Owning and caring for a horse can be a source of great enjoyment but is also a big responsibility with a long-term caring and financial commitment. Horse owners should be aware that they have a duty of care for their horses under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This makes owners and keepers responsible for ensuring that their animals’ welfare needs are met by the animal:
- having a suitable environment to live in;
- having a healthy diet;
- being able to behave normally;
- having appropriate company; and
- being protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
Anyone who is cruel to an animal, or does not provide for its welfare needs, may be banned from owning animals, fined up to £20,000 and/or sent to prison.
A code of practice for the welfare of horses, ponies, donkeys and their hybrids came into force in 2010, which outlines the responsibilities horse owners have under the Animal Welfare Act and contains information on diet, behaviour, health and passports. Although breaking the code is not a criminal offence, evidence that it has not been adhered to can be used in welfare prosecutions.
Harlow Council receives numerous calls from members of the public who are concerned about horses that they have seen tethered on a rope or chain in the Harlow District. These are often noticed on open areas of land or close to roadways. People who report such horses to us, are usually concerned that the animals are not properly cared for or that tethering itself is cruel.
Under current law, however, tethering is not illegal and welfare professionals can only intervene to help a tethered horse if the horse is actually suffering in some way. If the horse is in good bodily condition and is tethered so that the fittings are not causing pain or discomfort, then the owner is not guilty of any offence.
Ideally, tethered horses should be able to benefit from some kind of natural shelter or wind break. However, they should never be tethered close to trees or any other structures which their tether may became caught on or wound round. Although tethered horses will benefit from being able to see other horses, they should also not be positioned so that their tethers can become tangled with each other. Many more tethered horses are attended by welfare professionals because of accidents involving their rope or chain becoming wound round trees, fences or other objects than because of problems due to lack of food, water or shelter.
The Control of Horses Act 2015 - makes changes to the law to deter people from illegally grazing or simply abandoning horses on public and private land, which is known as ‘fly-grazing’. Horse owners who fly-graze their animals without permission of the land owner now only have four days to claim their horses, after which the animals can be disposed of, which includes by sale, humane destruction or disposal in any other way, for example, to a welfare charity. For more information visit: Redwings - tethering
Stray, injured or dead horses
If you hit a horse, donkey or mule with your car you must stop and report the accident to the police by calling 101, within 24 hours, whether the animal is killed or not. Any horses found straying on the highway should also be reported to the local police. In an emergency call 999 or if the report is not urgent call Police non-emergency number 101.
Any dead or injured horses are the responsibility of the horses’ owner. However, if you find a dead or injured horse on public land and the owner of the animal is unknown, you can report it to Harlow Council.
Concerned about a horse?
If you are concerned about a particular horse or would like more advice on the subject of tethering horses, please contact the Redwings’ Welfare Team on 01508 481008. In an emergency and out of normal office hours you can contact Redwings on 07747 444704 or contact the RSPCA - tethered horses on 0300 1234 999.