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Do You Really Know The Impact Of Fireworks?


A message comes in to our inbox from someone who is dreading Bonfire Night and its attendant fireworks:

‘I have witnessed a friend with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who arrived back from war only a few months before, jump and hide behind a sofa because a firework exploded nearby and he wasn’t expecting it. It was as traumatic for him then as when he was overseas, and it was traumatic for his friends and family who all cared about him, watching him go through this pain. This was over ten years ago and it saddens me that we are still allowing our servicemen and women to suffer like this every year.’

Another message: ‘Horses have died where they have been so scared they have run into fences, jumped out of stables, some have had fireworks land on them and been burnt alive. All in the name of Guy Fawkes?’

And a word for the dogs: ‘The dogs are also terrified, and many owners are having to give sedation to keep them calm otherwise they are shaking in the corner of the room for hours. Is this OK for three minutes of ‘fun’?

Everyone who looks after horses or who has dogs knows the sinking sensation as the 5th of November ticks closer. There are all the people who don’t have livestock merrily looking forward to celebrating the capture of Guy Fawkes, thinking of the oohs and ahs of Bonfire Night, whilst those of us who have animals to worry about stump around like a furious cadre of Victor Meldrews.

The whole week is a continuing nightmare for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress. It’s hard to overstate the fear, hyper-vigilance and flashbacks that are triggered by the threatening sound of fireworks. To be cast into darkness when half the country is in festival mood can add to the sense of isolation that so many veterans feel when they return to civilian life.

It’s no fun not being able to enter into the party spirit. We would love to think with joy of the massive firework displays to come. But we can’t. Every year, we see our dogs trembling in their hiding places, we watch anxiously as our herd gallops about the fields, we see the strain etched on our neighbouring farmer’s face as he drives about to check on his stampeding cattle and petrified sheep. Fireworks can send the calmest animal loco.

Our horses are rigorously trained to be able to work with people who have physical and mental injuries. We carefully introduce them to all manner of potentially alarming items, from flapping tarps to loud music. Yet even with all this, they find fireworks a profound test of their equilibrium.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it were just one night, but it seems now that there is an entire week of random bangs and crashes. The noise echoes off the valley walls, bouncing from one set of hills to the other, so that the animals can’t tell where the threat is coming from. This plays havoc with their survival instinct, as they don’t know where to run to find safety.

We always emphasise the positive here at HorseBack. It’s very rare for us to give in to a bit of gloomy venting. But the beginning of November makes our heart sink. We are devoted to solutions and we always see the can rather than the can’t, but there’s not much you can do to help a traumatised veteran or a sensitive horse prepare for fireworks. (We have one member of the team who desperately goes down and sings to her own horses as long as the chaotic noise lasts. She says that the mares seem to be diverted by her belting out Irish folk songs, slightly off key, and will calm themselves and stand with her until the cacophony has finished.) We are not sure this will work with a herd of thirty, although we may give it a go.

We really wanted to say that if you are in our boat, you are not alone. We know the feeling of being the only one who does not get the point of this particular party. And we do hope that one day silent fireworks might be the norm, so that the explosive noise that triggers both humans and animals will be consigned to a distant past. In the meantime, we will be holding our breath with you until this week is over.

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We do not rely on government funding so any donations will greatly assist with the running of our charity.