Abandonment refers to situations where an owner or keeper leaves an animal without taking steps to ensure that its needs will be met.
This is different to straying, where a horse is allowed to stray onto the highway or trespass onto other people’s property, for example because of poor fencing, or fly-grazing, where the owner/keeper deliberately grazes their horse on someone else’s land in order to get free grazing.
Initially, it is often impossible to tell whether a horse is straying or if it has been abandoned.
In England and Wales, abandonment falls under the Animal Welfare Act (2006), which places a duty of care on the owner/keeper of the horse to ensure that the needs of the horse are met to the extent required by good practice. If an owner is found for the abandoned horse and it is deemed that the horse suffered unnecessarily as a result of the abandonment, a prosecution may be taken by the RSPCA or, in some areas, the local authority.
Horses that stray/trespass onto land or are fly-grazed, fall under the Animals Act (1971), which enables the land owner to sell the animal(s) in order to recoup any costs they incur. The Animals Act is a piece of civil legislation and the owner of the land is responsible for dealing with the sale and disposal of the horses.
Under the Horse Passports Regulations (2009) all horses must have a passport if they are to be sold. If they don’t already have a microchip, they must have one inserted by a veterinary surgeon before a passport can be applied for. This can increase the cost to the land owner of disposing of the horses.
If you don’t wish to deal with the removal of the horses yourself, there are a number of horse bailiff companies that will deal with it for you. For details, please contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
What to do if a horse is abandoned on your land
Report the horse to the police, providing a detailed description of the horse if possible. The owner is likely to contact the police to report their horse missing and this will enable the horse to be reunited with its owner quickly. The police will provide you with a reference number.
Contact local equine establishments to enquire if any horses have escaped.
Make sure the horse has its basic needs met by providing water and access to grass.
Keep the horse in the safest area possible so that it can't escape again and get onto the road.
If the horse has an injury or appears ill, you should report it to the RSPCA by telephoning 0300 1234 999, or contact another equine charity with field officers able to go out and assess the horse. The National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) website provides contact details for its members. Click here to go to the NEWC website.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the Trustees of The Horse Trust, formerly known as The Home of Rest for Horses, felt that:
"… while the more immediate objects of The Home necessarily consisted in the relief of equine suffering at home, the members of the Society would welcome an opportunity of doing something to help the patient and faithful creatures whose lives were being sacrificed in the service of our Country”. Home of Rest for Horses Annual Report, 1914.
During the First World War, The Home provided the prototype, motorised horse ambulance to help the evacuation of wounded horses from the front line in France.
In 2 years, the ambulance had travelled some 13,000 miles and had carried in excess of 1,000 injured horses from the front line.
The first army war veteran, San Toy, was retired to The Home in 1919 at the age of 28. He served in both the Boer and First World War and stayed in happy retirement at The Home until his death in 1923.
Today, we still consider it important to provide retirement and respite for the army horses who work so hard serving our country.