Welfare of horses: your duty of care

Animal owners and keepers are under a legal duty of care for the animals for which they are responsible on a permanent or temporary basis.

Duty of care

An owner has ongoing responsibility for their animal even if another person is in charge of it. A parent or guardian of a child under 16 years is responsible for any animal that is cared for by the child. If an owner leaves an animal in the care of another person, it is the owner’s duty to make sure the keeper is capable and has the necessary authority to act in an emergency.

Responsibility for an animal includes having an understanding of the specific health and welfare needs of the animal and having the right knowledge and skills to care for the animal. Those responsible for animals should be aware of their duty of care. They should also know when to seek advice and help and who to approach.

Owning and caring for a horse is great fun and very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility.

Before buying a horse you need to consider some matters to make sure that you will be able to meet your duty of care towards the horse.

Your skills and experience caring for a horse

You should consider how much experience you have and whether you have the skills and knowledge to care for a horse properly. Owners must possess the required knowledge and husbandry skills to look after a horse in their care. Before owning a horse, consideration should be given to gaining suitable experience with horses via formal training courses or at licensed riding establishments.

Taking a horse on a short-term or long-term loan

The responsibilities and ongoing costs of horse on loan will be the same as owning a horse.

The cost of keeping a horse

The price of a horse to buy may be minimal compared to the ongoing costs. The ongoing costs will vary depending on the needs of the individual horse, where it is kept and what it is used for. Potential owners should draw up a budget based on their own circumstances to decide whether the ongoing costs are affordable.

If you do not have your own stable and grazing then consideration should be given to whether there is suitable livery available to meet your horse’s needs in your area. You should consider costs such as feeding, bedding, stabling, livery and use of pasture, worming, veterinary fees (for both routine and emergency care), farriery and so on. You should consider insuring your horse in case of unexpected health problems.

Finding the right horse

It is important to find the right animal when buying a horse as this can prevent many problems in the future. You should consider factors such as horse age, breed, gender and intended use.

It is useful to try a number of different horses before buying one so that you can compare which horse is most suitable and the advice of an experienced horseperson should always be sought. Before buying a horse you should have it examined by an independent veterinary surgeon.

Contingency plans in case of emergency

A potential owner needs to consider what contingency plans they should have in place in case of emergency, for example:

  • the provision for stabling and transport should emergency veterinary treatment be required
  • having the means to isolate a horse if necessary
  • alternative arrangements for the care of the horse should the keeper become incapacitated for any reason

These contingency arrangements should be reviewed when there is any change in the owner’s, keeper’s or horse’s circumstances.

If an owner or keeper is unsure about the horse's individual needs, it is important to get advice from a vet, an experienced horse professional or from a suitable equine welfare organisation.

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