Every year there are apparently conflicting reports from horse owners over the extent to which their horses are affected by fireworks with some owners stating its not an issue and others saying their horses are badly affected. Despite this, there is little structured information available on how badly horses are affected, the steps which owners take to minimise the effect of fireworks or the number of horses that have been injured.
Between the 26th October and 1st November 2020 we ran an online survey. The survey consisted of 3 closed questions and was anonymous. The second question also had an option for free-form comments. It was shared on Dr David Marlin's Facebook page and on other equestrian themed UK pages and groups. A total of 2837 responses were received.
Around 20% of owners considered that their horses were not at all affected. However, this may be due to lack of exposure to fireworks but this was not explored in this survey. Almost 1 in 5 were reported to be severely affected.
Q2. What have you tried to help your horse/s or ponies and how effective did you find it?
None of the common approaches listed were considered particularly effective. More people had tried bringing horses in than turning out. Other approaches that were mentioned included turning/leaving lights on in stables/yard, distraction, staying with the horses, providing extra feed/hay. Only a few people mentioned using desensitisation i.e. using a sound recording of explosions and playing this at a low volume and gradually increasing the volume over time.
Around 1 in 5 owners had a horse or pony that had required veterinary treatment as a result of fireworks.
There is an opportunity here to increase awareness amongst horse owners of the possibility of using desensitisation to firework noise as a way to reduce stress caused during periods when fireworks are regularly used.