The Welsh Assembly is urging Welsh horse owners to file their passport applications by late autumn to avoid missing the passport deadline.

Although passports will only be a legal requirement throughout the UK from 28 February 2005, the Welsh Assembly Government is trying to prevent a glut of last-minute applications. For this reason, the Department for the Environment, Planning and the Countryside are distributing an information leaflet and have devoted a section of their website to the topic.

“The idea is to get the applications in as soon as possible,” says a spokesman. This will give passport-issuing organisations enough time to process requests and will allow owners to receive passports by the end of February.

People who will not comply with the Horse Passports (Wales) Regulations 2004 after 28 February 2005 will face many restrictions – and possibly a £5,000 fine. Breeding, exports and access to competitions will all require horses to have valid passports.

“Spring is always a busy time in the equestrian calendar and the competition scene in Wales is vibrant. It would be extremely unfortunate if riders missed out on the chance to compete in events simply because they did not have a passport for their horses,” says Minister for Environment, Planning and Countryside, Carwyn Jones.

Unlike England, where New Forest and Dartmoor ponies are exempt from passport legislation, semi feral ponies which roam the Welsh hills will also need a passport.

“There are no true ‘feral’ ponies in Wales, those grazing on the hills and commons across Wales are semi-feral and have owners. It is a commercial decision by those who own the semi-feral ponies as to whether they wish to continue to run ponies on the hills and commons, in which case they will be required to apply for passports for every animal they own,” the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee decided earlier in the year.

Details of passport regulations and requirements are available from the Animal & Plant Health Division of the Welsh Assembly Government. Owners can also call (tel: 029 2080 1499) for further information or visit the Department for the Environment, Planning and the Countryside’s website (ww.countryside.wales.gov.uk/horsepassports), which has a list of passport-issuing organisations.