Trading standards officers are struggling to interpret horse passport legislation “in the field” because they say it is so badly drafted. Problems centre on when passports should be carried, and in particular what counts as a “competition” — one of the occasions when the law says horses must carry passports.
Glen Barry, an animal welfare officer from Somerset County Council, said his team believed ponies at a gymkhana needed their passports, but show horses did not.
“DEFRA’s legislation does not define ‘competition’, so I consulted a dictionary,” he said. “It said a competition was ‘a series of games and sports events’. We don’t think exhibiting a horse, for example, in-hand, counts as competing.”
Somerset trading standards inspectors have made spot checks at events such as the Porlock Show, which attracts both show horses and gymkhana ponies. But they have used a “light touch”, according to Barry. They bypassed an event for show horses, since, said Barry, “it was not a competition”.
In many counties, inspectors appear to be favouring a “light touch”. Devon Council has done no spot checks at competitions and does not intend to. A spokesman for Buckinghamshire County Council said inspecting at shows was not a priority. In fact, he was not aware that DEFRA expected trading standards to make checks.
In Kent, inspectors do not visit small competitions, but they have carried out very occasional spot checks at larger shows.
“Not carrying a passport is illegal, but so is driving on a motorway at 75mph, and the police aren’t always going to stop you,” said Val Allen from Kent trading standards. “If an officer goes to a farm where there are horses, he will check their passports. But most checks take place at markets and slaughterhouses.”
A DEFRA spokesman said it was up to councils to decide how to enforce the law.