No this isn’t about Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj. This isn’t even about Dr. Stephen Hawking or any other scientist. It’s about fireworks – a big bang we all understand.
We understand it if we are human, but not many animals get it. Many of you own cats and dogs, and you have experienced their distress at the sounds which they can’t make sense of. I regularly read about these beloved pets hiding in small dark spaces such as under beds or in bathrooms. No horse can fit under your bed and very few will fit in your bathroom, so what are we to do?
The change of season from summer to autumn is an exciting time as the world explodes in a rich mixture of yellows and oranges which turn our landscape into a beautiful tapestry. Throwing in the vibrant sunsets of reds and purples, one gets to enjoy the magic that is October and November. It is also the time year that we begin to celebrate many things – The Harvest, Diwali, Halloween, Samhaim, Bonfire Night, the list goes on and on. The one thing we do as humans now is to try to mimic the beauty that is Nature at the seasonal change in the night sky. So we light large bonfires and beacons, let off fireworks, and generally have a good time. Meanwhile, Pasha shivers in fear at the back of his stable.
Anxiety in horses can manifest itself in several ways. Your horse could go off of it food, refusing to eat either their concentrates (hard feed) or their hay, or God forbid, both. Your horse could begin to kick their doors or walls (this is supposing they don’t already) in an effort to escape. Your horse could begin weaving or box walking in an attempt to distract itself. Your horse could start to call out looking for support from their friends. In worst case scenarios, your horse could colic, become depressed, or become violent. So how can we help our equine buddies while we enjoy the 3 weeks of fireworks?
I have found that using a variety of things help get my horses through this time. For my high-strung thoroughbred and warmblood, I give them chamomile. Now this doesn’t work instantly and does require some forethought. I find that if I start supplementing their feed on or about the 15th of October, by 5th of November they are very relaxed (Don’t plan a show for this period!). My son’s showjumper is having his nightly feed spiced up with some fennel – calms him down but makes it so he can still jump. And yes, one does get strange looks for the amount of fennel I have to purchase for T. For my big Ardennes, who is usually very chilled in temperament, lavender infused bedding helps a lot. At 750kg I don’t need him going through the side of a stable. For the rest of my horses I find that extra grooming gives them the emotional support they need. I also am not afraid of speaking with my vet if I find a horse is very distressed by the nightly goings-on.
I have also found there are supplements created by companies such as NAF, TopSpec, and Dodson & Horrell. I am not against any of these products so long as they work for your horse. They can be seen as an expensive luxury, but if you consider how much damage a horse can do to you, their stable and themselves, it is well worth the average £25 to get through this period. What is important is to not wait until the day before the fireworks go off to start giving it to them.
Now I want you to understand that I am not against fireworks. I actually rather like them, but I am aware that my pleasure may not be Crystal’s. I do encourage everyone to act responsibly with, near and around fireworks. Even the ones that don’t bang can cause equine distress. Large bonfires worry and frighten horses. Don’t ride to a Wickerman or bonfire if you have not desensitized your horse to this type of fire. We have regular bonfires at my yard and my horses are pretty good about them. This being said, the first one of the season always surprises them and puts them a bit on their toes. I do also admit that on Bonfire Night (the weekend near 5 November), I do spend the time when the fireworks are going off on the yard, checking and reassuring my buddies that all is okay and not to fret. I have to do this because I’m located near 5 different displays – I really do get treated without having to go anywhere! I also do this on New Year’s Eve.
I do want everyone to have a great Autumn Party Time, but please think and plan what you are going to do to help your friend through this time. You may have a horse which sails through with no problem, and for that you should count your blessings. For those of you who have never thought about it, spend a few minutes considering what you could do to make your friend content. It only requires you to be very aware of any changes in their habits, and respond accordingly. It also helps to keep notes of what has happened so that you are prepared for next year.
Wishing you happy Diwali, Halloween, Samhaim, Bonfire Night!
And Keep Riding!