Responsible Care of Horses

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Animal Care Responsibilities

Responsibility for an animal includes having an understanding of their specific health and welfare needs and having the appropriate knowledge and skills to care for the animal. Those responsible will also have to comply with relevant legislation and be aware of the Requirements and Recommended Practices in this Code. They should also know when to seek advice from a knowledgeable person.

LINK: The Alberta SPCA provides contact information for reporting animal neglect and abuse. Outside Calgary and Edmonton, call the Alberta SPCA at 1-800-455-9003. In Calgary, call the Calgary Humane Society at 403-205-4455. In Edmonton, call Animal Care and Control (ACC) at 311.

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about an owner and handler’s duty of care?

“Horses, donkeys, and mules can live for 30 years or longer. Ownership of these animals can be a great pleasure, but it is also a significant responsibility associated with a long-term commitment of time and money. Owners and staff have a duty of care for the animals they are permanently or temporarily responsible for. A parent or guardian of a minor needs to take responsibility for any animal that is owned or cared for by the minor. If an owner leaves the animal in the care of another person, it is the owner’s duty to ensure the person is competent and has the necessary authority to act in an emergency. In this case, it may be advisable to have a written boarding contract in place.”

As you continue working with horses, either in a personal or career-related context, you should understand the requirements and recommendations in the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines. The Code can provide you with guidelines that help ensure you take appropriate responsibility for the welfare of your horses.

DID YOU KNOW: In addition to federal and provincial laws, voluntary Codes of Practice are a series of nationally developed guidelines for the care and handling of different types of farm animals. The Codes cover housing and management practices for animals on farms as well as best practices for their transportation and processing.

The Codes are not legislated; they are voluntary. They contain requirements from current legislation. They also contain recommendations to help farmers and others in the agriculture and food sector understand the requirements for different aspects of animal care and practise sound animal husbandry. 

LINK: The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines has been reviewed and revised in 2013. The Code development process, supporting scientific research and the Code of Practice document can be accessed on the National Farm Animal Care Council website.

Pre-purchase considerations

Before buying or agreeing to become responsible for a horse, consider the following: 

  • What are the costs? The costs vary but can be substantial. The cost of purchasing a horse will be less than the ongoing costs associated with its care (A Template Budget for Horse Ownership is provided in Appendix A of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines).
  • What type of horse is appropriate? In the context of your skill level and intended use for the horse, evaluate what breed, sex, age, level of training and temperament will be most appropriate. Children and novice owners may benefit from buying a horse that is already well trained or that has experience in their intended discipline. 
  • How much time is needed? Consider the time commitment for daily care (e.g., grooming, feeding, mucking out) along with non-daily tasks (e.g., veterinary visits, stable maintenance) and hoof care.
  • How and where will the horse be kept? Suitable off-site accommodation needs to be available unless there is suitable accommodation on the home property. 
  • What skills and knowledge are required? All persons responsible for horses must have a good working knowledge of their feed and water requirements, stable maintenance, signs of ill health, humane handling and common horse injuries.
  • What contingency plans should be made? A simple plan may involve identifying capable persons who can look after the horse should you be temporarily or permanently unable to care for the animal. Another aspect of horse ownership is planning for the time when you may want or need to bring your ownership of a horse to an end.”

The following requirements are identified in the Code of Practice:

Owners must have the resources for and knowledge of the basics of care as stated in this Code and ensure such care is provided.

Principal caregivers must be familiar with and provide the basics of care as stated in this Code.

These recommended practices are also identified in the Code of Practice:

  1. Gain experience in horse care prior to ownership (e.g., volunteer work, riding stables, Horse Clubs).
  2. Develop a budget that includes short- and long-term costs to ensure you are financially capable of caring for the horse.
  3. View a prospective horse with an experienced horse person (e.g., certified trainer or coach, extension staff).
  4. Try the horse in all aspects of the work the horse will be expected to perform.
  5. Find an experienced horse person to provide ongoing advice for horse care.
  6. Participate in continuing educational opportunities (e.g., hands-on horse clinics, conferences, webinars).
Excerpts from the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines (2013) have been used with permission, Equine Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council. The process for the development of Codes can be accessed through the National Farm Animal Care Council.

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