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Equestrian Advice & Guides Beginners Advice
Just as we do with our children, we develop a bond over time with our animals too. Horses are no exception. These beautiful creatures can form attachments to their human owners over time. The bonding can be so strong that any isolation from their human associate can cause them to be severely anxious and flighty.
It goes even deeper; humans and horses have developed a distinctive way in which to communicate with each other, a sort of a third language. These creatures are sensitive by nature and like many domesticated animals, they will look to us for comfort and reassurance when they sense any danger on the horizon.
For the majority of us, Bonfire Night is a time to celebrate and look on in wonder at the beautiful colours exploding into life in the sky above us. For horses, it's a time of year to fear. One of anxiety and insecurities, where their stress levels rise, and their usual calm demeanour is replaced by startling reactions to the bangs and flashes lighting up the night sky.
It can also be a stressful time for us too, as we do our best to reassure and calm our equine friends. There are several things we can do to dampen down their anxieties and bring about calm. Charli from Petz gives these practical tips to help ensure your horse stays happy, healthy and anxiety-free.
Obviously, one thing you shouldn't do while fireworks are going off is to ride your horse; both yourself and your mount could get seriously injured if they get startled.
If horses are locked up securely, the sudden flashes that fireworks produce shouldn't be as much of a worry as the noise they create. With this in mind, one of the best ways to prepare your horse for bonfire night is by getting them used to loud bangs, and other noises associated with it, by desensitising them.
Desensitisation works by introducing your horse to noises before the event, which will hopefully eliminate any possible stress or anxiety on the night, or at least drastically reduce it. You can do this by purchasing recordings of fireworks and thunderstorm sounds that are available. Play them to your horse while you're grooming them or while they're feeding. Gradually increase the volume over time, so they begin to get used to louder sounds. If they get spooked because it's too loud, reduce the volume for a day or two, then crank it back up.
Once your horse has got accustomed to these recordings, begin to introduce live sounds. You can do this by banging two blocks of wood together at feeding time. Start this from a distance and gradually get closer to your horse, and remember to keep a safe distance, you don't want to get kicked if your horse gets stressed by the noise.
There are certain things you should and shouldn't do when preparing your horse for any occasion where fireworks are in use. For one, try to make sure their routine stays the same and provide plenty of hay as this will keep them occupied. Check fences, doors, and any other enclosures, making sure they're all secure.
To avoid any injury if your horse does get spooked, avoid tying them. Horses feel more secure in the company of others, so make sure they're not left alone in their stalls. Physical company will be ideal, but if this is not possible, then at least make sure they have visual contact with yourself or other horses. Fireworks can go on for quite a while, so always check on your horse during this time and throughout the night.
Nobody knows your horse better than you, so it would be a good idea if you stayed with them while fireworks are being set off. If you do have to leave them with anyone else, just make sure you've given them full instructions and contact details of both you and your vet. Playing music while you're with your horse can have both a soothing effect and mask some of the noise going on outside. Stay calm. We know horses are sensitive, so any stress or anxiety that you're feeling will be picked up by your equine buddy, which could make matters worse.
Preparation and desensitisation are two great ways of making for a calmer, less stressful bonfire night for both your horse and yourself. With fireworks being used more and more for numerous different occasions, such as weddings, birthday parties and religious festivals, these practices are going to be carried out on a more regular basis and be a standard part of horse ownership.