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Horse dies of high stress levels from fireworks

Posted at 4:47 PM, Jul 10, 2024

TUCSON, Arizona (KGUN) — A horse's life was cut short after the Fourth of July due to what the owner says was the overwhelming stress caused by nearby fireworks. Even with multiple attempts to save the horse, it wasn't enough.

Holly Hansen owned 20-year-old Sunny for 18 years. Hansen describes Sunny as perfectly healthy and happy, but skittish about fireworks.

"She was a platinum palomino Tennessee Walker, she had blonde hair," Hansen described of Sunny. "And so, a lot of people said we were alike."

She tells me this Fourth of July, neighbors set off illegal aerial fireworks. Adding that the loud explosions and bright lights from eight hours of fireworks may have led to Sunny's untimely death.

"It's different than nature sounds like thunder and lightning, you know? The fireworks sound like gunshots and there's a sizzle and it's all quite foreign for animals," said Hansen.

Before the fireworks started, Hansen was feeding her horses, Sunny and Big T, who were playing and running around.

"I never took her for granted and those memories will live with me forever," Hansen said.

Sunny entered a "freeze" mode, similar to a fight-or-flight response, soon after the fireworks began. Hansen said this caused an impaction to Sunny's bowels, ultimately giving the horse colic.

"She was dehydrated from not drinking, she wasn't drinking because of the fireworks because of the shock to her system and the trauma response," said Hansen. "The vet told me this was a stress-related death."

Pain medications couldn't help Sunny calm down. An emergency veterinarian did bloodwork on Sunny which showed high cortisol levels.

"She was flinging herself against the bars of the stall," Hansen said. "She had broken her leg, she was drenched in sweat."

Hansen couldn't stand to see Sunny in a huge amount of pain and made the difficult decision to euthanize her.

Now, she's contacting local and state lawmakers about Sunny's death to help prevent this from ever happening again.

Hansen tells me her other horse, Big T, neighed and ran around for hours after Sunny passed away. To keep Big T from falling into a depression, a friend has let Hansen use one of their horses as a temporary companion for Big T as he adjusts to the loss.