Tethering horses

A tethered horse is one that is restrained from moving outside of a certain radius with a rope, chain, strap or cord. Seeing a tethered horse can be worrying and it's one of the most common equine welfare issues our inspectors deal with. In 2018 alone we received over 5,000 complaints about tethered horses.

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. If the tethering results in the horses basic needs not being met then this could be a breach of the animal welfare act.

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. Learn more about a suitable environment for horses.

Problems that tethering can cause

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.

Shelter

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.

Grazing

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 order to maintain a healthy diet.

However, 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.

Company

Two horses grooming each other © Karen Fazakerley / RSPCA

Tethered horses cannot safely enjoy the natural company and interaction with other horses that they need, especially regarding physical interactions such as mutual grooming.

Physical safety

There are obvious health and welfare issues around tethering horses. Including 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.

Natural behaviour

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.

Concerned about a tethered horse?

If you're concerned that a tethered horse's basic welfare needs aren't being met please let us know.

Further information

Read more about the code of practice for the welfare of horses, ponies, donkeys and their hybrids on the gov.uk website or the horse welfare code of practice on gov.wales website (see appendix one of both documents).

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