The Voluntary Initiative on responsible ownership and care of Equidae under the EU Platform on Animal Welfare issued a new guidance document in December 2022. It is entitled Guidance for competent authorities and tourism operators to ensure the welfare of working equids in tourism. It lists horse-drawn carriages, donkey and pony trekking, ponies in fairs, animal farms, temporary riding facilities and petting zoos as some of the equestrian tourism activities that exist in the EU. It notes that working equids normally fall outside legislation intended for agricultural or companion animals, which can place their welfare at risk. The guidance document aims to raise awareness of the need for their welfare to be protected.
The guidance states that some factors may put the health and welfare of the animals at risk and may result in lameness, dehydration, malnutrition, injuries, disease, fear, stereotypies and exhaustion. Such factors include insufficient training, inappropriate husbandry and insufficient professional care, heavy loads and extreme weather conditions and environmental pollution.
The recommendations made in the guidance document include the following:
- Handlers, veterinarians, farriers and other professionals should have adequate knowledge in relation to equines.
- Animals should be maintained in a good state of health and welfare.
- The individual fitness of equids to perform expected work should be taken into account. In general, the minimum age for equids to work should be 4 years of age and the maximum should be 20.
- Equids should have their hooves properly cared for.
- Clean and dry tack and equipment should fit the animal correctly and not cause distress or injury.
- Only equids fit to work should be permitted to work, limited to a maximum of 6 days a week, for a maximum of 8 hours per day, excluding resting periods. Equids should have breaks at least every 4 hours of work, for a minimum of 30 minutes, to be fed, watered and rested while protected from weather and other adverse conditions.
- Working equids should have access to clean drinking water at least every 4 hours. In addition, feed provided should be adequate in quality and amount and adapted to each species and type of work.
- When appropriate, operators should avoid the hottest or coldest part of the day, to avoid heat or cold stress. Equids should not work when the environmental temperature exceeds 35°C.
- Equids should be individually assessed to determine the maximum weight they can carry.
- Outside working hours, appropriate accommodation should be available for working equids to use.
- Working equids should be appropriately trained.
- As transportation by vehicle is a stressful experience for equids, they should be appropriately handled when loading and unloading, and journey length should be as short as possible.
- Equid welfare should be protected when animals are retired from their working career.
- Tourism operators should have a permit or authorisation to operate when required, and maintain records of the animals they keep, and any illness, injury, treatment or veterinary records.
- National and local authorities should ensure appropriate engagement, communication and consultation with operators engaged in equine tourism.
Month of Publication: December 2022