There have been a number of reports of horses being deliberately left to graze on land without the permission of the landowner. Once the horses are on the land they are often left for extended periods of time. Without knowing who the owner of the horse is the landowner can be left in a difficult position. Our Guidance Note provides information on the law and practical steps that can be taken by the landowner to prevent such occurrences or at least shorten the horses’ stay.
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· As with many issues involving trespass on land it is best to try to prevent the problem in the first place. Keeping field gates locked, particularly those with access on to a public highway may help to deter an unscrupulous horse owner.
· Pasture is more inviting than a ploughed field. If practical it may be worth fencing off particularly vulnerable areas. You should not put up anything likely to cause injury or that may block a right of way.
· You should not allow horses onto your land when asked, even as a temporary measure. For example you may be told that the RSPCA will be along shortly to collect them. Experience suggests that this is unlikely to be true.
· Although it is likely to be considered a civil rather than a criminal matter, it is worth reporting the matter to the police. Keep a note of the incident number that they give you.
· It is possible that the horse is stolen. You can look at the website www.stolenhorseregister.com to see if the horse can be identified. Likewise if the horse has a freeze mark it should be possible to identify the owner, contact farm key on 0870 870 7107 or freeze mark on 01295 788226.
· It may be worth asking a vet or livery yard owner to scan the horse as it may be micro-chipped. If a chip is found you should contact the National Equine Database or Petlog.
· It is not always immediately obvious whether a horse has been abandoned or simply escaped from another field. Signs that the horse has been recently cared for such as being shod, clipped, having a hogged mane, trimmed tail or trimmed whiskers would indicate that it is more likely that the horse has escaped.
· If the horse is in poor condition you may wish to report the situation to the RSPCA.
Steps to Take
· If you are unable to ascertain the owner of the horse that has strayed on to your land then you can utilise the powers under the Animals Act 1971 and put up an abandonment notice. This should be left up for at least 14 days. The notice should include your contact number and address. The notice should be displayed prominently in the area that the horse was found.
· You should notify the officer in charge of a police station and, if known to you, the owner of the horse within 48 hours of taking the initial step outlined above.
· You should inform your insurance company of the situation.
· If somebody does claim ownership it is important to ask that they produce their horse passport for the animal, which by law they must have. The passport will contain a description of the horse which can be checked against the animal’s features.
· There are circumstances where the true owner of the horse may not have a passport, such as where the horse has recently been purchased. If they are able to supply other evidence that corroborates their claim to your satisfaction then this should be acceptable. If you have any concerns regarding the validity of the claim then you should contact the police for advice.
· If nobody comes forward within the 14 day period when the notice is displayed you then take responsibility for the horse, allowing you to sell, re-home, euthanase or keep the horse. It would usually be appropriate to get a valuation of the horse before taking any of these actions to help protect your position should the original owner appear at a later date.
· You will need to obtain a passport for the horse as this is a legal requirement. This will allow you to sell the horse. You should contact Defra for advice on this issue on 08459 335577.
· If you intend to dispose of the horse you should get an independent valuation before doing so.
· If you decide to sell the horse you should keep any sale proceeds for at least six months in case the legal owner of the horse materialises.
· Whether the legal owner appears before or after the expiry of the 14 day period you are able to subtract your reasonable costs and any vet’s fees from this figure.
· Because of the above it is important to keep accurate records of any expenditure you incur on behalf of the animal such as feed and vet’s fees together with a record of the valuation for at least 6 months.
· It is possible that the legal owner will come forward at a later date. This may happen for instance where the horse had been stolen before being abandoned. This is a very complex area of the law and if an agreement cannot be reached with the legal owner you may need to seek legal advice.
· If you do not want to get involved with the process of re-homing or selling the horse as described above there are bailiffs that have expertise in removing the animal for you.
· Sometimes individuals may deliberately place horses on land belonging to another and continue to care for them. You may want to avoid confrontation with such individuals and in such circumstances using bailiffs can help distance you from the event.
· Consult your solicitor if you consider taking out an injunction to prevent trespass.
Fly grazing increase
29 October 2013