Fly Grazing - Dealing with abandoned horses

In this blog, Claire Wright explores what rights land managers have when they find themselves with abandoned equines on their land
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Could a squeeze on incomes or returning workforce mean that horses will be abandoned by owners unable to afford the costs or time required?

Originally when the Covid pandemic hit the UK there was worry amongst equine welfare charities that a squeeze on incomes could mean that horses would be abandoned by owners unable to afford the costs. In reality, with everyone stuck at home, the demand for horses and their value increased massively, much like it had with dogs. However, as our world begins to return to normal and people returning to work, there are renewed fears that the predicted equine welfare crisis was not avoided but merely kicked down the road a little way.

What is Fly Grazing?

An equine may be abandoned on your land or it may have been there legitimately in the first instance but the agreement has now terminated and the horse remains in situ. Both these scenarios constitute an offence of fly grazing.

Prevention is often better than cure in these situations. Measures to consider include locking field gates with easy access from the highway or fencing off vulnerable areas (making sure that you don’t block any rights of way or erect anything likely to injure someone). Always remember that you should never allow permission for horses to graze on your land without a written agreement being in place – even if this is only for a short period of time.

What should you do if you find an abandoned equine on your land?

If the worst happens and you find a horse on your land you need to establish whether the animal has escaped or has been abandoned/left to fly graze. Look for signs of active care – if the horse is shod and has a tidy mane and tail there is a strong possibility that it has simply strayed from a local yard.

If there is no sign of an owner there are steps that land managers can take to resolve the issue. The Control of Horses Act 2015 amended the Animals Act 1971 and reduced the time limit before horses could be disposed of from 14 days to 96 hours. Whilst not a legal requirement it is considered good practice to place a notice prominently where the horses were found. We have specimen notices available from the regional office which can be completed. As a minimum this should contain your contact details, a description of the horse and state your intention to dispose of them if no owner comes forward within 96 hours.

The land manager may move the horses to an alternative location but do ensure the horse is not within touching distance of any other horses to prevent the spread of infectious disease such as strangles. It is up to the land manager to provide for the needs of the animal such as fresh water, food and veterinary treatment if the animal is in poor condition. The police must be notified of the horses being detained within 24 hours. If you know the owner of the horse you must also notify them.

In some instances an owner comes forward to claim the horse. Always ask to see the passport to prevent someone fraudulently claiming the horse. If an owner does not come forward within the defined time period then the land manager has a number of options to either sell the horse at public auction, to sell the horse privately, to gift the horse or to slaughter the horse.

If you do not want to get involved with the process of detaining then re-homing or selling the horse as described above there are bailiffs that have expertise in removing the animal for you.

For more in-depth guidance on this subject then you can download our guidance note

Key contact:

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Claire Wright National Access Adviser, London