horses and fireworks

Q.My new horse and fireworks don’t seem to mix. A local display spooked him on New Year’s Eve, and now I’m worried about how he’ll react to next week’s 4th of July fireworks. Do you have any tips on how I can prepare in advance to manage him?

—Via e-mail

A.Fourth of July firework shows are an exciting highlight for many of us humans but can definitely be more of a lowlight for some of our equine friends. If you know your horse has a history of fearful behavior in relation to fireworks, prepare in advance by talking to your veterinarian about whether acepromazine (often referred to as “ace”) might be a reasonable sedative/anxiety reliever for your horse.

Acepromazine can be administered orally or by injection, but remember it has only mild sedative effects and must be given at least 20-30 minutes in advance. Waiting until your horse is panicked and then giving acepromazine will likely have very little effect, unfortunately.

Some herbal supplements, especially those containing valerian and/or magnesium offer some calming effects, but it’s best to start them a few days in advance so levels can build up. And if you’re actively competing this summer, remember, that these supplements might include prohibited substances in show horses.

Being stalled inside the barn also can help reduce the impact of noise on your horse, but it’s not a good idea to take a horse unused to being stalled inside in for the 4th of July night only. If you think this might be necessary to stall your horse, it’s best to get him used to being inside at night at least a few days in advance, so they’re not panicky about a change in routine. Also avoid separating your horse from their herd unless they are accustomed to separation; almost all horses do better with a buddy. Make certain your stall is safe with no sharp corners or edges or other hazards your horse could injure himself on if he starts to spin or pace.

A slow feeder or other tasty treat might help divert your horse’s attention. Calming classical music on the barn radio at a moderate volume can also help drown out the firework booms. Some horses also tolerate ear plugs (small foam balls that fit into ear canal) well, and they help reduce loud noises without totally eliminating all hearing. But again, don’t wait until the 4th of July to try them out!

I’m wishing you and your herd a safe holiday!