If you have a flighty horse, preparing them for the noises/lights they are likely to experience can help. There is some thought that playing sounds (e.g. radio/CDs – some even play firework displays) can help to desensitise your horse to noise. The volume should be gradually increased once the horse becomes used to it, however, it will have no effect unless done 1-2 months in advance.
Try to establish when and where the fireworks are going to occur. This will mean you have time to bring your horse in or even move him to a location further away. If your horse usually lives outside 24/7 but you plan on bringing him in over this time then ideally start bringing him in a week or two beforehand so he is used to it. Ensure all contact details of liveries are to hand and more importantly vets details in case of an emergency. You can’t legislate for any ‘off the cuff’ firework displays, but there is a good article on legalities written by the BHS (type into Google) online if you have any concerns.
On the day
Keep calm and carry on as normal; try not to alter your horses’ regime. If you have introduced him to music then continue to play this all day. Simple things like leaving lights on in the yard/stable will reduce the impact of the bright lights, as will closing the doors if stabled in a ‘Dutch barn’. Again these changes should be introduced in the weeks prior to the firework season. Placing cotton wool in ears is one of the classic questions we get asked about – and it may help, but only if your horse allows it! (You could try putting a fly mask over the top to keep the cotton wool in). Remember to remove it afterwards though….
In severe cases calmers and sedatives may be able to help. Non-prescription calmers, (e.g. magnesium based compounds such as ‘Calmex’ or calcium chelators) are a good start however it must be noted that they do not affect certain horses and so there is no guarantee they will calm your horse down. Each horse usually needs a loading dose of anywhere from 1 week – 1 month and so, yet again, preparation is key.
In very severe cases Sedalin (ACP) – commonly used for clipping – is a prescription only drug that acts as a mild sedative and has good anti-anxiety properties. It must be given 30 minutes to an hour before the fireworks start. Keep your horse calm and in a quiet environment whilst it is taking effect. If you are considering using ACP then please contact your vet for advice.
Another drug, Domosedan, has a much stronger effect than ACP. It is just as easy to use and takes approximately 30 minutes to take effect but is more expensive than sedalin and can cause problems if your horses’ cardiovascular system is less than tip top. For this reason, we always recommend a clinical examination before it is dispensed.