Owners of horseboxes heavier than 3.5 tonnes who win competition prize-money but do not have an operator’s licence for their vehicle run the risk of being fined, having their vehicles impounded, and facing prosecution, according to the Vehicle & Operator Services Agency (VOSA).

Even if winnings amount only to £5, this is the likely scenario if the owner/driver is found guilty in court of undertaking an activity that may be construed as “hire and reward” without the special licence, says VOSA, a subsidiary of the Department of Transport.

Likewise, if the horsebox owner offers a friend a lift — to anything from a competition to a ride on the beach — in return for petrol money or any other reward, VOSA says an operator’s licence is required.

H&H reader Mark Batchelor says he will stop accepting prize-money at shows after VOSA contacted him to inquire whether he was operating his HGV for hire and reward.

“I wrote back to VOSA explaining that I only use the horsebox to take my wife and daughter’s horses to local shows and that I did occasionally move a horse for a friend, but for no more than the cost of the fuel,” Mr Batchelor explained.

“I received a letter from VOSA informing me that the moment you receive prize-money or fuel money, you need an operator’s licence. As such, I have no option but to stop competing for money.

“How many private horsebox owners are in breach of the law? It does not seem to matter whether it has cost you £100 to attend a show and pay entries — the moment you win £5 you are in breach of the law.”

A VOSA spokesman explained to H&H that it is the job of a court to rule on whether “hire and reward” is taking place, or whether a vehicle is being used in connection with a trade or business.

But he said: “When prize-money is awarded to someone in the operation of a horsebox with a gross plated weight of more than 3.5 tonnes, this may well be construed as commercial activity.

“If competition prize-money is considered ‘reward’, for the purpose of deciding if a vehicle is being used for hire and reward and thus requires an operator’s licence, the amount is irrelevant.”

VOSA also concludes that people with horseboxes transporting other people’s horses as well as their own for “fuel money” translates to “hire”.

But British Horse Society (BHS) chief executive Graham Cory doubts the validity of VOSA’s claim.

“VOSA’s view confuses purpose with incidental outcome. As only a minority of competitors will receive a prize, it cannot reasonably be held that they are acting in anticipation of a reward,” he said.

  • Read this news story in full in today’s issue of Horse & Hound (23 November, ’06)