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Riders and equestrians across Scotland are being asked to help mould the country’s new equine welfare code of practice, which will lay out standards of care for horses.

The draft code has gone out for consultation to groups as diverse as the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, the Scottish British Horse Society and the Highland Pony Society.

And the Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA), Scottish British Horse Society (BHS) and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) are all calling on equestrians to comment and make suggestions on the proposed code.

“It is important that if, and when, codes are introduced, they are rigorously vetted to ensure they’re fit for purpose, practical and easily understandable,” said the SCA campaigns manager, Ross Montague.

Under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, the Scottish government must set out standards of welfare for all animals.

The code of practice for horses and donkeys, which was drawn up in conjunction with the Scottish BHS and other interested parties, is now out for consultation until 11 January 2008.

Breach of the code, while not a criminal offence in itself, can be used in evidence against someone accused of breaking the Act.

It includes guidance on the law covering horse passports, basic welfare issues like freedom from pain, thirst and hunger, shelter and exercise, rules for tethering, saddlery, transport and euthanasia.

Notices can be issued to people deemed to be falling short of the guidelines, asking them to improve their practices.

Helene Mauchlen of the Scottish BHS said: “The code is absolutely vital. Horse owners have a duty of care to their animals, but how do the authorities know where there is good care or poor care if there is not something to measure it against?”

Penny Johnson of the SSPCA also supported the code, saying it would be a useful tool for the SSPCA in its work to educate those who need to improve the welfare of their horses.

To download a copy of the draft equine welfare code of practice, log on to www.scotland.gov.uk/publications/2007/10/16091227/0 and follow the links.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (15 November, ’07)