Animal health and welfare

The advice sheets below have the latest information on animal health and welfare. If you need more advice call 01753 475111 (Enforcement & Regulatory option).

Transporting horses by road

In the guide

This guidance is for England

Horses must not be transported unless they are fit for the intended journey.

Vehicles used for the transport of horses must be designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to avoid injury and suffering, and to ensure the safety of the animals. For example, vehicles must have non-slip floors, no sharp projections, and have adequate space to allow the horses to stand in their normal position. During transport, a competent person must accompany horses, and a valid passport must accompany each horse.

For the purposes of this guidance, 'horse' includes pony, donkey, ass, mule, and hinny.

Horse passports

Horses must be accompanied by their horse passport at all times during transportation (except in emergency situations). The person with primary responsibility for the horse must have the passport made available to them if they are not the owner.

During transport, horses must be accompanied by a competent person.

It is an offence to move a horse without its passport.

For more information please see 'Horse passports'.

Registered horses 

All registered horses must be registered with a recognised breed society or company such as Weatherbys.

Registered horses that are not going to market or slaughter are exempt from the requirement for journey logs, watering and feeding intervals, journey times and rest periods, and animal transport certificates (ATCs).

Fitness of horses for transportation

A horse must not be transported unless it is fit for the intended journey. A horse is not considered fit if it is:

  • ill
  • injured
  • infirm
  • fatigued
  • a newborn foal with unhealed navel
  • a mare that has given birth during the previous week
  • a mare that is beyond 90% of its gestation period unless it is transported direct to the nearest available place for veterinary treatment or diagnosis

Note: registered horses are exempt from the Regulation* prohibiting the transport of pregnant females beyond 90% of their gestation period and transporting mares with their newly born foals, if the journey is to improve the health and welfare conditions of the birth, and if permanently accompanied throughout the journey by a dedicated attendant.

[*EU Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations]

A horse may not be dragged or pushed by any means, or lifted by a mechanical device, unless under the supervision and in the presence of a veterinary surgeon who is arranging for it to be transported with all practicable speed to a place for veterinary treatment.

Where horses are not led into or out of a vehicle, the loading ramp must be provided with protection on each side, sufficient to prevent them from falling off or escaping. Ramps must not have an angle exceeding 20 degrees, and must be fitted with foot battens or similar to prevent slipping. Precautions in the form of partitions must be fitted to support the horses and prevent them being thrown about by the motion of the vehicle.

The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006 has no further implications for the transport of pet horses, including privately owned horses used for recreational purposes, unless the transport is of a commercial nature.

Handling

It is prohibited to:

  • strike or kick the animals
  • apply pressure to any particularly sensitive part of the body in such a way as to cause animals unnecessary pain or suffering
  • use prods or other implements with pointed ends
  • knowingly obstruct any animal that is being driven or led through any part where animals are handled
  • lift or drag animals by head, ears, legs or tail, or handle them in such a way as to cause unnecessary pain or suffering

Domestic equidae older than eight months, except unbroken horses, must wear halters during transport. For animals that need to be tied, the rope, tethers or other means used must:

  • be strong enough not to break during normal transport conditions
  • allow the animals to lie down, if necessary, and to eat and drink
  • be designed in such a way as to eliminate any danger of strangulation or injury
  • allow animals to be quickly released

Commercial journeys

Anyone transporting horses in connection with an economic activity on journeys over 65km and under eight hours must:

  • have a short journey transporter authorisation (type 1) issued by Defra
  • complete an animal transport certificate (ATC)
  • be in possession of a certificate of competence (for drivers or attendants)

For journeys over 65km and over eight hours transporters must:

  • have a long journey transporter authorisation (type 2) issued by Defra
  • be in possession of a certificate of competence (for drivers or attendants)
  • complete an ATC if journey is within the UK
  • ensure a journey log is completed for journeys going outside the UK (this does not include registered horses)
  • ensure the vehicle used has been inspected and approved
  • ensure that contingency plans are in place in the event of an emergency

Note: in all cases, a journey starts from a place where animals are first loaded and have been accommodated for at least 48 hours.

See also 'Transporting livestock by road - paperwork'.

For further details of the legal requirements relating to the transportation of animals please contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on 03000 200 301.

Construction of vehicles

Vehicles used for the transport of horses must be designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to:

  • avoid injury and suffering and to ensure the safety of the animals
  • protect the animals from inclement weather and extreme temperatures
  • prevent the animals escaping or falling out
  • ensure the air quality and quantity appropriate to the species transported can be maintained
  • provide access to the animals to allow inspection
  • minimise the leakage of urine or faeces
  • provide a means of lighting sufficient for inspection of the animals
  • provide sufficient space inside the animal compartment to ensure that there is adequate ventilation above the animals when they are standing in their natural position

Vehicles must also have anti-slip flooring, partitions strong enough to withstand the weight of the animals, and fittings designed for quick and easy operation.

Vehicles in which horses are transported must be clearly and visibly marked indicating the presence of live animals.

All vehicles must be constructed, maintained and operated so as to allow appropriate cleansing and disinfection.

Vehicles used for the transport of horses for over eight hours must be inspected and approved by an authorised body.

No horse may be transported on a journey in excess of eight hours, except in an approved vehicle.

In an approved vehicle horses may be transported for 24 hours, as long as they are given liquid and (if necessary) fed at eight-hour intervals. At the end of the 24-hour period of transport, horses must be rested for at least 24 hours.

Cleansing & disinfection of vehicles

This is covered by the Transport of Animals (Cleansing and Disinfection) (England) (No 3) Order 2003.

Any person transporting horses must ensure that:

  • they are loaded on to a means of transport that has been cleansed and, where necessary, disinfected
  • any soiled litter and excreta are removed as soon as practicable

This applies to pet and non-commercial equidae as well as commercial equidae.

Cleansing and disinfection of means of transport:

  • level of cleansing and disinfection. All cleansing and disinfection must be carried out so as to reduce the transmission of disease
  • method of cleansing. Cleansing must be by removing any feedingstuff to which the animals have had access, bedding, excreta and other material of animal origin, mud and other contaminants using appropriate means, and then cleaning with water, steam or (when appropriate) chemicals, until free of dirt
  • disinfection after cleansing. After cleansing has been completed, anything to be disinfected must be disinfected using an 'approved disinfectant'

Disposal of material after cleansing

All material removed from vehicles after cleansing has been carried out must have one of the following done to it:

  • destroyed
  • treated to remove the risk of transmission of disease
  • disposed of so that animals have no access to it

Other general information

Protective boots, bandages, poll and tail guards, and rugs and sheets may be useful to protect those areas of the horse that are most likely to suffer bruising or rubbing during transport, or in the case of rugs or sheets, to keep the horse warm or to prevent chilling due to sweating. All equipment must fit correctly, be suitable for the purpose for which it is intended, and be securely fastened to prevent slipping or risk of injury.

At an appropriate time before the journey begins, horses must be offered liquid and food.

There must be appropriate ventilation and sufficient air space above the horses to allow air to circulate properly.

Horses may not be transported in a vehicle with more than one deck in operation. Minimum internal height must be 75cm higher than the height of the withers of the highest animal.

When transported in groups, horses older than eight months must wear halters (unless they are unbroken).

Unbroken horses must not be transported in groups of more than four individual horses.

Tied animals must be transported separately from untied animals.

A stallion or a mare with a foal at foot may not be transported in the same undivided vehicle as any other horse (unless the horses were raised in compatible groups, are accustomed to each other or where separation will cause distress).

During transport, horses must be accompanied by an ATC, giving details of the journey and the horses being transported. Persons transporting their own horses by their own means of transport and for a distance of less than 50km from their holding are exempt from this requirement.

Additional information is available in the Defra document Welfare of Animals During Transport: Advice for transporters of horses, ponies and other domestic equines.

Penalties

It is an offence to fail to comply with requirements relating to welfare in transport and cleansing and disinfection of livestock vehicles. The maximum penalty is a fine and six months' imprisonment.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: November 2016

PixelPlease note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

Related pages