Welfare of equidae: code of practice

This guide covers all domesticated equidae for which a person is responsible, including all horses, ponies, donkeys and hybrids and details a set of principles underpinning equine care.

The duty of care

10. Before buying a horse, pony, donkey or hybrid, potential owners need to consider a number of important issues:

  • the cost of keeping the animal, since the purchase cost may be minimal compared to the ongoing costs. The ongoing costs will vary depending on the needs of the individual animal, where it is kept and what it is used for. A potential owner should draw up a budget based on their own circumstances. This is necessary in order to decide whether the ongoing costs are affordable. In drawing up a budget, the owner should remember that along with the day to day costs for keep, there is likely to be additional expenditure for items such as supplementary feeding, worming, insurance, veterinary fees (including regular vaccinations), farriery and equipment, etc.
  • a full five stage pre-purchase veterinary examination by an independent veterinary surgeon is recommended and should be carefully considered. However, for animals of a lower value it may be sufficient for a two stage pre-purchase veterinary examination or a veterinary examination covering the eyes, heart, mouth and limbs
  • how much time will need to be spent in looking after the animal and will the owner have the time to exercise it
  • the skills and knowledge of equine care which they possess
  • what is the right animal for each situation
  • how and where it will be kept

11. It is important to find the right animal when purchasing a horse, pony, donkey or hybrid as this can prevent many problems in the future. There is no way of guaranteeing success but there are a number of steps that can increase the likelihood of making a suitable purchase. It is useful to try a number of different animals and the advice of an experienced horseperson should always be sought. Prior to purchase it is important to try the animal in each aspect of work that it is likely to be asked to perform, for example hacking; jumping and flatwork, and it is advisable to try an animal out at least twice.

12. A potential owner also needs to consider what contingency plans they should put in place; for example: the provision for stabling and transport for grass-kept animals should emergency veterinary treatment be required; having isolation facilities available; and alternative arrangements for the care of the animal should the keeper become incapacitated for any reason. These contingency arrangements should be reviewed when there is any change in the owner, keeper or animal's circumstances.

13. Under section 24 (ensuring welfare of animals) of the Act, persons responsible for an animal must ensure that the needs of the animal are met to the extent required by good practice; failure to do so is an offence. Section 18 (Responsibility for animals) of the Act defines where a person has a responsibility for an animal on a permanent or temporary basis and thus has the duty to ensure that its welfare needs are met. This duty can therefore apply to livery yard owners, transporters and anyone who has agreed temporarily to take care of an animal.

14. People are therefore responsible for an animal if they own or manage it. An owner has ongoing responsibility for their animal even if another person is in charge of it. A parent or guardian of a child under 16 years old is responsible for any animal that is owned or cared for by the child. This ensures that an adult can normally be identified as a person responsible for an animal. If an owner leaves an animal in the charge of another person, it is the owner's duty to ensure that the person is competent and has the necessary authority to act in an emergency, as ultimately the owner bears responsibility even if someone else is temporarily caring for the animal.

15. The duty of care placed on an animal owner or keeper is based on the 'Five Freedoms' originally recommended by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, but now generally accepted to cover all animals for which a person is responsible:

  • Freedom from Hunger and Thirst - for example, by providing ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  • Freedom from Discomfort - for example, by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease - for example, by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour - for example, by providing sufficient space for habitation and exercise, proper facilities and company, as appropriate
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress - for example, by ensuring conditions and treatment, which avoid mental suffering

16. Responsibility for an animal therefore includes having an understanding of the specific health and welfare needs of the animal and having the appropriate knowledge and skills to care for the animal. Those responsible for animals will also have to comply with the legislation and should be aware of the appropriate Codes of Practice, and to know when to seek qualified advice and help and who to approach, e.g. a farrier or a veterinary surgeon.

17. More information about the welfare provisions of the Act, and more details of the responsibilities of an owner or keeper, can be found by referring to the documents detailed in the "Sources of Information" at Appendix D.

18. These needs are explained in more detail in the Code; however, an individual animal may have other needs that have to be met to ensure its wellbeing. If an owner or keeper is unsure what these needs are it is important that they seek advice from a veterinary surgeon or an organisation such as the British Horse Society, World Horse Welfare, the Donkey Sanctuary or the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA). Contact details for these organisations can be found in the "Sources of Information" at Appendix D. Specific welfare advice in relation to competition horses can be sought from the relevant sporting disciplines or governing body.

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