The 4th of July is almost here; make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your horse safe over the holiday.
With the end of June drawing near, Independence Day is looming ahead. Many of us enjoy the 4th of July with picnics, parades, time with family and friends, and – of course – fireworks. Although we may relish in the festivities, our equine pals may not be quite as thrilled with our revelries as we. The loud noises and disturbances caused by the fireworks, parades and other celebrations can upset our horses and lead to injuries, runaways and other problems that, frankly, most of us can do without.
With that in mind, here are 10 ways you can ensure your horses are safe and as comfortable as possible during the upcoming holiday.
1. Be aware of the events around you. One of the best ways to practice safety is to be aware of the events around you – sanctioned or otherwise. Be aware of scheduled fireworks displays so that you know if they will affect your horses. Also, communicate with your neighbors. Although not all areas are exposed to commercial fireworks displays, many are exposed to the celebrations of those around them. Each can be stressful on your horses, so know what’s likely to occur ahead of time and make plans for your horses accordingly.
2. Put your horses inside. If this is an option for you, do it. Putting your horses in the barn will lend them a sense of security and minimize the chances of escape. This especially is true if you have a horse that likes to challenge fencing. Noises from fireworks, sirens, and any number of things the neighbors may come up with through the course of the night can cause your horses to panic and run through fences if they feel threatened enough. Being stalled for the night can help prevent this and the walls of the barn can muffle the noise of the evening to further your horse’s comfort.
If your horse is in, you can make the noise of the fireworks even less of an issue by playing background music on the radio or white noise. Some people recommend classical music as a way to calm the nerves, but any sort of constant background noise can help alleviate the shock of the sounds of the fireworks. Note: make sure your horse is used to being inside/stalled for the evening. Otherwise, this can have the opposite effect.
3. Distract your horses. If you know your horses will be within earshot of fireworks, give them something different on which to concentrate. A slow feeder or even a couple extra flakes of hay can keep them busy while the fireworks finale is blasting in the background.
4. Check your fencing and pastures. For some horse owners, putting their horses inside for a night may not be an option. Not everyone has access to a barn, some horses’ temperaments are not well suited to being in a stall, and some barns may not be equipped to house horses overnight. If a scenario like this is the one in which you find yourself, walk your fence line to make sure that all fencing is strong and in good repair and that your gates are securely latched. Check the pasture for any hazards, such as holes in the ground or protrusions, that could cause injury to your horses.
5. Check on your horse. We know you’ll be busy enjoying the evening, but it doesn’t hurt to stop by and make sure your horses are okay. If, like many, you go out of town to celebrate the holiday, make sure someone reliable is nearby who can look in on your horses and who knows what to do in case of an emergency.
6. ID your horse. July 1st is national ID Your Pet Day (yes, this is a thing) – just in time for the 4th of July. If you haven’t already had your horse microchipped and you don’t have time to do it before the 4th, there are other less permanent ways to ID your horse. Horse ID bands, monogrammed halters, or even name tags with contact information tied into manes are great ways to identify your horse if he should get out and someone else finds him. Of course, with anything that is on your horse, make sure that it fits properly and is quick-release so that he can’t get hung up if it gets caught on something. Don’t forget to get a current picture of your horse in case he does happen to escape.
7. Get your horse accustomed to loud noises. Exposing your horses to loud noises in advance of the celebrations will make them less likely to spook with fireworks and sirens. If you have the option to do this ahead of time, it will make your horses more relaxed and put your mind at ease when holidays with fireworks occur.
8. Calming agents and sedatives. Some horses are more reactive than others. For some, fireworks and sirens will be business as usual. For others, they can cause undue amounts of stress that can result in dangerous situations and costly vet bills. For horses that may be overly sensitive, calming agents and sedatives may help alleviate the stress of the evening and offer peace of mind to everyone involved. There are a number of herbal remedies on the market or you can ask your vet to prescribe something to help your horse relax.
8. Have a plan in place. Fireworks can be a bigger problem than simply spooking your horses. Errant sparks can be disastrous – especially when they get too near to hay and wood. Make sure all fireworks (whether they are yours or your neighbors) are set off well away from your barn to minimize the risk of a structure fire. Further, have on hand multiple fire extinguishers. Makes sure that they have been inspected, are ready to use, and that you know where they are and how to use them.
10. Check your pastures – again. Even if you fastidiously checked your pastures and fencing before the festivities began, check them again the next day. You’ll want to make sure there are no artifacts from the night’s celebrations left over in your fields. Anything from fireworks to bottles may find their way into your horse’s pasture, just waiting to inflict more vet bills on your bank account.
When you choose a course of action to ensure your horse’s safety, keep your horse’s behaviors and temperament in mind. What is right for one horse may not be right for another. Remember, you know your horse best.
Happy 4th of July, Horse Nation! Go riding!