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 to be protected from suffering, injury and disease

Discipline and restraint

58. It is an offence to cause an animal unnecessary suffering; therefore, any discipline should be appropriate, timely, reasonable and proportionate. A whip or a stick should only be used as an additional aid, not as a means of punishment. Similarly any restraint method used to assist normal management or treatment of the animal should be the most mild and effective method available and should be applied by a competent person only for the minimum period necessary. Sedatives must only be used under veterinary advice. Roundpens and small electrified fenced areas should not be used to discipline animals and are not suitable for keeping them in for long periods of time.

Prompt recognition of ill health

59. Everyone responsible for the supervision of horses, ponies, donkeys or hybrids should be able to recognise signs of ill health, should have a basic knowledge of first aid and have access to a basic first aid kit. It is also important that owners and keepers have access to a veterinary surgeon to diagnose or treat any illness, injury or disease and have their contact details easily available, including out of hours details. Horse passports should be easily accessible, otherwise some treatments may not be available.

60. Owners and keepers should be able to recognise the normal behaviour of their animals and recognise the signs that indicate poor health. Donkeys can be very stoical and owners need to be even more observant to identify illnesses. The signs of illness include:

  • change in appetite (for food and water)
  • change in droppings
  • change in demeanour or behaviour
  • losing body and coat condition
  • any signs of pain or the presence of any injury or lameness

61. When an animal becomes unwell, the cause of this deterioration should be identified and immediate remedial action taken. Veterinary advice should be obtained if the animal appears to be ill or in pain and the cause is not clear or if initial first aid treatment is not effective. In the case of foot problems, advice could be obtained from a registered farrier. Advice from the veterinary surgeon or farrier should be followed diligently.

62. Veterinary advice should be sought immediately if the animal is suffering from severe lameness, recumbency, signs of acute pain, respiratory distress, or deep puncture wounds or large open wounds.

Routine health care

63. A parasite control programme should be put in place following consultation with a veterinary surgeon; this may include the use of wormers, and appropriate faecal worm egg counts. Careful pasture management including the rotation of grazing and dung collection is an important part of an effective parasite control programme. Where groups of horses, ponies, donkeys or hybrids are kept together, worming programmes are most effective if they are all treated simultaneously with the same product (or at the very least different products with the same active ingredient).

64. There should be adequate control of infectious and contagious disease by a programme agreed with a veterinary surgeon, which will include appropriate hygiene and isolation procedures and vaccination. The main diseases for which vaccination is available are equine influenza, tetanus and equine herpes virus.

65. Teeth should be inspected by a veterinary surgeon or qualified equine dental technician at least once a year, and rasped or otherwise treated if necessary. Animals with worn or abnormal teeth are unable to chew their food properly which leads to poor digestion. Owners and keepers should look out for signs of this problem, such as: half-chewed food dropping out of the mouth; poor condition and lack of energy; and abnormal mouth movements when ridden.

The Farriers (Registration) Act 1975 states:

Under this Act it is an offence for an unregistered person to describe himself as a farrier or shoeing smith, and it is an offence for an unregistered person to carry out an act of farriery. An act of farriery is described as "any work in connection with the preparation or treatment of the foot of a horse for the immediate reception of a shoe thereon, the fitting by nailing or otherwise of a shoe to the foot or the finishing off of such work to the foot".

66. Every owner and keeper should have some understanding of the care of an animal's feet, which grow continuously and the need to treat lameness promptly and effectively. Feet should be trimmed by a competent person and attention should be given to their growth and balance. They should not be expected to work at a level above that which the hooves are capable of, whether shod or unshod. In the main, animals ridden or driven on roads or hard, rough surfaces will need to be regularly shod by a registered farrier. However, if they are used unshod they will need to be carefully managed, and receive regular hoof care which ensures their use on difficult surfaces does not cause them to become sore. The Farriers (Registration) Act 1975 requires anyone shoeing horses to register each year with the Farriers Registration Council. This includes those people who only shoe their own animals, although you do not have to be registered if you only trim your own animals' feet unless they are being prepared for shoeing. Loose shoes and those with risen clenches should receive prompt attention from a farrier to prevent possible injury. Hooves should be trimmed or re-shod as advised by the farrier, which should usually be every four to eight weeks.

67. Flies can cause a great deal of irritation to horses, ponies, donkeys or hybrids, particularly during the summer, and can introduce infection to wounds so an appropriate treatment from a veterinary surgeon should be used. Midges can also be a source of irritation during the spring and summer and can cause sweet itch (an allergic skin condition). Consideration should be given to preventative fly and midge control through the use of fly repellents, fly rugs or masks and, for animals sensitive to fly or midge bites, stabling at dawn and dusk when flies and particularly midges are most active.

Saddlery and harness

68. Saddlery and harness should be suitable for the purpose, being appropriate to the needs and abilities of both the animal and rider. They should be correctly fitted, preferably by a qualified saddler and the fit should be checked when the animal changes condition. Equipment should be regularly cleaned and maintained in good order to ensure comfort, safety and effectiveness. Bits should be appropriate for the individual animal; halters and head collars should not be left on unattended animals for a long period of time. Particular care needs to be taken when used on young or growing animals; and these items should be checked frequently for deterioration, rubbing, wear or damage.

69. Boots and bandages, if used, should be suitable for the purpose, correctly fitted to avoid discomfort or injury and only left on for the minimum time necessary.

Transporting horses, ponies, donkeys and hybrids

70. The transportation of animals should always be as safe and stress free as possible and in accordance with legal requirements.

Annex 1 of Council Regulation ( EC) 1/2005 requires that animals are fit to be transported and states that:

No animal shall be transported unless it is fit for the intended journey, and all animals shall be transported in conditions guaranteed not to cause them injury or unnecessary suffering.

Animals that are injured or that present physiological weakness or pathological processes shall not be considered fit for transport and in particular if:

(a) they are unable to move independently without pain or to walk unassisted;

(b) they present a severe open wound, or prolapse;

(c) they are pregnant females for whom 90% or more of the expected gestation period has already passed, or females who have given birth in the previous week;

(d) they are new born mammals in which the navel has not completely healed.

(c) and (d) do not apply to registered equidae if the purpose of the journey is to improve the health and welfare conditions of birth, or for newly born foals with their registered mares, provided that in both cases the animals are permanently accompanied by an attendant, dedicated to them during the journey.

71. The EC Regulation, has direct effect, and is implemented in Scotland by the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Scotland) Regulations 2006 (S.S.I. 2006/606) and equidae are registered under the Horses (Zootechnical Standards) (Scotland) Regulations 2008 (S.S.I. 2008/99).

72. However, the EC Regulation does not apply to the transport of animals when the journey is not in connection with an economic activity nor to the transport of animals directly to or from veterinary practices or clinics, under the advice of a veterinary surgeon.

73. The EC Regulation also requires everyone transporting animals on any journey to ensure that journey times are kept to a minimum:

  • no-one shall transport animals, or cause them to be transported, in a way likely to cause them injury or undue suffering
  • the vehicle and its loading and unloading facilities are designed, constructed and maintained to avoid injury and suffering to ensure the safety of the animals
  • water, feed and rest are given to the animals as needed and sufficient floor space and height is available in the transport
  • horses, ponies, donkeys and hybrids older than eight months must wear halters during transport - unless they are unbroken
  • if they are transported on a multi-deck vehicle they must only be carried on the lowest deck, with no other animals above them. In this circumstance, the compartment height must be at least 75cm higher than the height of the withers of the highest animal
  • they must be transported in individual stalls when the vehicle is on a RO- RO vessel, with the exception that a mare may travel with her foal
  • they must not be transported in groups of more than four animals
  • unbroken animals must not be transported for more than eight hours

Failure to comply with the EC Regulation is an offence under S.S.I. 2006/606.


74. It may be necessary, in the event of incurable illness, old age or permanent unsoundness or, more suddenly, in the event of an accident, to arrange the humane destruction of the animal. The animal's welfare must always come first. Therefore, in the interests of the animal, owners and keepers should give this their full consideration well before the time comes to make a decision to prevent them suffering unnecessary pain and distress.

75. Where, in the opinion of a veterinary surgeon, an animal is significantly suffering, has not responded to treatment for a serious injury or condition involving significant pain, has a disease or injury from which there is no prospect of recovery and for which no treatment is available, or where an animal is in such a condition that it would be inhumane to keep it alive, the animal should be humanely destroyed. In such cases this should be without delay and by a veterinary surgeon or an appropriately experienced and equipped person such as a knackerman or hunt kennel employee by an approved method.

76. In a non-emergency situation, where an animal is permanently unsound or has a recurring or permanent and steadily worsening condition, a rational decision should be made with due regard for the animal's future and welfare.

77. As they become older their needs may become greater, they may well require increased supervision and additional veterinary care. When an animal reaches the end of its active working life, or is very elderly, consideration should be given to whether it can be provided with a good quality of life in retirement. Owners have a responsibility to ensure that they or whoever is entrusted with the care of such an animal is fully aware of the needs of that animal and consideration should be given as to whether it would be kinder to have the animal painlessly destroyed.

78. Following the death of an animal the owner must return the passport to the relevant Passport Issuing Organisation within 30 days of its death indicating the date of death so that records can be updated and the passport cancelled.

Disposal after the death of an animal

79. On the death of an animal the body must be disposed of in accordance with the provisions of the Animal By-Products (Scotland) Regulations 2003 (S.S.I 2003/411). These allow the body of a pet animal to be buried on the owner's land provided this can be done in compliance with the PEPFAA Code (Prevention of Environmental Pollution From Agricultural Activity) and with prior consultation with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). This exception from the general rule does not apply to animals which have not been kept as pets, such as horses used for hire from riding stables or beach donkeys. These animals are treated as "fallen stock" and must be disposed of by an approved rendering or incineration plant, or via a knackery. Carcasses must not be introduced onto land for the purpose of burial.

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