Owning and caring for a horse or pony is great fun and immensely rewarding. But it is also a big responsibility and a long-term commitment, in terms of care, hard work and finances.
Horses and ponies have very complex needs so looking after them well can be challenging.
The most significant influence on the welfare of the horse is the care and management provided by the person giving day to day care for the horse, which is usually the owner or keeper of the horse.
All horse owners and keepers have a legal duty to be aware of the welfare needs of their horses and be capable of providing for them under all reasonably foreseeable conditions.
What are an equine’s needs?
Every animal has basic needs that have to be provided for. Without these needs being met, the animal’s quality of life will fall below an acceptable level or the animal will be at risk of suffering.
All equines need a diet that is designed for their individual needs, access to fresh water, somewhere suitable to live and veterinary care to maintain their health and wellbeing. Equines also need a lifestyle that enables them to express natural behaviour and meet some of their psychological needs.
Each equine should be treated as an individual with their own particular needs being understood by the person who cares for them. There are many factors which influence the individual needs of an equine, including breed, age, conformation, temperament and workload.
Donkeys and mules are different in many ways to horses and ponies and anyone responsible for a donkey or mule must be aware of the particular needs of these types of animal.
What will happen if an equine’s needs are not met?
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence for a person not to meet the basic needs of an equine for which they are responsible. An owner or carer who is found not to be carrying out their duty of care may be served with an Improvement Notice. This Notice will give the person a specific time within which to improve the standard of care they provide for their equine. The person will be told exactly what it is that they need to do to meet their duty of care and at the end of the specified time period; the professional who served the Notice will revisit to ensure that the improvements have been carried out.
If a person has not complied with the Improvement Notice at the end of the time given, they will then be liable for prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act.
Who can issue an Improvement Notice?
The Animal Welfare Act gives statutory powers to the police and local authority representatives to issue Improvement Notices and take prosecutions when necessary. Other organisations are able to use the system of Improvement Notices but will follow these up with private, rather than statutory, prosecutions.