A   Preface

The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) Code development process was followed in the development of this Code of Practice. This Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines replaces its predecessor developed in 1998 and published by the Canadian Agri-Food Research Council.

The NFACC Code development process aims to:

link Codes with science

ensure transparency in the process

include broad representation from stakeholders

contribute to improvements in farm animal care

identify research priorities and encourage work in these priority areas

write clearly to ensure ease of reading, understanding and implementation

provide a document that is useful for all stakeholders.

The Codes of Practice are national developed guidelines for the care and handling of farm animals. They serve as our national understanding of animal care requirements and recommended practices. Codes promote sound management and welfare practices for housing, care, transportation and other animal husbandry practices.

Codes off Practice have been developed for virtually all farmed animal species in Canada. NFACC's website provides access to all currently available Codes (

The Codes of Practice are the result of a rigourous Code development process, taking into account the best science available for each species, compiled through an independent peer-reviewed process, along with stakeholder input. The Code development process also takes into account the practical requirements for each species necessary to promote consistent application across Canada and ensure uptake by stakeholders resulting in beneficial animal outcomes. Given their broad use by numerous parties in Canada today, it is important for all to understand how they are intended to be interpreted.

Requirements - These refer to either a regulatory requirement, or an industry imposed expectation outlining acceptable and unacceptable practices and are fundamental obligations relating to the care of animals. Requirements represent a consensus position that these measures, at minimum, are to be implemented by all persons responsible for farm animal care. When included as part of an assessment program, those who fail to implement Requirements may be compelled by industry associations to undertake corrective measures, or risk a loss of market options. Requirements also may be enforceable under federal and provincial regulation.

Recommended Practices - Code Recommended Practices may complement a Code's Requirements, promote producer education and can encourage adoption of practices for continuous improvement in animal welfare outcomes. Recommended Practices are those which are generally expected to enhance animal welfare outcomes, but failure to implement them does not imply that acceptable standards of animal care are not met.

Broad representation and expertise on each Code Development Committee ensures collaborative Code development. Stakeholder commitment is key to ensure quality animal care standards are established and implemented.


    This Code represents a consensus amongst diverse stakeholder groups. Consensus results in a decision that everyone agrees advances animal welfare but does not imply unanimous endorsement of every aspect of the Code. Codes play a central role in Canada's farm animal welfare system as part of a process of continuous improvement. As a result, they need to be reviewed and updated regularly. Codes should be reviewed at least every five years following publication and updated at least every ten years.

A key feature of NFACC's Code development process is the Scientific Committee. It is widely accepted that animal welfare codes, guidelines, standards or legislation should take advantage of the best available research.

A Scientific Committee review of priority animal welfare issues for the species being addressed provided valuable information to the Code Development Committee in developing this Code of Practice. The Scientific Committee report is peer reviewed and publicly available, enhancing the transparency and credibility of the Code.

The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines: Review of scientific research on priority

issues developed by the equine Code of Practice Scientific Committee is available on NFACC's website

(www.nfapE. ca). 


The most significant influence on the welfare of equines is the care and management provided by the person(s) responsible for their daily care. Those responsible for equines should consider the following factors:


feed and water to maintain health and vigour .

freedom of movement and exercise for most normal behaviours

the company of other equines

veterinary care, diagnosis and treatment, disease control and prevention

emergency preparedness for fire, natural disaster, and the disruption of feed supplies

hoof care

end of life.

An animal's welfare should be considered in terms of the Five Freedoms (below). These freedoms form a framework for analysis of welfare within any system and those responsible for equines are encouraged to consider the Five Freedoms.

  Freedom from Hunger and Thirst - by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

Freedom from Discomfort - by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease - by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. 

Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.

Freedom from Fear and Distress - by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

All herd sizes require adequate human resources to ensure observation, care and welfare of individual animals. Neither financial cost nor any other circumstances should result in a delay in treatment or neglect of the animals.

Equines are classified as livestock in Canadian legislation (e.g. the Health of Animals Act and the Animal Pedigree Ad). They have multiple uses and purposes and are raised for recreation, work, competition and for meat. The equine industry is very diverse and this Code has been written with consideration of the different management systems in use. The authors recognize that there is more than one way to provide good animal welfare for equines.

The scope of the equine Code of Practice is on farm (i.e. premises where horses are kept). This is to avoid duplication or inconsistencies between Codes. The equine Code includes important pre-transport considerations but does not address animal care during transport. Consult the Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals: Transportation 4 for information on animal care during transport. This Code does not specifically address the Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) industry.

The National Farm Animal Care Council supports the following definition of animal welfare: Animal welfare means how an animal is coping physically, physiologically and psychologically with the conditions in which it lives. Physically includes pain and injury; physiologically includes environmental or disease stressors; and psychologically includes stressors that affect the senses, especially those that result in fear, fighting, distress or stereotypic behaviours due to either frustration or boredom. Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment.

Farm Animal Welfare Council. Five Freedoms. Available:

The Five Freedoms are referenced by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), of which Canada is a member, in its Terrestrial Animal Health Code (Section 7 - Animal Welfare)

Canadian Agri-Food Research Council (2001) Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals: Transportation.


Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Horses on 

PMU Ranches addresses aspects  specific to this industry that are in addition to the equine Code. For specific guidelines or codes of conduct associated with equine activities that take place off farm, contact the respective governing body.

In this Code, the word "horse" refers to all domestic equine species, namely horses, ponies, miniature horses, donkeys, mules and hinnies. Specific reference is only made to donkeys, mules or other specific equines at the outset of each Code chapter, and within chapters, when necessary.

The term "knowledgeable and experienced horseperson" appears throughout the equine Code - consult the glossary for an explanation of this term as it is used in this Code.

The Equine Code Development Committee

To assemble the Code Development Committee (CDC), Equine Canada struck a Code Criteria Group to outline the criteria and process by which nominations would be solicited for the CDC. This collaborative selection process culminated in an 18-person Committee.

Representing a broad cross-section, the CDC members have significant expertise in care and custody, equine health and veterinary care, technical knowledge, research, animal protection legislation, enforcement, biosecurity and international best practices. Specifically, the CDC was composed of individuals with proven hands-on knowledge in the unique husbandry practices required for large-scale equine breeding, feedlot management, draft horses, donkeys and mules, Quarter Horses, Arabians and horses used in racing, jumping, dressage, eventing, driving, western sport, recreation and outfitting. Appendix L provides a list of participants on both the CDC and Scientific Committee. Consult the Preface for information on the Scientific Committee.

Broad Stakeholder Engagement through Surveys and the Public Comment Period

As part of the revision to the equine Code, NFACC and Equine Canada facilitated the development of three online surve. The purpose was to allow wider engagement in the revision of the Code and to allow the CDC to gain further insights into stakeholder views on key Code topics as well as to garner a greater understanding of current practices of equine owners and industry professionals. Nearly 3500 people participated in these surves and the results were used to facilitate the work of the CDC.

The final key component of the NFACC Code development process is the public comment period whereby the draft of the Code is made available online for 60 days. For the equine Code, approximately 580 individuals and 24 organizations provided submissions. The CDC was very pleased with the diversity of stakeholders who provided valuable input. Feedback was discussed in the CDC during a two-day meeting and the input informed final changes to the Code.


   Ambient temperature: the air temperature in the surrounding area.

Ambulatory (general): able to walk. See also non-ambulatory.

Balanced (in the context of feed): a term applied to a diet or ration of feed that has all the known required nutrients in the proper amount.

Body condition scoring: a tool for determining the amount of fat on an animal's body. It involves a physical palpation and visual assessment of specific anatomical sites that are most responsive to a change in body fat. A body condition score is the value assigned to individual equines from the body condition scoring scale.

Box stall: a confinement area where horses are kept loose (not tied) when housed indoors in a barn or stable.

Broodmare: a female horse used for breeding.

Colic: a sign of pain in the horse's abdomen. The term colic can encompass all forms of gastrointestinal conditions which cause pain as well as other causes of abdominal pain not involving the gastrointestinal tract. 

Concentrate: a feed used with forage to improve the nutritive balance of the total ration (e.g. grain, pelleted feed).

Conformation: the degree of correctness of a horse's bone structure, musculature, and its body proportions in relation to each other. Conformation is usually judged by the horse's intended use or by breed standards.

Creep feeding: the practice of using a creep feeder, which is a feeder designed so that foals can eat concentrates, but older horses will not be able to access the feed.

"Easy keeper": an informal term used to describe individual horses who easily gain weight or tend to maintain weight or body condition score above the ideal.

"Equine Cushings" (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, PPID): a syndrome whereby the middle lobe of the pituitary gland (located in the brain) becomes enlarged over time resulting in over production of hormones and hormone-Eke substances.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS): a multi-faceted condition of obesity (generalized and/or regional), insulin resistance and laminitis. Primary contributing factors to the development of EMS are genetics and the quantity and type of feed.2

Exercise: for the purpose of this Code, exercise refers to any indoor or outdoor physical activity for horses including, but not limited to, riding, lunging, walking in-hand and hand grazing.

Foal: the offspring of a horse or other equines from birth to weaning and under one year old.

Forage: bulk feeds such as grass or hay; can also refer to the act of foraging (eating hay, grazing pasture, browsing).

Gait: a particular way or manner the horse moves on foot.

Grain: seed from cereal crops or corn.

Geriatric horse: for the purpose of this Code, geriatrics are ageing horses that need specialized care. Horses are generally considered to be geriatric when they are-15-20 years of age or older.

Gestation: the period of development of the fetus from conception to birth.

Hay: grasses or herbage especially cut and cured for animal feeding.

Haylage: Feed that was cut as fresh forage and that has been chopped and stored at relatively high moisture content. Haylage undergoes a similar fermentation process as silage. See also silage.

HyperHpemia/HyperUpidernia: a medical condition caused, in part, by equines going off feed and that results in rapid mobilization of body fat. Fatty substances accumulate in the blood and infiltrate the liver. The syndrome can affect any equines although donkeys, ponies and miniature horses are at greater risk.

Jack: a male donkey.

Jennet: a female donkey.

Knowledgeable and experienced horseperson: For the purpose of this Code, this refers to people who have knowledge of a given topic or have successfully managed horses relative to a given topic. This includes those who have years of hands-on experience with horses and those who have knowledge gained through formal education, training and/or professional certification (some examples include experienced breeders, certified trainers/coaches and extension staff).

Lameness: for the purpose of this Code, lameness is any alteration in the horse's gait that appears to be caused by pain and discomfort. Lameness can manifest as a change in performance or willingness to move, head nodding or hip hiking.

Laminitis: inflammation in the foot (specifically the sensitive laminae connecting the hoof bone and the hoof capsule) that may result in severe pain, abnormal foot growth, and lameness. Also known as Founder.

Mare: an adult female horse.

Non-ambulatory: an animal that is unable to stand without assistance or move without being dragged or carried, regardless of size or age.

Paddock: a small, fenced-in field or enclosure (with varying surface terrain) where horses are kept or

Parasitism: an infection with parasites.

Parturition: the act or process of giving birth to the foal (also referred to as foaling).

Pasture: a large, fenced-in area where horses are kept loose and can graze.

Pelleted feed: feed that has been ground and processed to produce a pellet shaped feedstuff.

"Poor doer": an informal term used to describe individual horses that have difficulty gaining weight or maintaining appropriate weight or body condition score.

Reinforcement: positive or negative reinforcement are training terms that refer to anything that will make a response from the horse more likely in the future. "Positive" and "negative" do not mean "good" and "bad" in this context, but describe whether the behaviour is reinforced by having something added (positive reinforcement) or removed (negative reinforcement).

Ration: the total amount of feed that is provided.

Silage: succulent, moist feed (from forage, corn or other crops) that has gone through a process of fermentation that helps it stay free from spoilage.

Stable: an enclosed building with a roof and sides for housing horses.

Stallion: an adult male horse that has not been castrated and is typically kept for breeding.

Stereotypy: formerly referred to as a vice, a stereotypy is an abnormal behaviour that serves no apparent function and is performed in a repetitive, invariant way. One example is cribbing/wind sucking. Section 6.1.1 provides other examples.

Social opportunities: for the purpose of this Code, this term refers to occasions when horses can interact with other horses via sight, sound and/or direct contact.

Soring: the practice of inflicting pain on the limbs of a horse for the purpose of accentuating its gait. Note: this practice is not acceptable (see the Requirements in Section 6.3).

Soundness: freedom from lameness or disease that would affect the horse's usability.

Teeth floating: A procedure of filing down the sharp enamel points on the horse's teeth. Teeth floating is necessary because the teeth of horses continue to erupt from the gums until horses are approximately 17 years of age.

Temperament: the horse's disposition.

Thermoneutral zone: a temperature range in which animals do not have to expend any additional energy to maintain normal body temperature. In horses, the thermoneutral zone is between 5-20°C.

Tie stall: a space in a barn or stable where horses are tied when housed indoors. Also called a standing stall.

Tractability: the horse's capability to be easily led, taught, or controlled.

Turnout: for the purpose of this Code, this terms refers to allowing horses "free time" (i.e. not under controlled exercise) in a dry lot, arena, pen or pasture. Turnout does not necessarily mean the horse is grazing.

Weanling: a term to identify equines from weaning until one year of age.

Yearling: a term to identify equines from one to two years of age.

Section 1 - Duty of Care

Duty of Care

Horses, donkeys, and mules can live for 30 years or longer. Ownership of these animals can be a great pleasure, but it is also a significant responsibility associated with a long-term commitment of time and money. Owners and staff have a duty of care for the animals they are permanently or temporarily responsible for. A parent or guardian of a minor needs to take responsibility for any animal that is owned or cared for by the minor. If an owner leaves the animal in the care of another person, it is the owner's duty to ensure the person is competent and has the necessary authority to act in an emergency. In this case, it may be advisable to have a written boarding contract in place.

Responsibility for an animal includes having an understanding of their specific health and welfare needs, and having the appropriate knowledge and skills to care for the animal. Those responsible will also have to comply with relevant legislation and be aware of the Requirements and Recommended Practices in this Code. They should also know when to seek advice from a knowledgeable person.

Donkeys and mules need the same good animal care for their health and well-being as do horses. Key points about specific animal care needs of donkeys and mules are included throughout this Code and are summarized in Appendix F.


Owners must have the resources for and knowledge of the basics of care as stated in this Code and ensure such care is provided.

Principal caregivers must be familiar with and provide the basics of care as stated in this Code.

Pre-Purchase Considerations

Before buying or agreeing to become responsible for a horse, consider the following:

What are the costs? The costs vary but can be substantial. The cost of purchasing a horse will be less than the ongoing costs associated with its care. Refer to Appendix A-Template Budget for Horse Ownership.

What type of horse is appropriate? In the context of your skill level and intended use for the horse, evaluate what breed, sex, age, level of training, and temperament will be most appropriate. Children and novice owners may benefit from buying a horse that is already well trained or that has experience in their intended discipline.

How much time is needed? Consider the time commitment for daily care (e.g. grooming, feeding, mucking out) along with non-dairy tasks (e.g. veterinary visits, stable maintenance and hoof care).

How and where will the horse he kept? Suitable off-site accommodation needs to be available unless there is suitable accommodation on the home property.

What skills and knowledge are required? All persons responsible for horses must have good working knowledge of their feed and water requirements, stable maintenance, signs of ill health, humane handling, and common horse injuries.

What contingency plans should be made? A simple plan may involve identifying capable persons who can look after the horse should you be temporarily or permanently unable to care for the animal. Another aspect of horse ownership is planning for the time when you may want or need to bring your ownership of a horse to an end. Refer to Section 9-Change or End of Career.

Section 1 - Duty of Care


a. gain experience in horse care prior to ownership (e.g. volunteer work, riding stables, Horse Clubs)

b. develop a budget that includes short and long-term costs to ensure you are financially capable of caring for the horse (see AppendixA. - Template Budget for Horse Ownership)

c.    view a prospective horse with a knowledgeable and experienced horseperson (e.g. certified trainer or coach, extension staff)

d. try the horse in all aspects of work the horse will be expected to perform

e. find a knowledgeable and experienced horseperson to provide ongoing advice for horse care participate in continuing education opportunities (e.g. hands-on horse clinics, conferences,


        Pre-Purchase Veterinary Examinations

A pre-purchase veterinary examination informs prospective owners of the horse's overall health and condition (1). The veterinarian's role during the examination is to discover pre-existing conditions or problems that potentially affect the future soundness of the horse (1). The results are interpreted relative to the intended use of the horse - a high performance prospect may require a more extensive examination compared to a pleasure horse. Prospective owners are strongly urged to have a pre-purchase examination performed by a veterinarian who is proficient in equine practice. The consequences of buying a horse that is not fit for the purpose for which it was purchased outweigh the costs of the examination.


a. arrange for the examination to be done by a veterinarian who is independent of the seller and who has expertise in the breed, discipline or use for which the horse is being purchased

b. inform the veterinarian of your primary uses for the horse and your short- and long-term goals

c. consult the veterinarian on what procedures should be included in the examination and the costs of those procedures 

d. ensure that, as the buyer, you are present during the examination and/or have a trusted agent present.