18 ways to deal with horses and fireworks


Horses and fireworks together are often stressful. There are whizzing sounds, loud crashing bangs, and, to top it off, a light show high in the sky. This is a tricky thing to train your horse for – considering that fireworks typically happen once or twice a year, definitely on the Fourth of July, and sometimes on New Year’s Eve. The upside is that most fireworks displays are not super long.


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Tips for helping horses during fireworks


  • While you may never be able to hide the fireworks’ noise from your horse completely, you can certainly take some measures to mitigate the sights and loud noises. Some of these tips should be ongoing; others are good ideas for the big day.


  • Even the smaller fireworks you use at home can terrify horses. And dogs, cats, and adults.


Help your horse be safe with fireworks long before the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve


Horse training – including building confidence, is a daily task that, over time, can help your horse deal with new or scarred situations. Here are some things to do all year long:


Desensitize your horse beforehand


  • Nothing gets a horse acclimated to booms and whirls better than positive reinforcement training. Desensitize your horse to the sounds of July 4th with an app, video, or game that includes fireworks sounds. There are dozens of pet-desensitizing videos on youtube.com that you could play for your doggos and equine buddies long before the big holidays and reward them greatly as you do.


  • Don’t force your horse to deal with the sounds. Instead, work on building the relationship between the sound and a reward – like a scratch, treat, or other kind gesture. The goal is to train your horse to think, “Oh boy, oh boy, a treat for me; nothing is wrong; these booms mean I get a reward, and I’m so happy about it.”


fireworks stand in rural area

Even the “DIY” fireworks can terrify horses. And dogs, cats, adults.


Calming supplements


  • Many equine calming products contain magnesium, tryptophan, thiamine (B1), and herbs that may help your horse chill. Because there are so many, with various ingredient lists, it’s best to try them out months in advance. You need to know how long before they take effect and how well they work. They may not be the absolute only solution to the holiday shenanigans, but instead, they are part of the larger plan.


Prescription medications from your vet


  • Your vet can help you find the best meds to safely keep your horse calm without being so out of sorts they hurt themselves. You will need to try these, too, and notice how far in advance they should be given. The dosage may vary, too, depending on how your horse reacts. Also, more is not better in many cases!


  • Better living through chemistry, as they say!


Read more about calming supplements, tranquilizers, and sedatives here.


giant firework display in the sky



As July 4th approaches


Now it’s time to get more specific about preparing your barn for the holiday festivities.


Check pastures, stalls, and fencing


  • If your horse will be in the barn, pasture, or both, make things as safe as possible. For fencing, check boards, gates, gate latches, and posts. For stalls, make sure no boards are loose, no tripping hazards with mats, and the walls are free of things that can poke your horse. Pastures need an inspection to verify no holes or obstacles could trip your horse.


Keep your horse’s ground and bedding clear


  • We know it’s best to feed and water your horse on ground level, but for one night, make sure everything is off the ground. Instead of water troughs, hang buckets. Hay slow feeders should be higher. The goal is to remove anything that your horse could get stuck on.


Know the festivities schedule for your area


  • Spend a few minutes finding out what public fireworks displays will be happening. You can map them to get a rough idea of where the sights and sounds are coming from and block views, if possible.


  • Also, know your local fireworks laws! Many areas ban fireworks. Find out who you can call if you need to report some unruly hooligans.



Talk to your neighbors


  • Neighborly goodwill goes a long way. Do your neighbors have horses, too? Can you share ideas that have worked in the past? Or ask that their celebrations happen further away from your horses?


What equine vets will be on call?


  • It’s terrible to think about, but ice storms and July 4th are busy vet days, especially after hours. Does your vet’s office have backup plans if they are too busy? Is there an equine hospital that can take your horse if need be?


Have the trailer and first aid kit ready


  • Go into this day with a solid plan to minimize risks for everyone. If there’s the slimmest chance you’ll need to move your horse, have your trailer ready. Bedding, hay, safety checks, all of it.  Then you can load up and go.


  • It’s also an excellent opportunity to double-check that your vet kit contains clean wound care items like wraps, cotton, diapers, wound cleaner, pain medications, etc. Check expiration dates, too, and ensure all your meds are within the safe temperature zone.


This article has tips on what to put in your first aid kit. 


Change the routine for your horse early, and fireworks are not such a huge deal


  • The most important thing about horses and fireworks is to keep your horse’s routine the same, with some safety measures intact. If your horse usually is out at night but does better in a stall for scary events, introduce the stall during their regular turnout times about a week in advance so they won’t be surprised. They can always go back out after a few hours.


  • The idea is to “test-drive” a safe routine before you need to implement it for real.


Horse care on the big day


  • It’s time to get your horse ready, so it’s as if the booms and whizzes don’t even exist. Also – if you choose to leave a halter on your horse, it must be breakaway. If you don’t have one, you can pick up an inexpensive leather crown piece to modify an existing halter.


Exercise your horse beforehand


  • Horses chill out after a wonderful day of turnout, playing with friends, and a nice ride or lunge. Let your horse get their ya-ya’s out during the day to make settling down easier later. Riding during the big show is not a great idea!


Identify your horse with permanent markings


  • Many times, horses do best in the field instead of the barn. In that case, you may have a horse pop the fence and take a joy ride around the area. Mark your horse with your and your vet’s contact information.


  • You can do this with a luggage tag in their mane or tail. You can also write that info on their hooves in permanent marker. BUT! Those methods are only good if someone can catch your horse. Alternatively, use grooming sprays like Show Touch Up to write your phone number in massive print across your horse’s body. Now, it’s safer for everyone.



show horse with black fly bonnet on ears

Some fly bonnets have padding over the ears to muffle sounds. 


Use ear plugs


  • Pop some fuzzy pom-poms or fluffy horse earplugs into your horse’s satellite dish ears. Secure this setup with a fly bonnet under a breakaway halter. You can skip the poms and use a fly bonnet with built-in noise canceling if your horse is weird about things in their ears.


Close windows and doors in the barn


  • This does a few things. You can block some noise, block some views, and also prevent escapes. A panicked horse through the window is not unheard of, so be prepared for this. I have no statistics about this, but it’s rare. But still! Horses!


  • If you think your horse does better being able to see the show, leave windows open but put a few stall chains across them so there is a sight line, but no one will get stuck in the window.


Keep the lights on


  • The barn lights make the outside world less clear and give you better vision if you check on the horses. If that doesn’t work for your setup, have some light sources available to check on everyone.


Use slow feeders


  • Nothing says relaxation more than a giant hay play bag filled to the brim with delicious, distracting snacks. You may need to test out the best location, so your horse can keep an eye on things or if the hay bag should lure your horse into a less visual spot.  It will depend on what your horse finds soothing.


  • If your horse is in the field, you can offer hay if their pasture is sparse or you use a dry lot.


Play music


  • Many horses don’t mind music around them; others mind a lot. Try mellow classical music or talk radio for the booms and loud noises. Do you know what your horse likes? Folk music? Polka? The possibilities are endless.


Be present


  • If your horse loves hanging out with you, be with your horse during scary times. I don’t suggest holding your buddy for two reasons – they may run over you, and you are denying them the opportunity to find a safe place for themselves. But being there is often a reassurance that you can provide.



hay net slow feeder for horses

Yes, occupy your horse with food, but don’t leave it on the ground. 



Why are horses often scared of fireworks?


The horse’s flight, flight, or freeze response is strong, and a horse’s sharp hearing can trigger these responses. Fireworks are rare, loud, and unpredictable, triggering stress, fear, and running into a vet bill.


Are there any specific training techniques to help desensitize horses to fireworks?


Positive reinforcement training can systematically desensitize horses to fireworks. Gradually exposing them to the sound at a safe distance and pairing it with positive experiences can reduce their fear and anxiety over time. Flooding, when you force horses to remain fearful until they give up, is never kind or effective.


What are signs that a horse has stress during fireworks?


Stressed-out horses will have increased pulse and respiratory rates, and they may sweat, pace, whinny, tighten up, have wild eye expressions, or prance around. Many will bolt or try to escape, but some may freeze and panic in place. Your vet can help with medications and prescriptions to alleviate stress.


Read more about stress in horses here.





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06/05/2024 03:26 pm GMT


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