Horses and ponies

Horses and ponies

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If you buy a horse or pony, it must be:

  • of satisfactory quality;
  • fit for its purpose; and
  • as described.

You can find out more about your rights in the section Introduction to your legal rights.

(Horses and ponies are referred to as horses for the purpose of this article.)


All horses, ponies and horse-like animals need to have a passport identifying the animal. The passport must be complemented by a microchip identification implant. It's a criminal offence for an owner to do any of the following if the horse doesn't have a valid passport:

  • Keep, sell or export the horse
  • Use the horse in competitions
  • Use the horse for breeding purposes
  • Move the horse to the premises of a new keeper
  • Present the horse for slaughter for human consumption

If it's a foal, the owner needs to get it a passport before the end of the year it was born, or within 6 months if it was born in the second half of the year.

Note that the passport itself won't solely provide proof of an ownership.

How to get a passport

Only the owner can apply for a passport through an authorised Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO).

Passports must be kept available for inspection. However, the passport doesn't need to be kept to hand when the horse is in its stable, grazing in a field or being moved by foot. In these circumstances, if an inspector asks to see it, it must be presented within 3 hours.

Owners don't need to apply for a passport if the horse is living in wild or semi-wild conditions in a designated area and hasn't moved from it (other than temporarily for welfare reasons). The following areas have so far been designated by each jurisdiction:

  • England: Dartmoor, Exmoor and the New Forest, where a horse is identified in a list kept by the New Forest Verderers, the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society, the Exmoor Pony Society, or the Dartmoor Commoners Council.
  • Wales and Scotland: the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Government have powers to designate areas but have so far not done so.
  • Northern Ireland: no such powers have been given to the Northern Ireland assembly.

Selling a horse

Horses must not be sold privately or through markets or auctions without a passport. Moving a horse to a place where it'll be sold without already having a passport for it is a criminal offence.

Owners selling their horses need to give the passport to the buyer at the time of sale.

Owners selling their horses through a market or auctioneer need to give them the passport, as they become the keeper of the animal.

Buying a horse

Those buying a horse must make sure the seller gives them the horse's passport at the time of sale. Within 30 days of buying it, the new owner must give the PIO who issued the passport their name and address, and the name and identification number of the horse as recorded in the passport. It's a criminal offence if the new owner doesn't do this.

How each PIO updates the passport will vary. In cases where you have to return the passport to the PIO for updating, the PIO will issue a temporary document that will be valid for 45 days. Contact your relevant PIO for further details on how to update the passport. Details of previous owners are recorded in the passport and it's not usual practice for PIOs to remove these from the passport.

Imports and exports

Moving within the EU

Horses can only be moved within the EU if they're accompanied by a passport.

Buyers should only buy a horse that has entered the UK from another EU country if it has a valid passport.

Third country imports

When bringing a horse into the UK from outside the EU (from a 'third country'), a passport must be applied for within 30 days of the horse entering the country. This doesn't apply to a horse that temporarily remains in the UK for less than 30 days unless the final destination of the horse is another EU country.

Under EU rules, horses imported permanently from a third country will need to be microchipped when being issued with a passport.

When the horse dies

Unless the horse is sold to a slaughterhouse, the owner or keeper must return the passport to the PIO within 30 days of the horse's death. The owner or keeper must state when the horse died so that the PIO can update their records and cancel the passport. The PIO can send the passport back after it's finished with it, as long as the owner agrees to any terms and conditions that the PIO imposes.

Caring for the animal

Most sellers want to emphasise the need to care for the animal. To address this, the seller may put a term in the sale agreement that asks the buyer to promise that they'll look after the animal. Unfortunately, this kind of term is very difficult to enforce and means very little in practice. The courts won't personally supervise how the buyer is looking after the horse. Therefore, if the buyer isn't properly caring for the horse, it might be difficult to show that the seller suffered any loss.

If you suspect that an animal is being treated cruelly, contact the following organisations:

Declaring whether a horse is intended for slaughter for human consumption

It's important to be clear about whether a horse could one day be slaughtered for human consumption because some medicines can't be given to horses that might one day be eaten by humans.

The rules on declaring whether a horse is intended for slaughter for human consumption differs for each country and depends on when the passport was issued.

For passports issued before July 2009, the owner should sign a declaration in the passport to indicate whether the horse is intended for slaughter for human consumption. If the owner declares that the horse isn't intended for slaughter for human consumption, that declaration is irreversible. If the owner declares that a horse is intended for slaughter for human consumption, this can be reversed by making the alternative declaration.

For passports issued after July 2009, all horses are considered to be eligible for slaughter for human consumption unless you sign a declaration to the contrary.

When the declaration must be signed

In England and Northern Ireland, an owner can sign the declaration at any time.

However, the owner must sign a declaration in the following circumstances:

1. Before the horse is sent outside the UK

2. Before administering any veterinary medicinal product containing a particular substance listed under Annex IV to Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2377/90 - the declaration must indicate that the horse isn't intended for slaughter for human consumption

3. For passports issued before July 2009, before the horse is handed over for slaughter for human consumption - the declaration must state that the horse is intended for slaughter for human consumption

In Wales, the declaration must be signed immediately after receiving the passport.

In Scotland, the declaration must be signed before the horse first moves off the premises if the horse was located in Scotland on the date when the passport was issued.

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