July. However, they're not the only animals that find them overwhelming - our equine friends do too.
Horses are flight animals, meaning that it is their instinct to try and flee when they believe they are in danger. Fireworks can be particularly scary due to the species' superior sense of hearing and the way that they perceive sounds in their environment. According to a publication by The University of Minnesota, equines can hear a much larger frequency range than humans. They can also hear environmental sounds and commands that are low in volume. With ten muscles in their ears, the have the unique ability to turn them 180 degrees, making it possible to hear noises with more clarity, and pinpoint the specific location each sound is coming from. Evolution provided them with these impressive skills to help them detect predators and escape to safer destinations rather than become prey.
The profound sense of hearing that horses possess is relevant as auditory threats, like the sound of fireworks on the 4th, can trigger this flight instinct. Horses trying to flee from the danger of an unrecognizable sound may run through fences, injure themselves on rocks or trees (or any other natural debris present), or pose a risk to their herd mates once they've lost their heads in fear.
The way that horses react to fireworks differs greatly from the response of dogs that usually hide or seek comfort when frightened by loud noises. Rarely, canines become aggressive due to the feeling of vulnerability, but they don't commonly pose a risk to themselves. While not every horse has a negative response to fireworks, until you've determined what their reaction will be, it's better to exercise caution for their own protection.
With the 4th of July just days away, apply these strategies and tips to help your equine get through the evening and weekend with as little stress as possible.
4 Ways To Help Your Horse Cope With Fear Of Fireworks
- Be present - you just don't know what your horse will get up to when you're not there. Skip local firework celebrations yourself so that you can be at home if that's where your horse is, or at the facility where you board him/her. This will allow you to check for injury should anything occur despite your best efforts, and you can be a calming presence to help keep your equine settled. Neighbors are likely to set off their own fireworks around dusk, and you can check with your city or town to determine when specifically events will take place nearby.
- Be safe - if your horse will be outside during the firework displays, check their paddock or pasture for any hazards like rocks, branches or holes that could lead to injury if our horses starts bolting. Also remember that you're a hazard as well. As tempting as it might be to try and stand with your horse and offer comfort, restraining him/her is likely to produce more tension when the option to flee is eliminated. Plus, you're at risk if you're with a loose, panicked horse.
- Keep it normal - you might be tempted to bring your horse inside and crate a barrier between the animal and the fireworks. If your horse is normally in a stall around dusk every night, this might not be a bad idea. If your horse is typically outside, then that's where it should be. Chaging up their routine only adds to the tension and the likelihood they'll panic.
- Desensitize - before the holiday rolls around, it's the perfect time to do some desensitization training (or refreshing) and expose your horse to a variety of sudden, loud noises. Your goal should be to reduce the severity of their reaction when a frightening noise occurs, or eliminate it entirely.
While you're at it with the celebrations, you might as well dress up your horse in the ever patriotic red, white, and blue. Cheers to a safe and hapy 4th of July to you and all of your pets!