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Desensitization to Gunshots and Bird Bangers

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    Desensitization to Gunshots and Bird Bangers

    Anybody out there living next to agricultural operations? Or Cowboy mounted shooters? My horses don't mind the usual fireworks or the guns in the woods during hunting season so I never thought I would have a problem....but, the vineyard next door has had to start running a bird banger (think a cannon!) and my horses are loosing their minds. The real problem is it is, by design, completely unpredictable in a way that target shooting is not and is far, far, louder than any rifle shot in deer season. It is also louder than a regular shotgun and sharper than a firework.
    I've already talked with them, they are good friends, and they won't run it if I have the farrier or vet coming; but they do need to be able to run it otherwise, whenever the starling hordes descend, so the next six weeks till harvest are looking a bit stressful at this point.
    Any bright ideas? And of course the lay of the land is such that our barn is closest to the vineyard fields in question, the horses keep ending up several acres away at the far end of the fields.
    Should I ask them to run it more? I'm sort of tempted to!

    The blueberry farm next to me installed squawk boxes this year. So we get to hear birds of prey at 75 dB from sunrise to sunset. The farmer next to us is a real jerk and basically told us to be thankful he is using the bird sounds and not the cannons...that was his response when we asked if it could be started at 6am instead of 5am. It was horrible...between the super early wake up to screeching hawks and the distress noises I thought I might end up in a straight jacket by the end of summer. And the jerk farmer left it run two weeks past when they finished harvesting, because that's how he operates (there is more to the story besides the noise). The part that is funny is that I took some video of flocks upon flocks of seagulls swarming the the noise didn't really do much. It didn't bother our horses...but it bothered the ones across the street (they had two devices at opposite ends and I think across the street got a strange echo).

    There are local ordinances....though in NJ we have a Right to Farm Act that overrides local noise ordinances (I did lots of research and a few phone calls). But, they can help farmers explore alternate options...and there is a mediator if it has to go that far.


      Original Poster

      I have no problem, at all, with the bird banger. I'm quite happy to have a successful vineyard next to me. My question is how to desensitize the horses. Or do I just give them a six week vacation.
      Last edited by B and B; Aug. 16, 2020, 08:10 PM. Reason: missing word


        They do get used to it. I live across the road from a competitive shooter. I had the vet out for a prepurchase exam and I was putting a mare through her gaits when he declared by God Kat she's either broke or deaf! Neither ginger nor I had noticed the shooting.


          We live next to an apple orchard and beyond that is a five acre blueberry patch. Our neighbor (the farmer) uses the device that sounds like cannons going off. It’s intermittent where you can get some pops and then some big booms all in a row. You truly never know when the “guns” are going to blast away. It’s worse than fireworks as it’s all day. I know what days his pickers are working as the cannon is turned off.

          Our horses do pretty well with the noise but our two border collies basically have to be dragged out of the house to use the yard for their dog business. They are depressed and unhappy for the entire month of July. I feel really bad because our dogs hide in the house and are just not their normal energetic selves.

          We’ve been on our property for 19 years and we go through this every summer. It’s hard on our ears too when we’re out at the barn or in the garden. The farmer runs it from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 at night. It’s a blessed relief when his blueberry season is finished.


            You have to start out with a relaxed horse in a safe location. Then find the spot where he can hear the "shot." He can react but if he starts to move you are too close. Back off and start again. Don't overdo it or rush. Be sure to give him the release and reward ("good boy," a few pats) and a few moments before another shot. You don't want to scare him. Always stop in a good place: you are safe, your horse is safe. This may take a lot of repetitions and plan on more than one day. Whenever he looks like he is going to escalate go back to where he isn't scared.

            A lot of people have popped big bubble wrap, working their way closer to the horse. I had a zillion of those air pillows that come packed with everything these days. I started stomping on them in the garage and the noise was astounding. It echoed off a house. It probably will work if you graduate from bubble wrap but move back - way back.

            After we moved into the big new fancy barn with indoor arena, construction continued. I brought him and cross-tied in the usual spot. It was the early days of the air hammers with the compressor. I saw the compressor halfway down the aisleway. Next thing I knew a carpenter was working on the boarder's tack room hammering nonstop. We were halfway between the hammer and compressor. My horse didn't move. I was in shock. He's spooky, and that's about the last thing I would have thought he could tolerate.
            "With hardly any other living being can a human connect as closely over so many years as a rider can with her horse." Isabell Werth, Four Legs Move My Soul. 2019


              Gunshots and fireworks have totally different sounds. Ask a hunting dog.

              So, maybe what's happening is the horses are hearing a sound "for the first time". Do any of the horses not react? Or do they all go haywire? Because if one or two horses are the bolters, they encourage the ones who maybe wouldn't be so reactive otherwise to react - I would remove the hottest/sharpest horses and have them alone but within sight of the other horses for awhile while they work it out. A small pen to contain the batty behavior to something a little safer would be a good idea.


                Original Poster

                Originally posted by endlessclimb View Post
                Gunshots and fireworks have totally different sounds. Ask a hunting dog.

                So, maybe what's happening is the horses are hearing a sound "for the first time". Do any of the horses not react? Or do they all go haywire? Because if one or two horses are the bolters, they encourage the ones who maybe wouldn't be so reactive otherwise to react - I would remove the hottest/sharpest horses and have them alone but within sight of the other horses for awhile while they work it out. A small pen to contain the batty behavior to something a little safer would be a good idea.
                Yup, different noises, but based on the fact that gunshots and fireworks don't bother them, I didn't think that this type of 'bang' would. Apparently, there is something about it that they really don't like. It is a distinctively different noise from gunshots, fireworks, and car backfires, all of which they are okay with at similar distances.
                Unfortunately they are both bolters. And I just have the two, so they feed off of each other. The pony is the more nervous of the two overall, but she is actually more intelligent about bolting (her eyes stay open if that makes sense!). The draft, I have a sinking suspicion, would probably bust through anyone and anything. He is a poor listener at the best of times.
                I am hoping they will simply get used to it. It has highlighted the fact that in any case, I need to work on desensitization with the draft.
                Walktrot, thanks for the steps!


                  I would borrow a horse that's dead broke to sounds like this and put him in with each of the bolters individually so they are with a friend who doesn't flinch when it happens. Once they relax with just the quiet horse, all three could go together.

                  A house across the street from my barn has a shooting range and they'll shoot automatic weapons and exploding rounds. Most of the time, the horses are fine, except when there are weird echos inside the indoor or barn.


                    I have one horse who will never get used to it. My neighbor target shoots next to my property line. He has a terribly loud gun. All my horses jump at it, but one of mine is terrified. He runs the fence, trembles, and pours sweat. Time has not helped. Repeated exposure has not helped. I honestly don't think anything will. The noise is loud enough to make me jump in the house, so i can hardly blame him for panicking. Fireworks are preferable to that.


                      Originally posted by theresak View Post
                      I would borrow a horse that's dead broke to sounds like this and put him in with each of the bolters individually so they are with a friend who doesn't flinch when it happens. Once they relax with just the quiet horse, all three could go together.

                      A house across the street from my barn has a shooting range and they'll shoot automatic weapons and exploding rounds. Most of the time, the horses are fine, except when there are weird echos inside the indoor or barn.
                      Yeah, this is what I was getting at. Since you can't predict when the cannon will go off, you need a 24/7 "trainer", ie, a horse who will just keep grazing and not even react to it.

                      That's what I would do, in any case.

                      Do they make sound muffling stuff that can be left in for longer durations, like ear poms or the neoprene sound deadening bonnets? Is it the sound that spooks them or the concussion of the cannon (in your opinion)?


                        It might be worth a shot to line a fly mask with ears with something to muffle the noise. Maybe if it's not *quite* so loud the horses will not react *quite* so strongly.

                        Or, if just a real problem when you ride, use ear plugs on them then. They might really enjoy the break.


                          Well, more than likely, if left to their own devices they will - at some point - come to realize that the noise is not associated with anything that will hurt them.

                          But how long that might take without any interference from you is hard to say.

                          I have a gelding who really, really despises loud, unpredictable noises like gunfire. I actually don't think he minds the initial crack, it's the reverb that gets him. The fact that these noises, by design, tend to "goose" the horse because neither you nor he knows when it's coming is what tends to send them over the edge. The horse is just left anticipating and worrying about when the noise is going to happen again.

                          I don't know what this particular shot you're describing sounds like, but I have had success using a bullwhip for horses that get worried about repetitive gunshot or any loud, cracking noise. The trick is getting them to learn that if they focus on YOU, instead of looking to flee, the noise stops. You can then work up to continuing the noise once they've hooked on and show them they don't need to leave. IME, if you don't have this working well you don't tend to get too far under saddle before it's an issue.
                          Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Remember that what you have now was once among the many things that you only hoped for.


                            i think it depends if the sound is just frightening or actually painful.

                            I agree with Simkie that ear plugs might help.

                            i would also make sure they have water in the safety of their hiding spot.
                            Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                              Original Poster

                              I wish I could borrow a horse, but finding one suitable is going to take longer than the grapes to ripen I think! Good idea on the fly masks, I think the pony might tolerate the cotton balls, I know she has had experience with ear plugs years ago.
                              They seem to be reacting less to it, I was able to coax them up to the barn about 20 minutes after it went off this morning (granted for breakfast) and then they ate calmly which is an improvement over the last few days. Part of that may be that my neighbors are being as kind as possible, and running it as little as possible. It seems that the horses tolerate one or two, but when it was hitting four or five in a row they were a wreck. Which maybe is the reverb, the thing has a definite percussive feel to it.
                              I hadn't thought about the water issue, darn it.
                              On the safe side, I think the draft will continue to get a vacation from 'work' work. The pony is a companion pony, but he is a driving horse with a ton of issues. I have no desire to undue the baby steps progress I've made by setting him up to bolt. We will work on desensitization in hand instead. He'll love that, not!


                                Not an Ag issue for me, but my farm is on a corner lot.
                                Crossroads are 2 lane roads & the favorite spot for Drag Racer Wannabes & Motorcycle Morons to rev engines & take off.
                                Complete with backfires & ridiculously loud engines. All.Summer.Long.
                                I also have some target shooters, hunters & neighbors who just like to fire guns randomly.
                                Fireworks are legal here - for a week before & after a holiday - and often for no reason at all.
                                My horses do not react to any of it anymore. The M80s & 1/4 sticks used to get them running, now they are ignored too.

                                Since you said your horses reacted a little more sanely, I think you can look forward to them eventually not being so reactive.
                                I agree, it's probably the percussion more than the noise.
                                I know that's what sets my teeth on edge & my hearing is a lot less sensitive than the horses'!
                                *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                                Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                                Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                                Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015