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Winter Worries and Equine Welfare Concerns? Talk to HAPPA’s Inspectorate


February 19, 2021



Equine Inspector Tracy Heaton has this advice 

Winter Worries and Equine Welfare Concerns? Talk to HAPPA’s Inspectorate

Members of the public, horse owners and horse lovers are often left wondering when horses are left out in the cold. Each breed has different needs, some horses are rugged and others manage perfectly well without. Some horses are pampered and stabled 24/7 whilst there are plenty of horses living out in all weathers, which are perfectly fine. It can often leave unanswered questions and give cause for concern.

Horses are designed to forage and can graze for up to 16 hours per day, building up a fat reserve over the summer months when grazing is plentiful. During the winter months horses will call on those reserves when grazing is limited or in short supply. In cold weather they will use up more energy to keep warm, and the rule of thumb is provided that they have a good body weight they will be able to survive through the cold spells and generate their own central heating. Ideally, when the ground is covered in snow we like to see that horses have got extra forage in the form of good quality hay to meet their additional needs.

If horses are not in work, then they generally don’t need any supplementary feed in the form of hard feed and winter grazing can be an option for some owners. Youngsters and geriatrics can benefit from plenty of turnout if not all year round.

Typically, landowners generally don’t like horses wintering out as every hoof print creates a large hole, which then fills with water and the ground can soon become severely poached, particularly surrounding gateways and feeding areas. At this time of year, we are particularly busy attending to calls involving horses living out in all weathers and remain particularly busy during extreme weather conditions, with an influx in calls coming in throughout the recent cold snap.

HAPPA’s Inspectors play a key role in the co-ordination and enforcement of legislation relating to the Five Welfare Needs and provide expert advice and support to horse owners. They are also able to educate in such cases when an equine’s welfare is compromised due to a lack of knowledge.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 states that it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal, the Act applies to all animals on common land and contains Section 9 ‘Duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare’ and Section 4 ‘Unnecessary suffering’ which means that anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to ensure that the animals needs are duly met.

Understanding how the framework is implemented and enforced can sometimes be complex, HAPPA’s Equine Inspectors have the experience and knowledge of the Act and apprehend what is acceptable and what is welfare compromise. They can intervene with guidance and support owners to make the relevant improvements where possible. Most situations can be improved or resolved with HAPPA’s intervention and prosecution is, although a last resort, an option available to us.

Animal Welfare Act 2006 Explained

When we attend a complaint we first of all evaluate the factors in relation to each element of the Five Welfare Needs to establish whether or not the equine’s ‘Basic Needs’ are being met.

The Five Welfare Needs

  1. Its need for a suitable environment – all horses should have a comfortable resting area and have protection from the extreme elements as appropriate for the breed or type. Shelter can be man-made or natural. Factors to consider include the horses age, size, breed, available shelter, sort of shelter, hard standing, rugged or not rugged. A donkey requires waterproof shelter with three sides and dry floor. During extreme weather conditions, if a field is flooded, can the horses get out of the water and stand on relatively dry land?
  2. Its need for a suitable diet – if the horse is of a good body weight and has a good body condition score of 2. 5 and above and given the time of year (season) for instance a horse coming out of winter with a body score of 2.5 would not give cause for concern as the grass will soon be plentiful. The body condition score indicates whether or not the equine is receiving ‘A suitable diet’, this is a good the starting point. Water, is there clean fresh water, stream, even puddles, are the horses clinically dehydrated?
  3. Its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns – horses should be handled quietly with care and compassion and patience to avoid any undue stress or discomfort – restraining devices must be used humanely with sympathetic handling.
  4. Any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals – horses in their natural habitat are herding animals and require the company of their own kind with the exception of stallions that will need to be kept apart from mares and other geldings.
  5. Its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease – owners must be able to recognise signs of ill health and disease taking reasonable steps to ensure early diagnosis with access and intervention from a qualified veterinary surgeon to treat any serious illness or injury. Access to regular foot care from a qualified farrier.

Reporting Your Concerns

If you see something that concerns you, we will investigate, we keep your details confidential, so you can be rest assured and report with confidence. Our Equine Inspectors will do everything they can to improve the welfare if it is required, however please respect that we are not able to share or discuss the details of individual cases due to Data Protection legislation. HAPPA (The Horses & Ponies Protection Association) investigate complaints of cruelty and neglect and implement the legislation within the Animal Welfare Act 2006, taking appropriate action where necessary. Interventions include the giving and offering advice and supporting owners to make the relevant changes. We have the option of issuing improvement notices to owners that fail to provide a satisfactory ‘Duty of Care’ which could potentially lead to prosecution.

We operate a traffic light system giving precedence to the most urgent complaints and endeavour to action all visits within seven working days. We provide Inspectorate cover Mon – Fri between the hours of 9am – 5pm. Our Inspectors may need to contact you on the number provided to ask further questions and gather further information.

We also do not duplicate visits and if another organisation is already dealing, we will liaise with the relevant organisation and ensure that appropriate action has been taken. We work closely with organisations that belong to NEWC (The National Equine Welfare Council) and Inspectors network with each other in relation to shared jobs.

Report cruelty here – 

Equine Inspector Liz Pharaoh’s Top Tips when Reporting a Welfare Concern (picture of Liz)

  • Report what you see- we need a clear picture of information from the source and cannot act on hearsay or items posted on social media.
  • If you can visit more than once try going at different times- get the full picture.
  • If reported to one welfare organisation and conditions get worse report back to same welfare organisation. Welfare organisations will communicate with one another.
  • Please do not trespass.
  • Welfare Inspectors have knowledge and access to other organisations and the police which puts them in a better position to deal.
  • A picture may paint a thousand words so if you can take a photo…please include the whole scene.
  • Do not approach horses you do not know.
  • Ponies in small paddocks or on limited grazing; it may be due to an ongoing health condition.
  • Do not judge an owner until you have all the facts; age, size, health and exercise may all contribute to the condition of a horse/pony.
  • Be realistic.
  • Any concerns, if not urgent, keep a diary…this is very useful to and Equine or Welfare Inspector.
  • Do not approach horse or land owners.
  • Do not feed if several equines are all fed in one place bullying may occur.
  • Please do not offer to rescue an equine on the assumption a welfare organisation will then be able to take action against a previous owner or take an animal from you. Always speak to a welfare organisation first.

A final note on rugging

A typical call can begin with “they are out in all weathers without any rugs on.” Our native breeds and cobs hardly ever need rugging, they are equipped to cope with all weathers. However there are exceptions, if they are clipped, elderly or underweight. Thin skinned or finer breeds may benefit from rugging appropriately. Over rugging can cause sweating, rubbing and it is essential to adjust the type of rug worn by a horse to reflect the changing weather conditions. Rugs should be checked daily and changed regularly particularly when rugs become wet and damp.

It is also important to ensure that rugs worn outside are waterproof and that they are a good fit to ensure that they are not causing injury or discomfort from slipping or chaffing. All of this should be maintained by a good owner and we do not advise anyone to remove or change a rug of a horse that doesn’t belong to you.

And finally we strongly advise against feeding other peoples’ horses. Follow this link to find out more –