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The Control of Horses Act 2015 provides an amendment to the Animals Act 1971 and allows for tighter controls on the illegal grazing of horses (fly-grazing) and abandonment.
This guidance is designed to help anyone who finds an abandoned or fly-grazing horse in England; however, it does not have any official status and should not be seen as an alternative to legal advice.
Please note, if you live in Wales contact your local authority; under the Welsh legislation they have the power to detain the horse if it has been left on your land, but you do not.
For the purposes of this guidance the term “horse” is taken to include any equine (donkey, mule, hinny).
A horse is abandoned where it is deliberately left somewhere by an owner either permanently or for a sufficient amount of time to risk unnecessary suffering.
Section 9 Animal Welfare Act 2006, sets out that a person who is responsible for the animal commits an offence if they do not provide for the needs of an animal as required by good practice.
Fly-grazing is the deliberate grazing of horses on land without the occupier’s permission.
In some cases, the horse may have originally been there legitimately, but the agreement between the landowner/occupier and the horse’s owner has terminated and the horse has not been moved.
Prevention tips for landowners and occupiers
As with many issues involving trespass on land it is best to try to prevent the problem in the first place:
The CLA or National Farmers Union are able to offer further information and advice to their members.
Prevention tips for livery yard owners
There have been some cases where owners are seeking livery or field rental with the intention of abandoning their horse, in the hope that it will have a secure future:
What to do if you find a horse on your land
If you find a horse on your land – whether you think it is an abandonment case or your land is being fly-grazed – it’s important to keep a record of all your actions, any advice you seek from professionals, and anything you do regarding the horse’s care. Keep a record of any costs you incur too. This will help you prove you have acted responsibly and made every effort to resolve the situation.
By keeping clear records, giving the owner a clear time period to respond, and letting all the relative authorities know, you will help to cover yourself against a future claim.
Steps to take under the Animals Act 1971 – (as amended by Control of Horses Act 2015)
Even if you know or think you know who the owner is, you must notify the officer in charge of a police station and obtain an incident number. You may wish to put up an abandonment notice for a minimum of four working days (England) although this is not a legal requirement. Download a sample Abandonment Notice here.
A responsible owner should attend to their horse at least once a day, so putting a notice in place for four days would be more than adequate warning for them to respond.
If you do place a notice it should include a contact number and address, a very short description of the horse and your intention to remove the horse(s) if no owner comes forward. Display the notice prominently where you found the horse(s).
It may be worth using a sign even if you think your land is being fly-grazed – you may find the horses will disappear.
If an owner comes forward
If you are approached by someone claiming to be the owner, it is advisable to ask to see the horse’s passport, which they should, by law, have in their possession. This will prevent someone fraudulently claiming the horse. The passport will contain a detailed description of the horse.
Remember that a passport is not legal proof of ownership, however it should give some assurance that the person is the owner. There may be situations where a person may not have a passport to show, such as when they have only just purchased the horse. Alternatively if someone has photos or can give an accurate description this should be acceptable as an indication of ownership. If you have concerns that they are not the legal owner of the horse you can contact the police for advice.
You do not have to release the horse until the owner has reimbursed you for any damage caused by the horse to your property and any expenses reasonably incurred in keeping the horse an ascertaining who owns it. If the owner refuses to pay your reasonable expenses within the “defined period”, you can then rehome, sell, euthanase or keep the horse.
The “defined period” is set out in the Animals Act 1971 and is 96 hours from the period when the horse was first detained but ignoring any time falling on any of the following days: 1) Saturday or Sunday, 2) Good Friday or Christmas Day, 3) A day that is a bank holiday in England and Wales (as defined by the Banking and Financial Dealing Act 1971).
If an owner DOES NOT come forward
If the problem remains, after the expiry of the “defined period” then there are a number of options. Whatever course of action you take, it is imperative to keep records of money spent or received, expenses incurred and actions taken. If no owner comes forward within the “defined period”, under section 7c (5) Animals Act 1971 ownership passes to the person detaining the horse.
If selling the horse(s) privately it is advisable to obtain a professional valuation, and then from the sale you would be entitled to deduct your reasonable costs and damages. You should bear in mind that any money left over is recoverable by the person who was previously entitled to the horse.
Given the circumstances you may have difficulty acquiring a passport for the horse, which is a legal requirement, and is essential if you want to sell the horse or if it needs treatment from a vet. Contact DEFRA for advice on this issue on 08459 33 55 77. If you know the horses specific breed, you can try contacting one of the breed societies.
If you do not want to get involved with the process of detaining then rehoming or selling the horse as described above there are bailiffs that have expertise in removing the animal for you. For instance in some cases the landowner may be concerned to avoid threats or intimidation from the horse's current owner.
Straying on roads
Many abandoned or stray animals are found wandering on roads, any animal found on a roadway should be reported to the police. If you feel there is an immediate danger to road users call 999. Otherwise call the non-emergency line 101. Local Authorities also have the power to detain horses under the Animals Act 1971.
Some helpful notes:
You can read the full text of the new Control of Horses Act (England) 2015 here.
Download a sample Abandonment Notice here.
Read our reports on fly-grazing and the UK horse crisis:
Stop the scourge 2014
Left on the verge 2013
The approaching equine crisis 2012
If you have further questions please call our welfare helpline on 01508 481008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember we are not legal experts so if in doubt, seek legal advice.