Northern Ireland Drafts Equine Welfare Codes


Following a trend towards improved protection of equine well-being, Northern Ireland has announced that it has drafted welfare codes for horses.

The creation of these guidelines by Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) “must be applauded,” according to the British Veterinary Association (BVA). The BVA also stated that they have “welcomed” the publication of these codes.

“With an increase in abandoned or welfare-comprised horses—largely due to the recession and overbreeding—comprehensive advice on the owning and caring for horses as set out in the draft code is timely, and we hope it will go far in helping owners understand their horse’s welfare needs,” said BVA president Carl Padgett, BVMS, CertCHP, MRCVS, as stated in an article about the codes in the Jan. 28 issue of the Veterinary Record.

As part of the country’s Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011, which replaces the previous act from 1972, the DARD is now empowered to issue codes of practice “to provide practical guidance in respect of any provision in the Act,” according to a DARD spokesman.

A key change in the 2011 Act is that action can now be taken by authorities to prevent a horse from suffering. Under the current legislation from the previous act, action can only be taken “after suffering has occurred,” the spokesman told The Horse.

In the past, DARD could issue codes of practice for farm animals but not for other species, including horses, he added. Northern Ireland’s newcodes were drawn from best practices from welfare codes already in existence in other parts of the United Kingdom, including England, Wales, and Scotland.

“The codes are intended to inform and educate the keepers of these animals of the requirements and best practice necessary to ensure that the animals are kept in accordance with the ‘five freedoms,’ ” said the DARD spokesperson. These freedoms, as defined in the 2011 Act, are the need for a suitable environment, the need for a healthy diet, the need to behave normally, the need for appropriate company, and protection from pain, suffering, injury, and disease. The Act’s “freedoms” ring familiar of the “primary moral principles” described by Daniel Mills, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ECVBM-CA, European and RCVS Recognized Specialist in Veterinary and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Lincoln in the U.K., at the recent conference of the International Society for Equitation Science.

The new horse welfare codes, along with those drafted simultaneously by the DARD for rabbits and primates, are scheduled to be published in April 2012.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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