At any one time, there can be as many as 3,500 tethered horses in the UK.
The pony shown above was tethered on an allotment - this pony’s neck was permanently injured as a result of being tethered.
The pony pictured on the right was tethered by the leg, causing permanent damage to a tendon and abnormal hoof growth.
Is tethering illegal?
Tethering is not specifically illegal in itself however, we don’t recommend tethering as a viable way to keep a horse.
Under the Animal Welfare Act owners have a legal duty of care to meet the five welfare needs of their horses at all times. You could be in breach of the Act by tethering a horse, if it means that the animal’s basic needs are not being met.
If a horse needs to be tethered in order to have access to grazing, it must only be for short periods of time. For the remainder of the day the horse should have access to shelter, and a space to run free and interact freely with other horses.
Problems that tethering can cause
If a horse is tethered to a tree it can become entangled and harm itself. If tethered on open ground it has no protection from flies in the summer. The lie of the land must also be used wisely, so that a hillside or dip in the ground provides shelter. In extreme weather conditions, a tethered horse must be provided with a well-fitting rug which is checked daily for signs of wear to itself or the horse.
Although a limited amount of grazing may be accessible to a horse which is tethered, this grazing will soon be cropped to the floor or fouled with droppings. A tethered horse must be moved to fresh grazing regularly - in fact, even this cannot mimic a horse’s natural behaviour of walking long distances while grazing. A horse should have access to clean drinking water all the time. A horse left unattended may kick over a bucket of water, and then be left without water for a long time.
Tethered horses cannot safely enjoy the natural company and interaction with other horses that they need, especially regarding physical interactions such as mutual grooming.
There are obvious dangers of injury involved with attaching a chain or rope to a horse and leaving it constrained. For example, the horse is at risk of injury from entanglement. Long term grazing the same ground repeatedly can lead to a dangerously high worm burden. Attacks on tethered horses by dogs and people are also, sadly, becoming common.
When a horse is alarmed, his instinct is to run away. When a tethered horse is frightened, this natural flight instinct cannot be fulfilled. This is a very basic denial of the freedom to behave normally, and may increase the horse’s fear. A tethered horse will also be unable to roll freely and safely in a chosen spot.
Tethering compromises a horse’s well being in many ways. A tethered horse requires high levels of monitoring, proper tethering equipment, feed, water, and a degree of freedom provided regularly. It is not a low cost or low maintenance way of keeping a horse and is not considered to be good practice.