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All out of fear of the fireworks

While many people eagerly anticipate the New Year’s Eve fireworks, horse owners often find themselves concerned about the well-being of their four-legged companions on this day. Veterinarians and equine clinics, in turn, find themselves working overtime to address the needs of these animals.

Horses exhibit varying reactions to the loud noises: some continue to calmly nibble on their hay, while others, in contrast, may roll their eyes, sweat, and tremble as the evening unfolds. These horses require support, as the fear of loud noises can manifest in symptoms ranging from colic to panic attacks, and in severe cases, even lead to a potentially fatal kidney shock.

If you already know that your horse tends to panic when there are fireworks, you should start using calming feed early on. This includes the OKAPI Relax, for example. It contains tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, which is converted in the brain. It aids in preventing horses from experiencing excessive fear. To establish a certain level, it is advisable to commence administration a week in advance with the maximum dose recommended by the manufacturer. Although most horses may still exhibit nervousness, the absence of panic contributes to a more relaxed evening.

Calming herbal blends

Additionally, calming herbal blends can be administered, typically comprising herbs like valerian and hops, known for their mild sedative properties. Here we recommend the OKAPI Calming Herbs. Commence herb administration approximately two weeks in advance to ensure the horses have developed an appropriate level of effectiveness. Some riders also advocate for the use of hemp for horses. This contains cannabidiol, promoting not only relaxation in humans but also inducing a state of calmness in horses. The same principle applies here: commence feeding approximately two weeks in advance. This allows the horses to accumulate an effective level, and they become accustomed to the desired effect. Sedating them for a single evening can exacerbate panic, as flight animals, they lack the ability to flee in this sedated state. Thus, administer all calming measures well in advance and familiarize the horses with them, ensuring their relaxation on New Year’s Eve.

Bach flower remedies for anxiety

Bach flowers can also help to alleviate anxiety symptoms. In addition to the “emergency mixture” Rescue, we also recommend these Bach flowers:

  • Cerato (“self confidence”)
  • Cherry Plum (“openness and balance”)
  • Elm (“strength in moments of weakness”)
  • Mimulus (“bravery and trust”) and
  • Willow (“Master of your own destiny”)

as well as the next morning:

  • Crab Apple (“inner cleansing”)
  • Olive (“vitality”) and
  • Star of Bethlehem (“Healing”)

to better process the experiences of the night.

Routines should not be interrupted

Horses accustomed to an open yard should never be confined to a stall. Because often, these horses experience anxiety already when confined.

If compounded by the sound of fireworks, without the horse being able to perceive the ‘danger,’ coupled with the sensation of not being able to escape, the situation can escalate to a potentially fatal outcome. Horses of this nature should remain in the turnout or, preferably, in a paddock with ample hay provided.

Eating serves as a source of distraction and relaxation for the horses. If necessary, they can, however, move freely at any time, allowing them to alleviate their stress. Studies have demonstrated that horses can rapidly reduce stress hormones through unrestricted movement, making it less likely for them to experience panic.

In such cases, it is imperative to ensure that the fences are intact and electrified. Furthermore, the horses should not be left unattended to mitigate the risk of any attempts to breach or go through the fence.

However, experience has shown that horses accustomed to an open yard tend to be more at ease in a spacious turnout with ample hay. If adequately supported with Relax, herbs, and/or Bach flower remedies in advance, most cases result in only minor restlessness at midnight, with no significant injuries or consequential damage.

In contrast, horses accustomed to stabling are familiar with entering their stall in the evening and often feel safer there, attributable in part to the established routine, than in the turnout during the night. This routine should not be interrupted. A helpful strategy is to play music at a moderate volume in the stable during the afternoon, creating a varied noise level.

This aids the horses in acclimating to unfamiliar noises, reducing the impact of loud sounds when music is played at an elevated volume during the evening. If feasible, it is advisable to keep windows and doors closed on this evening to mitigate the noise within the stable.

Offering an ample supply of hay for nibbling from the afternoon onward also serves as a source of distraction and relaxation. Following these measures, the majority of stabled horses can endure New Year’s Eve without experiencing significant panic attacks.

Your own behaviour towards the horse

As in all challenging situations, your behavior towards the horse is crucial on New Year’s Eve.

Undoubtedly, maintaining composure becomes challenging when one has witnessed their horse panicking due to New Year’s Eve fireworks. However, the owner’s nervousness is directly transmitted to the horse through mirror neurons. Maintaining outward calmness while being internally tense is just as unhelpful as nervously pacing in front of the stall or checking on your animal every five minutes. On the other hand, it is advisable to be present in the stable as a precaution, enabling swift intervention in case of an emergency.

Consider the option of organizing a ‘night watch’ with stablemates, taking turns to care for each other’s horses. Experience has indicated that horse owners tend to be more at ease when handling other people’s horses as opposed to their own. If necessary, there are also Rescue drops available for the owner… With this in mind, we extend our best wishes for a joyful and stress-free New Year!