PETA Requests ‘Thunderless’ Kickoff to Kentucky Derby Festival

A Spectacular Silent Twist on ‘Thunder Over Louisville’ Would Protect Horses and Vulnerable Residents, Says Group

For Immediate Release:
February 16, 2021

David Perle 202-483-7382

Louisville, Ky.

This morning, PETA fired off a letter to Kentucky Derby Festival President and CEO Matt Gibson asking him to skip the noisy fireworks of Thunder Over Louisville this year, citing previous instances in which the “thunder” of fireworks and other loud noises instilled fear in, caused injuries to, and contributed to the deaths of horses. The group notes that frightened dogs, cats, and wildlife often flee to escape the blasts and that veterans and others with post-traumatic stress disorder can suffer from the war-like booms.

“There’s no reason to scare the horses half to death,” says PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo. “PETA is urging the Kentucky Derby Festival to be creative and entertaining with a special-effects pyrotechnics or drone show that can deliver all the fun of fireworks with none of the fright.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

PETA’s letter to Gibson follows.

February 16, 2021

Matthew Gibson

President and CEO

Kentucky Derby Festival

Dear Mr. Gibson:

I’m writing on behalf of PETA and our more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide to urge you to cancel the fireworks display planned as part of the April 17 Kentucky Derby Festival to protect the horses who will be at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Kentucky Derby as well as the other domestic animals and wildlife in the vicinity.

Fireworks can cause even the calmest of animals to panic, attempt to flee, or even die from accidents caused by the terrifying noise. Only a few years ago, a mare named Never Tell Lynda got so spooked by the loud sound system at Churchill Downs that she reared and fell, hitting her head on the ground. Her injuries were so severe that she was euthanized. She isn’t the only beloved horse to have died after being frightened by loud noises. A horse in Kentucky was so terrified by pre–Fourth of July fireworks that as he tried to run away, he tripped on wet grass, broke his hip, and later died. There are numerous similar reports in the state, including 68 horses in Shelby County who were so frightened by fireworks that they ran into fences and other structures, which injured many of them.

The stress caused by fireworks is not limited to equines but extends to dogs, cats, wildlife, and humans. Their use has devastating consequences—terrified dogs climb or dig their way out of fenced-in yards as they frantically try to escape the chaos, resulting in an increase in stray-animal intakes at shelters. Traditional fireworks also sound like wartime combat, which can cause stress to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Kentucky Derby Festival is in a unique position to modernize its event by ditching the cruel fireworks show for a safe drone show, special-effects pyrotechnics, or other quiet but exciting and colorful displays that won’t cause injuries, panic, disruption, or harm to horses or others.

We strongly urge you to cancel the planned fireworks display to protect all Louisvillians. This is especially important this year during the pandemic, when many shelters aren’t working at full capacity and are unable to manage an influx of lost animals. Thank you for your time and consideration to protect horses like Never Tell Lynda and others. We look forward to hearing from you.


Kathy Guillermo

Senior Vice President

cc: Mike Anderson, President, Churchill Downs

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