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 need for a suitable environment

19. An owner or keeper must provide their animal with a suitable environment in which to live.


20. Not all horses or ponies will need a stable. Some hardy breeds with thick coats are capable of living outdoors throughout the year, provided they can obtain shelter from the prevailing winds, summer sun and flies. Shelter can be natural (for example trees or hedges) or
man-made (such as a field shelter) depending on the field environment and type of breed. However, where horses and ponies are of less hardy breeding, clipped, very young or elderly they may require stable accommodation or other housing to protect them from the cold and damp or very hot weather. As donkeys do not have waterproof coats they will always require shelter from the rain.

Stable accommodation/housing

21. Welfare aspects should be considered when constructing or altering buildings to provide housing. The main considerations are the safety and comfort of the animals, ease of access and adequate drainage and ventilation. If poorly designed or managed, stabling can contribute to the rapid spread of disease, cause injury and pose significant fire risks. The following comments apply equally to all forms of housing including individual stables, stalls and communal barns.

  • Construction: the building should be constructed soundly, with no exposed surfaces or projections likely to cause injury. All surfaces should be capable of being cleaned and disinfected. If surfaces are treated, non-toxic paints or wood preservatives should be used
  • Fixtures and fittings such as tie rings, hay racks and water bowls should be free of sharp edges and positioned so as to avoid injury, particularly to the eyes. If used, hay nets should be fixed at the animal's head height, allowing it to eat comfortably yet avoiding the risk of getting its feet or head collar caught in the net when empty
  • Floors should be reasonably even, non-slip and designed to give good drainage, taking stable waste away from the animal
  • Doors should be a minimum of 4ft wide and open outwards. They should be capable of being securely fastened with top and bottom bolts
  • Roofs should be high enough to provide adequate ventilation including good air circulation. There should be a minimum clear space to the eaves of 60-90cm (2-3ft) above the ears of the animal in its normal standing position
  • Light: sufficient light is essential within all stabling both for the animal to see adequately and also to enable inspection and safe handling at all times. This can include portable lighting. Light bulbs should be enclosed in safety fittings with cabling secured well out of reach
  • Windows and ventilation slats should provide adequate air circulation without creating draughts. Perspex or safety glass (with grilles fitted between the animal and the glass) is advisable. One window or top door should normally be open at all times

22. As horses and ponies vary so greatly in size it is difficult to set an ideal size for loose boxes, barns or stables. However, as a minimum, each animal should have sufficient room to lie down, readily rise and turn around in comfort. Boxes for foaling and for mares with a foal at foot will require additional space. All passageways should be sufficiently wide to enable animals to be led safely past each other and provide sufficient room to enable an animal to be turned round comfortably. The British Horse Society recommend the following stable sizes:

  • horses - 12' x 12' (3.65m x 3.65m)
  • large horses - 12' x 14' (3.65m x 4.25m)
  • ponies - 10' x 10' (3.05m x 3.05m)
  • large ponies - 10' x 12' (3.05m x 3.65m)

23. Compatible groups of animals can be kept together in communal barns but care should be taken to ensure that each animal gets adequate access to hay, feed and water. Sufficient space should be provided to allow free movement and to allow all the animals to lie down at the same time. Care should be taken to select groups that are compatible and particularly aggressive animals should be segregated.

24. Adequate and suitable bedding material that will absorb urine is necessary in all horse, pony, donkey and hybrid accommodation to provide warmth, protection against injury and to enable the animal to lie down in comfort. Bedding material should be non-toxic, free of dust and mould and should allow effective drainage, or be absorbent enough to maintain a dry bed and assist in keeping the air fresh. Where rubber matting is used, a small amount of disposable bedding should be added to absorb urine. Whatever bedding is used, it should be well-managed and changed or cleaned regularly.

25. Fire is always a risk in stable areas. Advice should be sought from the local Fire Prevention Officer in relation to statutory requirements. All equipment and services (lighting units, fire extinguishers and alarm systems) should be kept clean, inspected annually by a competent person and kept in good working order. All electrical installations at mains voltage should be installed by a competent electrician in accordance with the latest addition of the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE) Wiring Regulations. Wiring and fittings should be inaccessible to animals, well insulated, safeguarded from rodents and properly earthed. All metal pipework and structural steelwork should be properly earthed. Highly inflammable liquid material or combustible material should not be stored in or close to stables where animals are housed. Roof beams and other ledges should be cleaned regularly. Smoking in stable areas should be prohibited.

26. Stabled animals should be capable of being released quickly in the event of fire or other emergencies in accordance with a pre-agreed emergency turnout plan.


27. As a general rule, each horse requires a minimum of one to one and a half acres of good grazing if no supplementary feeding is being provided, as overcrowding may lead to competition for food, water and space. However, this will depend on the ground conditions, the time of year, type of horse and degree of pasture management employed. Donkeys will require significantly less pasture; as will horses when grazing is plentiful, as over grazing may be detrimental to the animal's health.

28. It is not always practical or possible to remove animals from fields or pastures which become muddy; however, it is essential that they have a comfortable, well drained area on which to stand and lie down, and on which to be fed and watered.

29. Fences should be strong enough and of sufficient height to prevent escape (for example higher fences may be required for stallions) and designed, constructed and maintained to avoid the risk of injury with no sharp projections. Gateways should be designed to allow for the easy and safe passage of animals, and gates should be fastened securely to prevent injury and escape. In some situations gates may need to be padlocked. Sheep wire should not be used. Barbed wire should not be used in fields used by animals but where it is present an inner fence (which could be electric) should be erected to avoid direct contact with the barbed wire. Where plain wire is used measures should be taken to ensure it is sufficiently visible to the animal. It is important that the wire is kept taut to prevent the possibility of animals becoming entangled in loose wire.

30. The British Horse Society generally recommend that fences should be 4ft (1.25m) high. The specific recommendations are as follows:

  • horses - 3'6" to 4'6" (1.08m - 1.38m)
  • ponies - 3'3" to 4'3" (1m - 1.3m)
  • lower rail (in both cases) 1'6" (0.5m) above ground
  • stallions - 4'6" to 6'0" (1.38m - 1.8m)

31. Stallions may require a double fence line and possibly an electric fence line along the top of the paddock rail. This is to prevent aggressive and amorous behaviour between paddocks, as well as containing the stallion within the allocated area.

32. Electric fences should be designed, installed and maintained so that contact with them does not cause more than momentary discomfort to the animal; all power units should be correctly earthed. Animals contained by electric fencing need extra supervision until they become accustomed to it. Temporary internal subdivisions created out of electrified tape and plastic posts provides an effective internal barrier, but these should not be used as the sole boundary fence.

33. A good pasture management programme is advisable to avoid over-grazing, to aid worm control, maintain good drainage and control weeds. This may include, for example, picking up droppings, rotating grazing areas and where possible removing animals when the ground is very wet to prevent poaching (where the pasture breaks into wet muddy patches) and health problems.

34. Fields should be kept clear of dangerous objects and poisonous plants. Ragwort is one of the plants covered under the Weeds Act 1959 and should be controlled and disposed of in accordance with the Scottish Government "Guidance on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort". Ragwort should be pulled by the root rather than being cut, and should not be left where animals could have access to it as it remains toxic after being uprooted.

Under the Weeds Act 1959 Scottish Ministers can, if satisfied that specified weeds are growing upon any land, serve a notice requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the spread of those weeds. An unreasonable failure to comply with a notice is an offence.

35. Other plants and trees such as privet, box, leylandii, broom, laburnum, oak, beech and yew are also toxic to horses, ponies, donkeys and hybrids therefore, they should not have access to these (or their clippings) at any time. Where fields are adjacent to housing, care should be taken to ensure that they do not gain access to garden waste including lawn cuttings. Safe hedge types for horses, ponies, donkeys and hybrids include hawthorn and hazel; trees that are suitable for use in paddocks include ash, birch, willow, sycamore, lime and poplar. However, in all cases it is prudent to ensure that they cannot damage trees by chewing their bark.


36. Tethering can be defined as securing an animal by an appropriately attached chain to a centre point or anchorage, causing it to be confined to a desired area. Tethering is not a suitable method of long-term management of an animal, as it restricts that animal's freedom to exercise itself, to find food and water, or to escape from attacks by dogs, other animals or even people; or the extremes of hot and cold weather. It also risks an animal becoming entangled, or injuring itself, on tethering equipment. Tethering may be useful as an exceptional short-term method of animal management during brief stops during a journey, to prevent danger to the animal, or to humans, whilst proper long-term arrangements are made, or in medical cases where short-term restriction of food intake is required under veterinary advice. The need for regular supervision is paramount. More details on the conditions which should be met when equines are tethered are set out in Appendix B.

37. The term tethering as it is used in the Code does not apply to animals that are stall-tied (a common method of stabling military horses). Any animal which is stall-tied should be closely supervised and receive regular exercise, unless this method is used under veterinary guidance, e.g. as part of the management of an orthopaedic condition.


38. Not all animals will need a rug in inclement weather as some hardy breeds with thick coats are capable of living outdoors throughout the year without rugs. Some of these hardy breeds often thrive better without rugs, as rugs can sometimes be a cause of skin irritation. However, where animals are of less hardy breeding, clipped, elderly or infirm they may require a rug to help keep them warm and dry during cold, wet weather or provide protection from flies.

39. Rugs and hoods should be of the correct size, the correct type (i.e. designed for the use to which they are being put), of the correct weight to suit the animal and the weather conditions, and correctly fitted to prevent rubbing, hair loss and abrasions. Rugs should be regularly removed so the animal's body condition and general health can be checked. Ideally this should be done daily.

40. Rugs should be cleaned and, if necessary, repaired regularly and all fastenings kept in good working order. A spare rug should be available to allow a very wet rug to be dried out.


41. Animals at grass should be inspected at least once a day, preferably more often. Stabled or group-housed animals should be inspected at least twice a day, again preferably more frequently. Particular attention should be paid to their gait, demeanour, feet, body condition and appetite so that early signs of disease, injury, illness or signs of parasites can be noticed and appropriate treatment promptly provided. Close examinations should also be conducted at regular intervals in order to identify any problems (e.g. skin conditions such as lice, rain scald, mud fever, ringworm and sweet itch) which may not be apparent from a distance.

42. Where practical the hooves of horses, ponies, donkeys and hybrids should be picked out daily and at the same time examined for signs of pain, wounds, injury, loose shoes, impacted foreign material or anything else unusual.

43. Apart from those on turnout with little work, animals should be groomed regularly to ensure the coat is clean, free from wounds or parasites and to detect rug, tack or harness rubbing. Particular attention must be taken to ensure mud and dirt is removed prior to them being tacked up but grooming of animals at grass, particularly in winter, must not be excessive as it could remove protective grease and dirt.

Back to top