Definition Of Horses As Livestock

What is livestock?

Livestock is most commonly considered animals kept or raised in a farm or ranch setting and used in a commercial enterprise. The raising of livestock is an agricultural endeavor that promotes the preservation of green space and a way of life that many in today's society desire.

Are horses livestock?

Yes, horses are livestock. Traditionally, and legally, horses have been considered livestock in the United States. Even today, horses are still kept and raised on a farm or ranch and are used in a commercial enterprise. The United States horse industry is a major business that makes a significant contribution to the economic well-being of the entire country. The U. S. horse industry has a $112.1 billion impact on the U. S. economy; generates 1,404,400 full-time equivalent jobs; and pays $1.9 billion in taxes to all levels of government.

What effects might changing the legal status of horses have on the industry?

State and federal support and moneys. The care and regulation of horses and horse related activities come under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture on the national level. In most states, the state department of agriculture is charged with the regulation of horse related activities on the state level. Part of the responsibility of the USDA is to improve and maintain farm income; develop and expand markets abroad for agricultural products; protect the soil, water, forests, and other agricultural products; and carry out agricultural research.

The USDA provides valuable technical expertise and monetary support for such things as research into the prevention of equine diseases such as Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA), Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV), Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis (VEE), and Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM); the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act; and development and enforcement of the Safe Commercial Transportation of Equine to Slaughter Act. Many state departments of agriculture are also providing valuable assistance to the horse industry through research and regulatory programs. If livestock status is taken away from horses, there is a possibility of losing the already limited financial support equines receive from the USDA for research, regulation, and disaster relief.

Humane laws. All 50 states have animal anti-cruelty laws. Some of these laws are written specifically for livestock and others are written specifically for non-livestock. Livestock anti-cruelty laws are usually written to ensure the humane treatment and care these animals deserve, while still providing for the use of the animal. If horses are legally considered non-livestock, livestock anti-cruelty laws will no longer apply.

Limited liability laws. Many states are now passing what are commonly referred to as "limited liability laws." One of the purposes of these state laws is to provide stable owners, equine event organizers, and trail ride organizers protection from lawsuits that may arise if an individual is injured while attending or participating in such an event. Those involved in the horse industry realize the horse is a potentially dangerous animal, and are aware of the risks when dealing with them. However, many of these state laws are not limited only to horses; they encompass all livestock or farm animals. If horses are no longer considered livestock, a law which so many horse people worked to pass might no longer protect them.

Tax issues. Currently, under federal tax law, commercial horse owners and breeders are treated as farmers. This has certain tax ramifications which could be changed if horses were not considered livestock. In addition, horse owners and breeders are treated differently by state excise and sales taxes because horses are considered livestock. These advantages could be lost. If horses were no longer livestock, horse breeding would no longer be an agricultural endeavor and federal and state taxes for horse operations could increase.

Why do some want to change the definition of horses?

Human consumption. Some individuals wish to change the definition of horses from livestock to something different because they believe it would prevent the use of horses for human consumption.

The decision to send a horse to a processing facility where it will be slaughtered, like other livestock, for human consumption is a personal one that should not be mandated by law. This is one way of disposing of horses that cannot be taken care of or that no longer have any viable use. Taking this option away from individuals could make conditions worse for some horses. If a horse cannot be sold at a sale because it may go to a processing facility, it might become a candidate for abuse.

The disposal of a horse's carcass is also a concern. In most cases, county or state laws make it illegal simply to bury a horse on your property or dump the carcass in a landfill due to human health concerns. To some, the cost of disposal for horses might be so high that they are simply left to stand in a field until their death. The instantaneous death at a federally inspected and regulated processing facility is more humane than a slow, lingering death from starvation. These facilities must comply with strict federal and state codes designed for the care of these horses. These codes govern euthanasia, as well as the methods used, and provide for the safety of the meat produced.

The horse has long been considered livestock in the United States and throughout the world. This does not prevent individuals from enjoying their horses as companion animals. That is their privilege, just as it is the right of others to continue to care for them as livestock. Changing the legal definition of horses to companion animals under state law, however, could adversely affect horse owners and breeders and not necessarily better protect horses. Horse owners and others should be mindful of this when considering various state initiatives.

About the Author

American Association of Equine Practitioners

AAEP Mission: To improve the health and welfare of the horse, to further the professional development of its members, and to provide resources and leadership for the benefit of the equine industry. More information:

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More