Fireworks mean '1,000 pounds of stress' for horse owner

·3 min read

A Bocabec horse owner's effort to spread awareness about the effects of fireworks on farm animals has paid off after her horse Diesel could nap peacefully on Canada Day.

Andrea Mulder-Slater, who owns the home-based Jarea Art Studio, also owns a powerful eight-year-old quarter horse who freaks out from fireworks. Usually a "very mellow guy," Diesel hangs out on Mulder-Slater's property with three goats.

The four animals have been unable to decide the best response to fireworks.

"It's 1,000 pounds of stress," Mulder-Slater said, referring to Diesel.

After watching Diesel's panicky dance in response to recent fireworks at the nearby Holts Point Road Beach one night, Mulder-Slater decided to put out a Facebook post requesting community members reconsider setting them off there.

"There are horses (and goats) at the end of Holts Point Road, and while we know that people have been shooting fireworks off at the beach for years, we are asking our neighbours to please reconsider using this beach as an area for shooting off fireworks, for the safety of our animals, and us," the Facebook post states.

"We don't want to spoil anyone's fun," Mulder-Slater added. "With an advance notice, we'll be able to be more prepared."

While they were lucky enough to successfully stable Diesel after that one night of fireworks, Mulder-Slater said the horse was scared enough to go straight through the barn door if he had wished to. She's asked people via her signs across her property to inform her in advance of possible nearby fireworks so she can sedate the horse, or to avoid using the beach area all together for fireworks.

Mulder-Slater said a nearby Airbnb owner told her that their tenants decided to change their plans of setting off fireworks after looking at her signs.

While dogs react to fireworks too, Mulder-Slater said horses are 1,000-pound flight animals and can cause a lot of damage to themselves or anyone in their environment on such occasions.

"There are usually a number of missing dogs after fireworks." she said. "With a horse, it's just amplified."

Elizabeth Clark, a horse trainer and competition coach from the Butternut Stables in Hampton, said there is no way to control a panicking horse from causing damage to itself and its surroundings if it is too late. The flight animals often look at their herd leader to learn how to react to surprises, but can be dangerous when alone.

"For hundreds of years they have evolved to survive by fleeing from danger," she said. "They feel most comfortable in herds, and they'll feed off of the energy and the reactions of their herd mates in times of crisis."

She also said sedatives take about 45 minutes to kick in, so if someone does not have advance notice about fireworks, then the sedatives will not work on a panicking horse with high adrenaline.

According to Clark, the only ways to calm a horse when fireworks are going off is to either sedate them in advance or have an on-site vet who can administer a stronger dose for immediate effect. Also, the horse should be inside a barn where they feel secured, but they may still cause damage if scared, she added.

Lees Doley and her husband Mike White own the Rockwood Park Stables in Saint John. They have got their horses accustomed to fireworks in part because they're in the city and near a park where a lot of fireworks are set off.

Doley said her horses don't get surprised any more, "but all horses are different."

Although the first experience of fireworks for the horse-owning couple was frightening too as many horses ran over the fences – with many kicking and bucking over the others too – they've now found out the trick is to calm the herd leader who teaches the rest.

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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