Control of Horses Act 2015 comes into force

The Control of Horses Act 2015 (the Act) came into force on 26 May 2015 and is welcomed by many in the equine industry. The Act follows the approach taken by Wales in the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014.

Over the past few years, horse welfare has been a particular concern for many equine organisations. Due to many factors including overbreeding and the rising cost of food, veterinary bills and livery, the welfare of horses has been put at risk because their owners cannot afford to provide proper care for them.

Horses are being illegally fly-grazed i.e. unlawfully grazed on public and private land which has become a significant problem for landowners, farmers and local authorities in terms of the cost and burden in taking care of these animals as well as the damage that they can cause. It is estimated that more than 3,000 horses are fly-grazed in England.

Purpose of the Act

The Act should help address the issue of fly-grazing. By amending the Animals Act 1971 (the Animals Act), the Act gives local authorities, freeholders and occupiers of land in England the power to deal with fly-grazing animals more efficiently.

Under the new section 7A of the Animals Act, local authorities now have the power to detain horses which are in any public place in their area within lawful authority provided:

(1)   The local authority has reasonable grounds for believing that the horse is there without lawful authority; and

(2)   If the land is lawfully occupied by a person:

  1. That person consents to the detention or the horse; or
  2. The local authority has reasonable grounds for believing that that person would consent to the detention of the horse.

Under the new section 7B of the Animals Act, freeholders and occupiers of land in England now has the power to detain horses which are on their land without lawful authority. There is also a new procedure for the detention and disposal of horses under section 7C of the Animals Act. Detention of any horses under section 7A or 7B must be reported to the Police within 24 hours and, if known, to the person to whom the horse belongs.

Owners now only have 96 hours to claim their horses instead of 14 days 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.

The Act should ensure that local authorities, freeholders and occupiers of land are no longer burdened by illegal practice on the part of horse owners and imposes consequences for perpetrators. However, in practice, the Act will need to be robustly enforced to ensure it has the desired effect.

How Does the Act Affect You?

If you are the owner or occupier of land, whether residential or commercial, or represent a local authority, the Act provides you with more powers to remove any horses illegally grazing on your land after 4 days, which will reduce the costs incurred by you in detaining and disposing of the animals. Remember to report to the Police within 24 hours any horses that you have detained on your land. You must also notify the owner of the horse, if known.

If you detain a horse in accordance with the Act, you must ensure that it is supplied with adequate food and water as you are still liable for any damage that may be caused to the animal by a failure to treat it with reasonable care.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Kieran Walshe

Partner - Head of Commercial Insurance and Head of Equine

As Head of DWF's Commercial Insurance team I advise on a range of high value and/ or complex litigation matters and misfeasance cases.