A survey on the Animal Welfare Act 2006 finds welfare agencies believe it has “significantly improved” horse wellbeing — but further changes are necessary.

Horse owners still need to realise the range of their responsibilities, and fines and penalties for the negligent should be increased, says the Defra-commissioned review.

Defra asked The Horse Trust to consult key parties in the horse industry — including the British Horseracing Authority, RSPCA and British Equestrian Federation — on how effective they believed the Act is in relation to equines.

The Act, which applies to England and Wales, introduced a duty of care to horse owners, legally obliging them to ensure their animal does not suffer.

It also allowed animal welfare workers to remove an equine from the care of an owner if they believed it was likely to suffer.

The maximum penalty under the Act is imprisonment for up to 51 weeks, a fine of up to £20,000 or both.

The report also found that inspectors are now able to pursue welfare concerns more effectively and courts have greater flexibility in sentencing the worst offenders.

Changes recommended by The Horse Trust included stronger powers to deal with non-compliant horse owners, a suggested change in sentencing guidelines and the need to increase awareness among owners, keepers and equine businesses about their responsibilities under the Act.

Liane Crowther, welfare and education officer at The Horse Trust and a co-author of the report, said: “We hope the government will note the recommendations to make it easier to enforce the Act and close loopholes for offenders.”

The report will be combined with a number of others commissioned by Defra, which will publish a post-legislative review of the Animal Welfare Act at the end of the year.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (14 October, ’10)