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 diet


44. Horses, ponies, donkeys and hybrids are naturally "trickle" feeders, who eat little and often, whose diet is mainly grasses, which have a high roughage and low energy content. They should be provided with a balanced, predominately fibre-based diet: either grass, hay, haylage or a hay replacement in order to mimic their natural feeding pattern as closely as possible. They should be fed an appropriate diet that reflects their needs and maintains good condition. Consideration should include the age, type, weight, condition, health and level of work of the individual.

45. Good grazing should ensure an adequate intake of roughage and minerals; if grazing is poor supplementary feeding may be required. One way to limit grazing in large areas of grazing land is to divide the land into strips by using electric fencing.

46. All conserved forage should be of good quality; it should be clean (free from soil, debris and poisonous plants), smell fresh and be free from dust and mould. Feeding forage at floor level is good for the animals' respiratory health, provided the underlying ground is kept reasonably clean. It also means that they eat in a similar position to that when grazing naturally.

47. The quantity of cereals fed as supplementary feed in addition to any grazing or similar fodder should be no more than that necessary to provide the required energy for the type of work done and body condition of the animal. Each feed should be well mixed and freshly prepared. Animals should not be asked to perform hard or fast work on a full stomach.

48. Feed should be correctly processed, stored in vermin-proof containers, carefully handled to prevent spoiling and to ensure the nutritional value is maintained. Feed containers and utensils should be kept clean to discourage rodents and protect the health of the animal. Contaminated, mouldy or stale leftover food and forage should not be fed to the animals and should be removed daily.

49. Where loose horses, ponies, donkeys or hybrids are fed in groups there should be one feeder per animal plus an extra feeding point. Two body lengths should be allowed between feeders to minimise the risk of injury through competition for food.

50. The weight and condition of every animal should be monitored regularly to avoid welfare problems and feeding adjusted as necessary for animals that are too fat or too thin. Obesity and over eating remains the major cause of laminitis. At any time of year fat animals will fall into the high risk category for developing laminitis. Fat animals, particularly when the lush spring grass or during an autumn growth of flush with its high energy content is freely available, are particularly at risk. Grazing may therefore need to be restricted at this time. See Appendix C for details of Condition Scoring which can help owners and keepers monitor their animal's weight and condition to avoid both obesity and emaciation. Owners should aim for a condition score of between 2.5 and 3.


51. It is essential that all animals have continuous access to a clean supply of fresh water or that adequate clean water is made available to them on a frequent and regular basis throughout the day. Natural water sources such as streams are not always satisfactory, as they may be contaminated, so an alternative supply may be required unless natural water sources are clean, copious, have easy access and do not have a sandy base which may cause problems if disturbed when the animals drink. Extra care should be taken during hot or icy weather to ensure the water supply is maintained and sufficient, for example, by regularly breaking the ice during cold spells or providing an additional water source during hot weather. Additional water may need to be provided after exercise.

52. The water trough should be securely fixed at a convenient height to allow, if necessary, animals of different size to drink comfortably and it should not be possible for them to paw the water or dislodge the trough and knock it over. There should be no sharp edges, protruding corners or exposed taps - they should be boxed in. Water troughs and containers should be cleaned regularly to prevent the build up of algae. Troughs should be positioned in a way so that it would not be possible for an animal to be trapped or cornered in the area of the trough. Where buckets are used, they should be checked regularly to ensure that the animal has water.

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