Running a livery yard is a hard profession, with a lot of responsibility for both running the business and being responsible for the animals in your care. The duty of care relates to protecting those on your premises from harm, and yard owners in fact have a legal duty of care towards the horses kept on their yard. To protect an animal's welfare means to provide for both their physical and mental requirements.

If a yard owner provides anything more than basic DIY, in the eyes of the law they may be deemed as the keeper of the horse with either shared or full-time responsibility in relation to its care and welfare. This means that the responsibility of meeting current equine welfare legislation and guidelines will fall on their shoulders. This duty of care not only extends to the level of skill and knowledge when it comes to the practical care of equines, but also comes down to providing suitable and well-maintained facilities.

The focus on equine welfare and social license within the industry has been under scrutiny over recent years, with changes being considered at government level with the recent development of the Charter for the Horse by British Equestrian, the consultation on introducing licensing of livery yards in Scotland and Wales, and upcoming changes on the way for the traceability and identification of equines.

For welfare organisations, these responsibilities are set into 5 definitions known as the ‘Five Domains’. These are:

  • Nutrition: Meeting an equines individual nutritional needs in terms of their food and water intake
  • Environment: Ensuring equines are comfortable in their environment
  • Health: Preventing disease and being able to recognize signs of pain or discomfort
  • Behavioral Interaction: Providing equines with the ability for positive behavioral interactions that are based upon trust, and allowing them access to the “3F’s” of friends, forage and freedom
  • Mental State: Understanding that equines are sentient animals that can experience positive and negative emotions linked directly to how they are managed

Under various animal welfare legislation such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006, The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018, and the Control of Horses Act (2015), whilst an owner will always be responsible for an animal, the person who is in charge of the animal- such as a livery yard owner- even if this is only temporary, can also be responsible. Therefore the person who is responsible for the care of the equine could potentially be found guilty under animal welfare offences if they act or fail to prevent the horse from suffering either through their own negligence of failing to provide the appropriate care, or a safe environment, or if they fail to take the necessary action following concerns on welfare provided by others responsible for the equines on their premises.

Outside of the standard definitions of equine welfare, there are also other steps yard owners can take that would be deemed suitable and sensible under their duty of care. This would include suitable action, policies and procedures to reduce the risk of accident or injury on the premises, as well as making sure that the yard has suitable livery yard insurance for the equines in their care, and for the services they provide.

Such examples of a failure in duty of care could be allowing the contamination of paddocks by ragwort or other poisonous plants, failure to provide or maintain suitable fencing, preventing a horse from displaying its natural behaviour – such as prolonged stabling without contact from other equines, or the failure to take the necessary action to prevent further outbreak on the yard upon discovery of a case of an infectious disease. Any such failures in the duty of care by a yard owner could find them liable under equine welfare legislation if such examples led to illness, death or injury of the equine.

To help determine the level of responsibility, it is good practice to have a written contract with every client. This sets out clearly what is included in your services, the fees that are charged, and the expectations of both parties. Having such documents in writing can help protect your position and can avoid disputes when it comes to the services provided, the care of the horse or duty of care. The clarification of the services provided by the yard, and their level of care, will help determine the extent of their duty of care should any problems arise. For more information on contracts, read our on ‘Understanding the benefit of livery contracts’ here.

Aside from the duty of care related to the services and facilities provided on the yard, a yard owner is also legally obliged to act on any welfare concerns if the appropriate steps are not being taken to address them. As a livery yard owner, and potentially deemed the keeper of the equine, you could be subject to legal action in relation to the poor welfare of any equines on your premises even if the horse is not legally yours. For example, if you feel an owner is not providing the necessary routine care for the equine, or the equine is being abused or mistreated by the owner or those acting on behalf of the owner, ill-fitting or inappropriate tack or equipment being used, or if an equine is not receiving timely veterinary treatment for an ailment or injury, then you should take the steps to highlight the issue with the owner, and where possible, ensure these concerns are stated in writing.

Neglect and welfare issues can occur for a multitude of reasons, at varying degrees, and is mainly due to a lack of knowledge, poor-education, ignorance, or deliberate cruelty. It is important as a yard owner that if you see any such instances these are brought up as soon as possible with the owner. If it is a case where the owner has acted unintentionally due to inexperience or naivety, then you can help support and advise them to improve the situation. However, this may not always work and after monitoring the situation, if improvements are not made within a short time period, or there are repeated occurrences then further action may be needed. This may include seeking additional professional advice, serving notice to the client or contacting animal welfare authorities to investigate further.

For yard owners, meeting this duty of care will help protect their professional reputation, and their livelihood. It is important to maintain a business relationship with your livery clients, and ensure they understand the legal responsibility you have when it comes to the care of their equines. Getting along with your clients is one thing, but it must be clear where the boundaries are. This distinction means is much easier to deal with problems or concerns, and much easier to end the business relationship if the client leaves, or if they need to be asked to leave the yard.

To prevent any such claims that may fall under a failure to meet the duty of care to equines, it is important for yard owners to not only understand, but to adhere to, their responsibilities under these laws and regulations.  They should promote to their clients and their potential clients the steps they take to make sure that they are meeting best practice when it comes to the care and welfare of equines on their premises, and under their care and supervision.

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About the author

Cheryl Johns, SEIB Equestrian Business Writer and the founder of LiveryList and the Yard Owner Hub, is a qualified and experienced yard manager, marketing advisor and business consultant with experience across a range of industries.

About SEIB

SEIB have been arranging livery yard insurance and riding school insurance for over 60 years. This experience allows us to tailor policies to suit your circumstances and ensure that you and your horses are covered should the worst happen.