Thank you to those that contacted me regarding the '#BreakTheChain' campaign by the equestrian charity, HorseWorld.
I support the highest standards of animal welfare and agree with you about the importance of protecting these gentle, sensitive creatures. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to animals, or for a responsible party to fail to provide for their welfare.
The statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Horses, Ponies, Donkeys and Their Hybrids includes advice on how to tether these animals where necessary in a manner that meets their welfare needs. It outlines that tethering is not suitable for long-term use, but it can be used exceptionally in the short term on suitable animals given an appropriate site and equipment. Any failure to adhere to the Code can be used in court to demonstrate neglect.
I am pleased that last year, following a call from the then-Minister of Animal Welfare, a roundtable meeting was set-up with the relevant welfare groups and authorities to discuss what more can be done in sharing and documenting best practice on horse tethering and more actively distributing this information to horse owners.
Local authorities must be able to make decisions based on local needs, resource priorities and the local arrangements that work best for them. While they have powers of entry to inspect complaints of suspected animal cruelty and prosecute where necessary, so do the Animal & Plant Health Agency and the police. I am aware that all three often work in close partnership to ensure that the welfare of animals, including horses, is protected.
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, anyone is able to investigate allegations of animal neglect and, if necessary, take forward a prosecution. On this basis, the RSPCA enforces animal welfare legislation and successfully prosecutes 800 to 1,000 people each year. The RSPCA investigates many allegations of animal welfare offences where additional powers are needed, for example to seize animals. I understand in such cases the RSPCA liaises with the relevant authorities to ensure these powers are used appropriately. In addition, the equine charity, World Horse Welfare, will also advise on cases of horse welfare.
Local authorities are required to enforce the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) Regulations which include the licensing of businesses that hire out horses for riding, or instruction in riding, and requires inspectors to be suitably qualified. Local authority animal welfare inspectors also carry out inspections in relation to welfare in transport and on-farm welfare. I would, therefore, expect most local authorities to have inspectors trained in enforcing equine welfare more generally.
From October 2020 it will become mandatory for owners to microchip their horses, ponies and donkeys, allowing local authorities and police to track down the owners of abandoned horses and ensure that appropriate action is taken.
If you or anyone else is concerned about the way a horse is tethered, I would urge them to report it to the local authority, which has powers under the Animal Welfare Act to investigate such matters. The RSPCA and World Horse Welfare can also investigate.