Thank you for contacting me about Equine Welfare. On this page, you will see my responses to common enquiries regarding the welfare of horses in the stables, on the road or bridleway, and in the context of horse racing. It will be updated on an intermittent basis.
The welfare of horses is at present governed and enforced by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to animals or for a responsible party to fail to provide adequately for their welfare. This is backed up by the statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Horses, Ponies, Donkeys and their Hybrids, and in certain contexts by the British Horseracing Association, the British Horse Society, and the Department for Transport (with respect to Highway Code and other advice).
Under the Animal Welfare Act, local authorities have powers of entry to inspect complaints of suspected animal cruelty and neglect, and to take out prosecutions where necessary. So too do the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Police. The RSPCA also investigates allegations of animal neglect: it successfully prosecutes 900 people per year (on average) and it liaises with the relevant authorities to seize animals where necessary.
For licensing, local authorities are who you should call for suspected issues around enforcement. Further information on suspected horse welfare cases can be found by contacting the equine charity, World Horse Welfare.
I am aware of the #BreakTheChain campaign by equestrian charity, HorseWorld. The statutory Code of Practice includes advice on how to tether these animals where necessary in a manner that meets their needs. It outlines that tethering is not a suitable option for long-term use, but can be used exceptionally in the short term given an appropriate site, equipment and supply of water. Any failure to adhere to the Code is usable in court as evidence of neglect.
When debated in February in the House of Commons, the Minister for Animal Welfare concluded the debate by saying he would call for a meeting with organisations and stakeholders to discuss what more can be done to share and document best practice on horse tethering, and to actively distribute it to horse owners, riders and stables.
If anyone is concerned about the way a horse is tethered, I would recommend that you report it to the local authority and the RSPCA in the first instance.
Horses on the Road
Over 2.5 million people ride a horse at least once a year in Great Britain. Many of them do so on the road - more often than not because this is the only means of reaching a bridleway or other off-road area. Horse riders have a right to use the road, and both riders and motorists are responsible for each other's safety.
The THINK! Campaign, which is run by the Department of Transport, and the Highway Code provides motorists with advice on how to be considerate:
· Slow down and be ready to stop if necessary
· Look out for riders' signals to slow down or stop
· Watch out for sudden movements, horses can be easily frightened and unpredictable
· Don't sound your horn or rev your engine
· Pass wide and slow when overtaking; giving the horse plenty of room. Don't accelerate rapidly once you have passed them.
Further to this advice, in August 2018 it was announced the Department for Transport would be reviewing the advice in the Highway Code in relation to overtaking vulnerable road users, including horse riders, because the Department is aware that not all road users follow the rules on safe overtaking. The full scope of the review has not yet been determined or published, but I will keep update with developments as they happen. In the meantime, I am pleased that the British Horse Society has implemented its 'Dead Slow' campaign to encourage drivers to pass horses safely.
When it comes to driver education, the driving theory test contains questions about interaction with vulnerable road users (including horse riders). I am also told that the hazard perception test includes a number of clips/simulations where horse riders are the hazard. I
I am aware of concerns around the use of the whip in horseracing, and I understand that the British Horseracing Association, the governing and regulatory body for the sport, requires that whips used in horse racing must be used responsibly, for safety reasons and only to encourage the horse.
Its policy on this issue was drawn up in consultation with animal welfare groups including the RSPCA, as was the approved energy absorbing design of the whip itself. Full details can be found on its website at www.britishhorseracing.com.
In addition to sanctions from the sport, using the whip indiscriminately on horses could lead to a prosecution under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, which should provide adequate protection for racehorses.
As regards events where a number of racehorses have been euthanised following injury, the Minister responsible has been in regular contact with the BHA about the safety of racehorses and asked that any changes necessary to improve horse welfare on the racecourse be introduced as quickly as possible.
The Minister has also been clear that it is also the responsibility of the racecourses themselves to improve safety at their venues. This approach has, so far, seen a big fall in racehorse deaths from 211 in 2012 to 160 in 2018. It is, however, crucial that further steps are taken to reduce the risk of fatality.
From October 2020, it will be mandatory for owners to microchip their horses, ponies and donkeys, allowing local authorities and police to track down the owners of abandoned or neglected horses and to ensure that appropriate enforcement action is taken.