Removing an unwanted horse from private or public land


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Removing an unwanted horse from private or public land

When the Control of Horses Act 2015 (the Act) was enacted, it was estimated that there were up to 3000 horses unlawfully grazing on land not owned by their owners. Whilst some of these horses had simply been abandoned, others were involved in ‘fly-grazing’, a term used for grazing horses on private or public lands.

Before the introduction of the Act, the only feasible solution afforded to landowners was to sell the animal at market or a public auction, but this could only be done 14 days after the horses’ discovery. The Act broadened the avenues available to address the issue, significantly expediting the process. This is important given that fly-grazing horses not only pose risks to individuals using the land, but also raise concerns about the welfare of the horses themselves.

The Act now outlines a humane process for addressing this issue promptly, ensuring the well-being of the horses, and the condition of the land within a few short days. This is particularly important if development is proposed on the land.

What to do if you discover a horse is fly-grazing

When horses are seen fly-grazing on public land, they should be reported to the local authority. The authority may then employ an equine bailiff, who specialises in the legal and practical aspects of removing fly-grazing horses. The bailiff can detain the horses for four days, after which ownership transfers to the local authority.

Landowners dealing with trespassing horses must inform the police within 24 hours under the Control of Horses Act 2015. They need to complete and submit Notice 3 s.7C (2)(a) to the police and display Notice 1 s.7C Detention at the location of the horse itself (or in a prominent position if the animal is on open land). This notice should include contact details (either of the landowner or the police), the time and date on which it was served, and be photographed for evidence in case it is damaged or unlawfully removed.

If the landowner knows the horse’s owner, they should serve Notice 2 s.7C (2)(b) to the owner. The horse will be detained for 96 hours over four working days. The owner can claim the horse during this period, if ownership is proved with valid documentation such as a passport, vet bills, descriptions, photos, or a bill of sale.

Caring for a fly-grazing horse

Understanding your legal responsibilities and rights when dealing with detained horses is crucial. If the legal owner does not claim the horse within the stipulated period after a Notice 2 s.7C (2)(b) is served, ownership transfers to the person who has detained the horse—often the landowner. The landowner or developer can then rehome, sell, or humanely destroy the horse, as they deem fit. The Act now sets out a clear procedure which should mean that any7 proposed development is not held up indefinitely whilst horses are sorted.

Throughout this process, it is essential to keep detailed records to demonstrate compliance with the law if challenged. The landowner is responsible for providing food, water, shelter, and veterinary care while the horse is on their property. It’s advisable to have a vet examine the horse at the start of detention to document its initial condition. The landowner is accountable for injuries sustained by the horse while on their land but not for those that might have been incurred before its arrival.

Selling a horse found fly-grazing

When selling a horse, the landowner must ensure the animal has a valid passport, as it is illegal to sell or rehome a horse without one. A horse passport is a lifetime identification document recording the horse’s identity but does not serve as proof of ownership. Ownership proof requires a sale agreement between the buyer and seller.

To verify if a horse has a passport, a vet should scan for a microchip. If absent, it indicates the horse either has no passport or was issued one before microchips became mandatory in 2009. In such cases, a new passport must be obtained via the British Horse Society.

It is advisable that landowners seek legal support when identifying ownership of, or planning the sale of a horse, to ensure that the legal process as outlined in the Control of Horses Act 2015 is followed appropriately.

For any challenges faced by rural landowners, or developers Newmanor Law’s experience commercial property solicitors can provide guidance and support in finding an agreeable solution. Simply get in touch now.