I would like all reading this who do not own animals to undertake an exercise in imagination. I would like you to imagine that you are in a single room in your home, on a regular evening. You are perhaps shut in your bedroom; this is obviously a space you feel safe in, but for the purpose of this exercise you are aware that you cannot escape. Your nightly routine is proceeding as normal. Suddenly, there is a huge explosion immediately outside of your house. Deafening and inescapable, the noise startles you. A split second later, you are blinded by an eruption of blazing light through your window. You experience a nauseating rush of panic as the light rains down, unsure if you are safe or not. Before you can think about it, several more explosions go off. The huge booming sounds and flashes start to disorientate you. You don’t even notice the pain of your body slamming into the walls of your bedroom as you cower from the attack. There is no one to call to for help, and no escape. Alone and afraid, you have no option but to try and survive.
Horses and Fireworks
November to New Years
The festive period can be a stressful time for horses. Starting around, but not limited to, Bonfire Night in the U.K, equines are subjected to the ordeal I described earlier over and over again. Their stables and paddocks, usually recognised as a safe space, essentially become pens which prevent them following their instinct to run from threat. It is important to remember that as flight animals, horses have hearing and sight far more sensitive than a human’s. This makes the experience of fireworks for them immeasurably more intense than it is for us.
The general population does not seem to understand that horses have no comprehension of what a firework is, or why we use them. From their perspective, unfamiliar lights and explosions are literally a situation of life or death. Owners also face the issue of struggling to desensitize the horses to fireworks, as such situations are difficult to recreate. The unpredictability of firework usage, and difficulties preparing horses for them means that the winter months hold uncertainty and unease for owners.
Conflict of interests
As the Great British countryside becomes increasingly urbanized, the problem only escalates. My home county, nestled in the heart of the National Forest, is by no means a safe haven. Even as I type this, in mid-October, I am distracted by the whizzing and banging of fireworks outside. I cannot help but worry about my veteran horses, who have recently moved yards, and how they are coping with the stress of a new environment and the disturbing noises. Que me leaving the house at quarter past ten in the evening to check on them after a ten hour shift!
My actions and concerns may seem excessive to the general population, but my fear is not unfounded. The Sunday Express reported that RSPCA alone received 386 calls in 2012, specifically reporting accidents caused by fireworks. Sadly, the realistic amount of incidents is probably far greater. Horses are dying as a direct result of trauma – The British Horse Society identifies serious injuries, colic and extreme shock as commonplace consequences. I question how any compassionate person can fail to advocate tighter regulations on the use of fireworks in the interest of nationwide animal welfare.
A necessary solution?
My proposal is quite simple: limit firework ownership to businesses using them for pre-planned, advertised displays. This would at least allow owners the time to organise a solution to try and keep their animals safe. For some this could simply be making sure they can be with the horses during the fireworks, and for others it could mean transporting their horses elsewhere to avoid the worst of the noise. Please bear in mind that animal lovers do not wish to spoil to mood of joviality – we simply want people to be aware of the terrible mishaps that can occur. Ask yourself: do you value the practice of letting off fireworks so strongly that you consider the distress, danger and death they can currently cause acceptable? Or is it time to review the protocol that informs how we use fireworks?