Horse ownership brings great joy to many people – but it’s also a huge responsibility. So what do you need to know to stay on the right side of the law? And how can horse insurance help?
We’ve compiled a list of some of the main things you should be aware of, divided into three categories: horse welfare, horse management, and horse riding.
Join us for a quick gallop through some of the rules concerning horse ownership in the UK.
- Look after your horse
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, you have a legal duty of care towards any animal for which you are responsible, whether temporarily or permanently. So what does that mean?
The Act lists five broad needs that all animals have, which you as an owner or keeper must meet. There’s an accompanying Code of Practice that goes into more detail. Let’s take a brief look at each of those five needs in turn.
- Ensure your horse has a suitable environment
We all need a place to live. What this looks like for your horse depends on factors such as age and breed.
First of all, consider its shelter. Most horses need a stable, though some hardy breeds can live outdoors and find shelter under trees. All horses may need stable accommodation when sick or elderly.
Then you must make sure your horse has pasture. This should be kept free of poisonous plants such as ragwort, and securely fenced. Failure to do so could lead to your horse becoming ill or injured, so it’s a good idea to have horse insurance, too.
- Give your horse a healthy diet
In the wild, horses are grazers. You should provide yours with access to good quality forage such as grass or hay, plus supplementary feed if necessary, taking into account factors such as its age, weight, and level of exercise. Don’t forget clean water!
Keep an eye on your horse’s body condition score to make sure it’s getting the right amount of food.
- Ensure your horse can express normal behaviour
Your horse needs exercise, which could include daily turnout.
When training your horse, do so humanely. It’s an offence to cause any animal unnecessary suffering – and that includes psychologically. Don’t use restraints for longer than necessary.
- Make sure your horse has company
Horses are naturally herd animals, so you need to give yours opportunities to socialise with its own species. That said, there are occasions when horses should be kept separately, such as some mares with young foals.
- Protect your horse from pain, suffering, illness and disease
It’s crucial that you look after your horse’s health. Make sure you know what is normal for your animal in terms of temperature, water consumption and so on, and look out for any changes.
You should have a basic knowledge of equine health and first aid, and be ready to call your vet if you have any concerns. Make sure you stay on top of routine healthcare such as vaccinations and parasite control, too.
It’s a good idea to have horse insurance to help you pay vets’ fees.
- Get your horse microchipped
Since October 2020, it’s been the law that all horses, donkeys and ponies must be microchipped. It’s a simple procedure that your vet can carry out.
You’ll then need to register your horse on the central equine database, and keep those details up to date at all times.
If you’re buying a horse, it should already have been microchipped by its breeder or the seller. If not, you should probably walk away from the sale. Get a vet to scan the microchip so you can check it matches the paperwork you’ve been given.
- Ensure your horse has a passport
Your horse’s passport is a legal document that lists basic details such as its colour and age, its registered keeper (which may be different from its owner), and all the vaccinations it’s had.
You must keep the passport with your horse at all times, including when transporting it. You’ll need to provide it to vets, inspectors, and when selling the animal.
You face a fine if you cannot produce a valid passport for an equine in your care.
- Be aware you could be liable for damage your horse causes
That’s right – keepers of horses can be accused of negligence, or held responsible under the Animals Act 1971, for damage their animals cause.
The law’s quite complex in this area, but it could be both harmful and expensive to get it wrong. Equine insurance arranged by Equesure can include public liability cover up to £5 million.
- Do not fly graze your horse
Under the Control of Horses Act 2015, you must not allow your horse to graze on private or public land unless permitted.
Local authorities and landowners now have the right to detain or remove your horse if it’s found on their land. If you don’t claim it back within four working days, ownership can pass to the landowner.
- Transport your horse safely
There are several laws that govern the transport of horses, and the precise details vary depending on whether you’re doing so commercially or not.
But in general, you need to ensure that you avoid causing any unnecessary injury or suffering to your animal during the journey. That means ensuring its needs for water, food, rest and space are met.
So make sure you’ve got a suitable vehicle, and plan your journey and itinerary carefully, giving priority to your horse’s needs.
- Check you’re entitled to drive your horse box
You are legally allowed to drive some smaller horse boxes with just a regular car driver’s licence.
But the rules vary according to factors such as the weight of the vehicle, whether you’re towing a trailer, and the date you passed your driving test. So check that you’re entitled to drive that category of vehicle before you take to the road.
- Get an export health certificate for transporting your horse abroad
Since Brexit, the rules around transporting horses abroad are changing. So even if you’ve done so many times in the past, it’s worth double-checking to make sure you don’t have a nasty surprise!
If you’re taking your horse out of Britain to Northern Ireland or the EU, you’ll need an export health certificate. This proves your animal meets the health requirements of the country you’re visiting.
Check the government’s pages on other documentation you might need or action you should take before transporting your horse or pony abroad.
- Take care when buying (and selling) a horse
In law, horses count as goods when selling or buying. Therefore, the law varies depending on whether or not it’s a private sale. In general, buyers have more protection when buying from a dealer.
Either way, you need to check the horse is as described, fit for the purpose you wish to use it for, and that you know about any health conditions.
- Understand where you can ride your horse
You are legally allowed to ride your horse on public roads. The exception is motorways – for obvious reasons!
When it comes to public rights of way, you can ride on bridleways, restricted byways, and byways open to all traffic. Stay off footpaths, though. Check your Ordnance Survey map to find where all these are.
Beaches and estuaries are lovely and legal places to ride, unless they’re subject to certain bylaws or conservation regulations.
There are also designated horse rides, some commons and cycle routes, and several other types of path or track that are open to you and your horse.
Pavements by the sides of roads are for pedestrians, not equestrians.
- Wear a helmet
Children under the age of 14 must wear a hard helmet, fastened securely, when riding along public highways or byways. The helmet must meet certain safety standards, too.
There are a couple of exceptions, such as Sikh children who wear turbans for religious reasons. But otherwise, as a horse owner, you could be held responsible if you allow a child to break this regulation.
Helmet wearing is strongly advised for riders of all ages, whether on the roads or in the fields, even though it’s not compulsory.
- Make sure you can control your horse
Rule 52 of the Highway Code states that when riding along a public road, you must be in control of your horse at all times. If your horse is likely to startle in traffic, ride with other horses who are accustomed to the situation.
Remember – you may well be held liable for damage your horse causes. So don’t take to public roads until you’re sure that your horse can do so safely.
- Get the right tack and clothing
According to the Highway Code, if you’re riding your horse along the road, it’s essential that you have both a saddle and a bridle. All tack should be of good condition, and fit correctly.
There are also regulations concerning what you and your horse should wear.
Riders need shoes or boots that have hard soles and heels; and light or fluorescent clothing for daytime rides.
It’s not advisable to ride on roads after dark or in low visibility, but if it’s unavoidable, you should ensure you have reflective strips on your clothing. Attach a light to your right arm or leg that shows white in front, and red behind.
Your horse also needs special gear to keep it safe in poor light: reflective bands above the fetlocks, and a fluorescent or reflective tail guard, too.
- Follow the road safety rules
Under the Highway Code, normal road traffic rules apply to equestrians. So stick to the left, and don’t go the wrong way down a one-way street.
When you’re about to move off or make a turn, you need to look behind you, then give a clear arm signal to show other road users where you’re going. When not signalling, keep both hands on the reins. Your feet should remain in the stirrups at all times, too.
Riding on roads carries certain risks, so don’t make it any harder on you or your horse by adding passengers to the mix. Likewise, avoid carrying anything – such as heavy bags – which could get tangled up in the reins, or knock you off balance.
Stick to single file on busy or narrow roads or when riding round corners. It’s ok to ride two abreast when it’s quieter, but never more.
- Follow the correct accident procedure
This is not a law or regulation as such, but we do strongly advise that you familiarise yourself with what to do in case of an accident.
The British Horse Society (BHS) recommends: telling someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back so they can raise the alarm if necessary; carrying a mobile phone for emergencies (but not using it while riding); and reporting incidents to the police and the BHS.
Horse insurance arranged by Equesure can help cover the costs of accidents to both your horse and the rider.
Get a quote from Equesure
If you’re thinking of buying a horse, there’s certainly a lot to learn. But at Equesure, we want to make horse ownership as simple and enjoyable as possible.
We’re specialists in arranging horse insurance that helps you protect and care for your horse or pony. We work with a panel of trusted providers to find the policies that suit you, your horse, and your requirements.
Cover benefits of the bespoke policies that we arrange can include: vets’ fees of up to £10,000 per incident, with unlimited claims per year; personal accident cover of up to £30,000, plus dental cover on some policies of up to £1,750; and public liability cover of up to £5 million.
Other key features you could choose include: saddlery and tack cover; horseboarding cover; loss of use cover; and EU cover.
Discounts are also available for owners insuring more than one horse.
Get in touch today for a quote.