The fireworks that traditionally mark the Fourth of July holiday are an annual concern for people with animals — especially area horse owners.
“Take your neighbors into consideration,” Acreage Horseman’s Association President Ron Jacobs said, especially when it comes to fireworks. “It only takes a minute to ask somebody.”
All horses react differently, he explained. Some will bolt, whereas others won’t be bothered.
The biggest problem that comes from fireworks set off on or near the Fourth of July is that they are unpredictable.
“Don’t do it the day before or the day after,” Jacobs stressed. “A lot of people tranquilize their horses for that one day and it’s done.”
Owners of horses scared by loud noises will typically put the horses in their stalls, or stay with them, to keep them calm during fireworks displays and the corresponding flashes and bangs.
“For just that one night, no one has an issue,” Jacobs said. “Doing it before or after is when there starts to be a problem.”
Horses consider their stalls in their barn a safe place, Palm Beach County Mounted Posse President Alyce Michelbrink explained. Horses have been known to run back into a burning barn, or even stay in the barn, because that is their home, where they feel safe.
However, when fireworks go off, especially the larger, louder ones, that barn can be dangerous for horses.
“Every time a boom goes off, they go all over the place. They can get hurt in the stall,” Jacobs said.
A horse can have a heart attack — they are, after all, prey animals — break through wood and hurt a leg, or even sever an artery and bleed out as a result of flight behavior, Michelbrink explained.
“They wouldn’t appreciate having their child scared, and it’s almost the same thing,” Michelbrink said. “You can’t explain to a small child what they’re fearful of, and you can’t explain to a large animal what they’re fearful of.”
A horse’s first instincts are to flee, she explained, and fences, barns or other obstacles that could cause injury, are often in the way. “In some cases, it even causes death,” Michelbrink said.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office stresses the importance of fireworks safety and being mindful of horses and pets. Fireworks, also, are illegal to use without a permit. Illegal fireworks include common bottle rockets, standard fireworks, M-80s, M-80s with mortar, projectiles, firecracker rolls and launchable rockets with stands.
Local events are ideal, rather than individuals shooting off their own fireworks in their neighborhoods, Michelbrink suggested.
Wellington and Royal Palm Beach will both be hosting Fourth of July festivities with fireworks. Wellington’s will be at Village Park on Pierson Road, while Royal Palm Beach will celebrate at Royal Palm Beach Commons Park.
Michelbrink plays loud music, keeps the lights on in her barn, and feeds her horses as far away from the fireworks as possible.
Dogs and cats don’t like fireworks, either, she noted, but they tend to hide. Horses are much larger and can cause more damage or get hurt when they flee.
Like Jacobs, Michelbrink was most concerned about fireworks that are not isolated to the evening of July 4. When those in the community purchase fireworks, they tend to set them off on different days, at different times — there isn’t any predictability to prepare for, she explained.
Something else to keep in consideration is that barns can catch on fire, and barns often have hay in them, which is extremely flammable. That makes an errant firework extremely dangerous.
Jacobs stressed being mindful of your surroundings and being responsible.
Those wishing to use fireworks should talk to their neighbors first, he said. Finding out what animals are in your immediate area, knocking on doors and communicating with neighbors is important.
“See if they have an issue, or if their horses do,” Jacobs said.