Frightening fireworks: Katie and Ellen's Story
Many people love the winter, the onset of the dark nights, wrapping up warm and making plans for Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas. Sadly, for Katie and Ellen, these three months provide nothing but worry, frustration and fear.
We would love to say bonfire night is just one or two nights for us and that we can enjoy winter festivities along with everyone else but the sad reality is we cannot. Firework season disrupts our routine and causes stress and uncertainty for us and our two horses for three long months. This is something we face year after year.
We start preparing the horses for firework season in early October
On a usual day, we visit them three times a day, but in the winter our visits have to increase to four or more depending on the evening's events to ensure their safety and security.
Night after night, while our neighbours enjoy their festivities or are cosy in their homes, we're listening out, boots at the ready. And as the madness ensues we drive back and forth to the stables, feeding Louie and Masie treats and hay to calm them in a bid to create as normalised environment for them as possible. But how can you normalise constant bangs, flashes and whistles? The true fact is you cannot.
For those without horses, I'm sure it's difficult to imagine dealing with equines, so frightened that they are darting and bolting around their paddocks and stables as they potentially cause themselves injury. We can say without a doubt that there is undeniable stress for us as we do our best to keep our horses calm and try to reverse the damage of this fear response.
The combination of fear, loss of control and having to keep a safe distance from them, is incredibly difficult. And despite our horses knowing us, their reactions to the fireworks are so strong, their response, despite our actions, is unpredictable and extremely scary. On these nights we are all in danger of injury or worse, loss of life.
Surrounding the field are fence posts and electric fences, and along one side, houses back onto the field. We live in a rural village in Suffolk and currently, local people do not have the option to attend a public firework display locally, so more often than not, have private displays in their back gardens, just 20 yards from our field.
Last year seemed particularly bad and we continuously found spent firework casings. Should the horses have been out of their stables not only would they have been scared by the bangs, but they may have also been pelted with the casings, likely increasing their fear. Then there's the concern of ingestion. A horse does not have to be touched by a firework to receive massive and sometimes fatal injuries. They could be burned or otherwise injured by a spent firework casing.
Our worst fear is turning up to the field one day to find them injured or worse impaled on a fence post. At least by being there and putting them in the shelter overnight during the winter, we can try to protect them from that.
However, containing the horses in a stable with hay is also a major cause for concern as not all fireworks are extinguished before they hit the ground and pose a huge fire risk where our horses could be trapped and burned alive.
Until now we have been lucky and our horses have escaped injury, unlike some of the stories you will read in connection with this campaign.
What the horses cannot escape is the fear and its long term impact
Horses that are stressed often react by bucking, bolting, biting, rearing or pawing, even if they are generally even-tempered and well-behaved. This not only puts them at risk, Ellen and I are also at risk of injury or even death.
Please take note of our story and this year consider the pets, horses, livestock and wildlife in your neighbourhood and attend organised public events wherever possible.
And if you must have a display at home, please consider your neighbours and provide a prior warning so they may prepare.