Code of Practice for the Welfare of Horses at Horse Hire Establishments

1. Introduction

This Code is intended to provide an outline of the minimum standards required for horse care and management in horse hire establishments. The Code emphasises the importance of good horsemanship, pointing out that persons in charge have a legal liability to care for horses under their control. Compliance with the Code or failure to comply will be material to decisions to prosecute individuals from incidents associated with the welfare of horses provided by horse hire establishments.

1.1 Definitions

For the purpose of this Code:

  • Appropriate course is a course as defined in Appendix 1.
  • Code of Practice means a Code of Practice prepared under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and published in the Government Gazette, as defined in the Act.
  • Horse means any horse, pony, ass, mule or jennet.
  • Horse hire establishment means an establishment where horses are provided for riding instruction or for leisure riding, for fee or reward, including trail riding and trekking.
  • Manager means a person appointed by the proprietor who is responsible for the management of a horse hire establishment.
  • Proprietor means the owner, occupier or manager responsible for management of a horse hire establishment. The proprietor should have successfully completed an appropriate course in horse husbandry and handling or employ a manager who has done so.
  • Rider means any person who rides a horse from the horse hire establishment, whether riding for fee or for reward.
  • Staff means any person hired to provide instruction, assist on rides or perform duties around the establishment, whether or not for fee or reward. Staff handling horses should be a minimum of 16 years of age and should be experienced in husbandry and handling of horses. Formal training, such as a qualification in an appropriate course, is recommended.
  • Supervisor means any person over 18 years of age, with a minimum of 2 years active work with horses, required to perform a role of leadership or guidance over clients or other staff. Possession of a current first-aid certificate is recommended. At least one supervisor should be present on every ride.
  • Tether means the securing of an animal by an appropriately attached chain to a centre point or anchorage, causing it to be confined to a desired area.
  • Trainee means any person, either under 16 years of age or with less than 2 years experience in husbandry or handling of horses, assisting with duties on the establishment.

2. Responsibilities of the proprietor

The proprietor of a horse hire establishment is responsible for all animals of the establishment at all times and for ensuring compliance of himself or herself, all staff and all clients, with this and other relevant Victorian Codes of Practice (see Appendix 4) and legislation.

The proprietor may delegate the following responsibilities to a manager:

a) maintenance of adequate facilities and provision of, equipment, feed, water, supervision and care to ensure the welfare of the horses held

b) supervision of the daily feeding, watering and inspection of the horses

c) maintenance of the hygiene of the premises and the health of the horses

d) ensuring that horses are of a suitable size, age, health, fitness, weight, conformation and disposition, and have adequate education, for the purpose for which they are used

e) ensuring that riders and horses are suitably matched in terms of size, disposition and experience

f) provision of prompt veterinary or other appropriate treatment in cases of illness or injury to a horse

g) supervision of staff and trainees, whether working full-time or part-time and whether or not for fee or reward

h) ensuring that staff are suitably qualified or have sufficient experience with horse husbandry and handling

i) collection and maintenance of relevant records

j) ensuring that horses from the establishment are not ridden by clients unsupervised, or if no supervision is deemed to be required, the proprietor/manager should ensure that riders are aware of their responsibilities and are capable to ride unsupervised

k) ensuring that supervisors advise riders of their responsibility in maintaining the welfare of the horses which they ride.

3. Responsibilities of the staff and trainees

Staff should respect horses, and should be aware of their responsibilities and be competent to carry them out.

4. Responsibilities of the supervisor

The supervisor is to report any breaches of this Code to the proprietor of the establishment.

The supervisor should ensure that:

a) all riders are aware of their responsibility in maintaining the welfare of the horses which they ride

b) during rides no horse is worked beyond its level of fitness, nutrition, health and soundness

c) any animal showing signs of distress or overwork is rested immediately

d) horses are properly cooled down after exercise

e) horses that are saddled and tied up, awaiting work, are protected from extremes of weather

f) during the periods between rides, each horse is rested, fed, watered, sheltered if necessary, has its saddle removed or girth loosened and otherwise supervised according to its needs.

5. Responsibilities of the rider

The rider must not abuse, overwork, beat or torment a horse and should be conscientious and caring toward the horse which they are riding. Riders should clearly understand the rules of the establishment and should abide by them at all times.

6. Accommodation facilities for horses

Horses must have access to adequate shelter or be suitably rugged, depending on weather conditions. Shelter may consist of shade, trees, roofing, windbreaks or rugs. A stall or stable should be available for injured or ill horses.

Where provided, enclosures such as yards, stalls and stables must be designed and maintained to prevent injury, disease and escape. Methods used to achieve this include the following:

a) Gates and doorways should be a minimum of 1.2 metres wide to stables, yards and paddocks. Gateways should be designed to give easy and safe passage of horses and should be fastened with a secure chain or catch.

b) Fencing material used should be clearly visible to horses, be capable of withstanding damage and be properly maintained.

c) Appropriate fencing materials, such as plain wire, coated wire or post and rail fencing, should be used according to the breed, sex and disposition of the horses and stocking density. Barbed wire, prefabricated (ring lock) wire and high tensile wire (2.8mm or 2.5mm) are prone to cause severe injury to horses and are particularly hazardous when used in small areas. These materials therefore should not be used for collecting and handling yards. Prefabricated wire, if used, should be of a size that will not allow horses' or foals' feet to pass through it. The fences for handling yards should be high enough to prevent escape. Electric fencing may be used as an aid to an existing fence, if horses are trained to accept it.

d) Tethering of horses is inherently dangerous, should be a short-term practice only and should be undertaken with extreme care. Long-term tethering of horses is not acceptable. Tethering equipment, including hobbles and a chain and swivel should only be used under adequate supervision. By whatever method a horse is secured, it should be carried out in such a manner that it is not likely to injure itself or its neighbour.

e) Paddocks and yards should be kept free of noxious plants and rubbish that may injure horses. Care should be taken to ensure that paddock and yard surfaces provide firm footing for horses.

f) Yards, shelter sheds and loose-boxes or stalls should not restrict horses' freedom to stand, lie down, stretch or groom themselves.

g) Stables and stalls for horses should have a floor area of at least 12 square metres (for ponies 9 square metres) and should be 2.4 metres high.

h) Floors provided should have surfaces that permit adequate drainage and allow horses to stand and walk normally.

i) Stable bedding provided should be of an appropriate material, be kept clean, dry and be sufficiently thick.

j) Stables and stalls should give adequate natural ventilation and should be without draughts.

k) Manure, bedding, food wastes and animal bodies should be disposed of promptly and hygienically, in compliance with the requirements of statutory authorities.

l) Steps should be taken to ensure that horses can be attended to promptly in the event of fire, flood or injury, and a contingency plan should be adopted. In any situation, the degree of supervision should be comparable with that practised by competent horsemen for that type of husbandry. Adequate fire-fighting equipment should be available, and staff should have easy access to fire-fighting equipment and be trained and practised in using it. A 'no smoking' policy should be displayed and enforced in areas of high risk.

Horses which are stabled or confined to stable yards, boxes or small paddocks should be checked at least once a day to ensure that they are receiving appropriate food and water and are healthy.

7. Overnight restraint of horses, during a ride

During overnight accommodation, use of permanent yards is encouraged, where possible. Where permanent yarding facilities are not available, the use of electric fencing, hobbles, a ground tether or a running tether may be used, under adequate supervision, and only if horses are trained to accept these methods.

The method of restraint used must comply with the requirements of the department  or Parks Victoria, when in specified areas.

a) Where electric fencing is used for overnight accommodation, yard size should be adequate to allow horses to move freely.

b) Where hobbles are used, the use of a sideline in addition to hobbles (a tether from rear hoof to front hoof on same side) is recommended, to prevent horses escaping. Non-chafe materials, such as well-oiled leather, should be used around a horse's legs.

c) A ground tether may be used, if an open area, free from trees, debris and other obstacles, is available. If this method of restraint is used, a strong halter should be used, attached by a chain with a swivel clip at each end, clipped on to an anchor in the ground.

d) Where a running tether is used, tree protectors made from strong, non-abrasive material such as seatbelt webbing, should be used and only on trees large enough to withstand the horse's pressure. The distance between the two trees should be 10 to 15 metres. Care should be taken to ensure that the rope attached between two trees is above the horse's head, so that the horse can move from one side of the rope to the other. The leadrope running from the horse's halter to the high rope must be long enough for the horse to reach food and water, but not long enough for the horse to become tangled in it. The leadrope clips should be swivel clips and the clip attached to the high rope should be large enough to run the full length of the high rope.

8. Water and food

Horses must have appropriate food and water sufficient to maintain their health, vitality and welfare. Mares need extra feed and water when they are pregnant or lactating.

8.1 Water

a) Horses require free access to an adequate supply of clean, fresh water. As a guide, up to 30 litres a day may be needed for horses in work, depending on their size, age, bodyweight, state of health, diet, workload, the air temperature and humidity. If horses are working during the day, they should have water available at regular intervals when they are resting.

b) Reticulated water should be inspected daily for normal functions during summer, and at least twice a week during winter. A bucket supply of water should be used only where horses are constantly supervised and should be replenished at least twice a day.

8.2 Food

a) When pasture is available but supplementation is necessary, horses should be fed at least once a day. They should be fed at least twice a day where there is no access to pasture.

b) Feed troughs should be spaced to minimise bullying and allow subordinate animals access to feed.

c) Feeding diets high in cereal grain to horses that are ridden infrequently can produce unpredictable temperament and health changes which can be dangerous.

d) Feed should be free from contamination such as mould, dust, insecticides or other substances that could be toxic.

e) Feed should be stored in the best practical way to prevent deterioration. For example, store chaff in dry, rodent-proof bins, and store hay in a dry area on raised pallets to allow air to circulate.

f) Horses must be able to easily reach feed and water containers. The containers should be firmly fixed if possible, non-toxic, easily cleaned and kept clean.

g) On lengthy day or overnight rides (treks), horses must be allowed sufficient time to drink from natural water sources. If feed must be changed before a trek, this should be done gradually over a period of days.

9. Health care

a) Horses should be inspected daily for evidence of lameness, disease or other illness, when in use.

b) Routine treatment for internal worm parasites and early treatment of external parasites such as lice should be practised. If the response to routine treatment is poor, advice should be sought from a veterinary practitioner.

c) Horses should be routinely vaccinated according to veterinary advice.

d) Horses' teeth should be checked, and rasped if necessary, every 12 months.

e) The proprietor should establish liaison with a veterinary practitioner who is able to promptly attend to any animals in his or her care, and who is also able to advise on disease prevention measures.

f) If signs of disease or injury are observed, appropriate treatment must be promptly provided to protect the health of individual horses and prevent the spread of disease.

g) Signs of illness or injury for which veterinary treatment should be sought include:

  • nasal discharge
  • runny or inflamed eyes
  • coughing
  • laboured breathing
  • lameness
  • inability or reluctance to stand or walk
  • fits or staggering
  • severe diarrhoea
  • bleeding, swelling or ulcerating of body parts
  • unexplained weight loss
  • apparent pain
  • inability to urinate or defecate
  • repeated or continuous rolling, pawing, kicking at abdomen or sweating
  • poor appetite
  • dropping food or chewing with difficulty
  • excessive distress during work
  • excessive scratching or hair loss.

h) If necessary, horses that are ill should be stabled, separated or isolated, and appropriate facilities must be available for their care.

i) The proprietor should ensure that supervisors are aware of basic first-aid procedures before leaving on a trek.

j) A basic first-aid kit for horses should be carried when they are ridden into remote areas where prompt veterinary attention cannot be provided in case of injury or illness. The kit may include:

  • cotton wool
  • 4 pressure bandages and wound dressings
  • adhesive dressing
  • antibacterial wash
  • fly repellent
  • mobile phone
  • appropriate emergency euthanasia equipment (see Appendix 2 for humane euthanasia procedure)
  • electrolytes (in feed for general use and emergency electrolytes for dehydration).

k) Backup supplies of food and water should be readily available and easily accessible on long rides, including overnight rides.

l) Horses' legs should be inspected regularly for injuries or swellings.

m) Where treatment to restore health or repair injury is not possible, practical or successful, horses should be humanely destroyed. Horses should be humanely destroyed by a veterinary practitioner; or if this is not possible, by persons trained or experienced in these procedures.

10. Management

10.1 Equipment

a) All saddlery, harness and other equipment used with horses should be of sound condition, well fitting, correctly adjusted, and regularly cleaned and inspected, so that risk of injury to horses is reduced.

b) Saddles that touch the mid-line of the horse's back or that have broken trees must not be used.

c) Saddle blankets should give sufficient padding and be dry and clean. Tack should be appropriate for and fit each individual horse on which it is used.

d) Surcingles are recommended if stock saddles are used.

e) Horses should not be tied up by reins attached to the bit unless the attachment includes an easily breakable component such as plastic or string.

f) Whips and spurs should only be used as training aids by experienced riders. Spurs with fully lockable or sharpened rowels are prohibited.

10.2 General care of horses

Horses must be of a suitable size, age, conformation, fitness, weight and disposition, and have adequate education for the purpose for which they are used. As far as possible, horses should be protected from stress or injury.

a) Colts, stallions, weanlings, pregnant horses and sick horses should be separated from other groups if necessary.

b) Horses that must not be used for work in riding centres include:

  • horses that do not yet have their central adult incisors in wear
  • horses with a body condition score of less than 2 (See Appendix 3)
  • mares that are more than 8 months pregnant, or lactating and in the first 3 months after foaling
  • horses unfit because of advanced old age
  • horses known to be or suspected of being injured or ill, except as advised by a veterinary practitioner.

c) Stallions, or horses exhibiting excessively masculine behaviour, should not be used. If such horses are used, they should only be used by an experienced rider, under advanced instruction.

d) Horses' hooves should be:

  • shod if the horses are worked on roads or hard ground
  • regularly trimmed or shod by a farrier (preferably every 6 to 8 weeks)
  • regularly cleaned out (daily, if in work).

e) Horses should be groomed before saddling, and particular care should be taken to remove sweat and dirt from areas under the saddle, girth and bridle.

f) After working, horses should be hosed, sponged or brushed to remove sweat and dirt. The back and girth areas should be cleaned and inspected when unsaddling.

g) In cold weather, as far as is practical, horses should be dried after working.

h) Horses should, as far as possible, be ridden in a controlled manner and at a speed that is safe for horse and rider, considering the ground, the weather and the experience of the rider. Horses should be properly cooled down after exercise.

i) The number of staff provided to supervise a group of riders should be sufficient to ensure that each horse's welfare is maintained, and as a general rule there should be 1 staff member per 8 horses, with a minimum of 2 staff members, depending on the riders' experience.

j) Horses must not be overworked. Horses that show signs of tiredness or distress during work should be rested until fully recovered. Programs should be planned to prevent overwork and allow appropriate spelling of horses, with consideration to the workload and the individual temperament of each animal.

k) On rides of extended duration, spare horses should accompany the ride or be available for rotation; 2–3 spares are recommended.

l) Adequate provision must be made for horses who can not continue on the ride. Horses should be collected as soon as possible, and within 12 hours of being left at a site.

m) Continuously stabled or yarded horses should be exercised at least once a day. This may be done by riding, lunging or releasing them into a large yard for at least 1 hour a day. Horses that are stabled long-term should be spelled outside at least once a year.

n) When introducing new or spelled horses, their workload should be increased gradually to prevent injury and stress.

o) Where possible, horses working together should be socialised, preferably paddocked together, to reduce kicking and biting.

p) In cold weather, horses that are in poor condition, have not grown a long coat or have been clipped out, should be rugged with a waterproof rug.

11. Record keeping

Appropriate records should be kept for each horse, as part of good business management, for the monitoring of each horse's workload, and for the maintenance of an efficient health-care program.

12. Fire and flood safety

a) It is advisable that the proprietor or manager contact Parks Victoria or the local department  office, prior to leaving for a long ride, to check the appropriateness of the planned ride route and to advise of the expected ride duration, in the event that any dangers arise. The local police station may also be contacted to advise of the expected ride duration. If more than 20 horses will be on a ride in a State forest area, the manager or proprietor should contact the department  for a permit application, prior to the ride.

b) Contingency plans should be in place for emergency situations and should include evacuation procedures, where appropriate. Such plans should be practised regularly.

c) Staff should be aware of appropriate use of fires, creation of firebreaks and appropriate extinguishing of fires during rides. The supervisor should advise riders of appropriate smoking times and cigarette extinguishing methods.

13. Transport

a) During transport horses should be:

  • transported in the shortest practicable time
  • penned separately, wherever possible
  • fitted with headstalls (if the animals are trained to lead and tie up) with the lead of the headstall secured to the vehicle using a quick-release knot.

b) Horses should not be transported for more than 8 hours unless they are in good health and have been pre-conditioned for prolonged travel. Prior to long periods of transportation, horses should be adequately fed and watered, be treated for internal and external parasites and have feet pared if necessary.

c) Mares more than 10 months pregnant and those in early lactation should not be transported for more than 8 hours. Mares which have given birth should not be transported within 7 days of foaling, except when travelling to veterinary treatment.

d) Stallions, groups of unbroken horses, mares in advanced pregnancy, mares with foals, vicious horses, unfit horses travelling under veterinary inspection or sedation, and horses of significantly different size (such as, weanlings and adults, ponies and hacks) should be transported in separate pens. Mares with unweaned foals should be transported together.

e) Lame or sick horses should not be transported except to or from a place for veterinary treatment.

f) Any vehicle especially designed or regularly used for transporting horses should:

  • protect horses from injury, prevent escape and be close fitting
  • have solid, non-slip floors
  • be regularly inspected for faults
  • provide easy access and operator safety
  • be fitted with secure latches
  • protect horses against extremes of temperature
  • have adequate ventilation
  • be cleaned thoroughly regularly.

Appendix 1. Criteria for an appropriate course

For the purpose of this Code of Practice, an 'appropriate course' is a course which:

  • promotes humane conduct of horse use and management, with proper consideration for the horses' health and welfare
  • familiarises course participants with relevant Victorian Codes of Practice and animal welfare legislation
  • establishes appropriate competency criteria and the development of appropriate training for horse hire establishment proprietors and managers, and other relevant horse hire establishment personnel, in the husbandry, handling and care of horses, to ensure minimum standards of competency as a prerequisite to accreditation.

These competencies include:

  • awareness of insurance and safety issues for both horse and rider
  • office, record keeping and public relations skills
  • general care, use and maintenance of all tack and equipment
  • competence in horse handling, care and husbandry procedures relative to horse hire establishments
  • teaching inexperienced and young riders basic horse handling and riding skills
  • management of horses on trail rides and treks.

Appendix 2. Humane euthanasia procedure

Diagram showing two intersecting diagonal lines from the ear on one side of the horse to the eye on the other side. The bullet needs to go in just above where the two lines intersect.

Where euthanasia is necessary, the person responsible for the animals must ensure it is carried out humanely and results in immediate and painless death. Euthanasia is an unpleasant experience for most people and spectators should be actively discouraged from viewing the destruction of injured animals.

The animal should be handled quietly beforehand to ensure it is not unnecessarily distressed or alarmed.

Shooting is a humane method of destruction when properly performed.

  • The firearm should be at least .22 calibre (long rifle).
  • Persons other than the marksman and a handler for the animal should be cleared from the area or should stand well behind the marksman.
  • A head collar or bridle should be put on the animal to enable it to be quietly restrained by an assistant, who must stand out of the line of fire. Restless animals should be blindfolded.
  • Never fire while the animal is moving its head — wait patiently for a quiet interval before firing.
  • Diagram showing the horizontal direction a bullet should be shot into the horses' head between the ears and eyes
  • To provide maximum impact and the least possibility of misdirection, the gun should be fired at a range that is as short as circumstances permit, but not in contact with the animal's head.
  • The target area and direction of the bullet are as shown in Figures 1 and 2. These figures show the spot on the animal's head where a firearm should be placed or pointed and the angle at which it should be held, so as to obtain the right results.

Draw an imaginary line from the base of each ear to the opposite eye, the intersection of the lines being the centre which, if hit, insures instant loss of consciousness (Figure 1.).

The bullet should be directed horizontally to ensure the brain is damaged (Figure 2).

Appendix 3. Body condition scoring

Body condition scoring provides a useful and objective method of monitoring body condition. Body condition (fatness) is the most reliable indicator of the suitability of a horse's diet.

Poor body condition is not always due to lack of feed but could be related to parasite infestations, poor dental health, chronic injury or illness, or lack of mobility affecting the horse's ability to forage.

Methods of estimation

  1. Assess visually and by feel, the horse's pelvis and rump, back and ribs and neck. During winter, a long heavy hair coat complicates visual appraisal. You need to run your hands over the horse to get an accurate score.
  2. Give those areas individual scores using a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (very fat).
  3. Intermediate assessments can be given half scores.
  4. Using the pelvic and rump assessment as the base score, adjust that score by a half point if it differs by 1 or more points from the score for the neck or ribs.

Horse body condition scores

Very poor — Body score 0

Diagram of horse in very poor condition, described in text to follow

A horse in very poor condition can be identified by:

Neck:

  • marked ewe neck
  • narrow and slack at base

Back and ribs:

  • skin tight over ribs
  • spinous processes sharp and easily seen

Pelvis:

  • angular pelvis — skin tight
  • pelvis and croup well defined
  • deep depression under tail

Poor — body score 1

Diagram of horse in poor condition, described in text to follow

A horse in poor condition can be identified by:

Neck:

  • ewe neck
  • narrow and slack at base

Back and ribs:

  • ribs easily visible
  • skin sunken either side of Backbone
  • spinous processes well defined

Pelvis:

  • Rump sunken, but skin supple
  • Pelvis and croup well defined
  • Deep depression under tail

Moderate — body score 2

Diagram of horse in moderate condition, described in text to follow

A horse in moderate condition can be identified by:

Neck:

  • narrow but firm

Back and ribs:

  • ribs just visible
  • backbone well covered
  • spinous processes felt

Pelvis:

  • rump flat either side of backbone
  • croup well defined, some fat
  • slight cavity under tail

Good — body score 3

Diagram of horse in good condition, described in text to follow

A horse in good condition can be identified by:

Neck:

  • no crest (except stallions)
  • firm neck

Back and ribs:

  • ribs just covered
  • no gutter along the back
  • spinous processes covered but can be felt

Pelvis:

  • covered by fat and rounded
  • no gutter
  • pelvis easily felt

Fat — body score 4

Diagram of horse in fat condition, described in text to follow

A horse in fat condition can be identified by:

Neck:

  • Slight crest

Back and ribs:

  • ribs well covered – need firm pressure to feel
  • gutter along backbone

Pelvis:

  • Gutter to root of tail.
  • Pelvis covered by soft fat – felt only with firm pressure

Very fat — body score 5

Diagram of horse in very fat condition, described in text to follow

A horse in very fat condition can be identified by:

Neck:

  • Marked crest
  • Very wide and firm
  • Folds of fat

Back and ribs:

  • Ribs buried — cannot feel
  • Deep gutter
  • Back broad and flat

Pelvis:

  • Deep gutter to root of tail
  • Skin distended
  • Pelvis buried — cannot feel

A long, heavy hair coat complicates visual appraisal in winter. Run your hands over the horse to obtain an accurate score.

Appendix 4. Appropriate relevant Victorian Codes of Practice

The following list is comprehensive, but not exhaustive:

Prepared by the Minister for Agriculture
Approved by the Governor in Council, 13 March 2002
Published in the Victorian Government Gazette 20 June 2002

Page last updated: 12 Jul 2020