Husbandry Practices

Turnout, Exercise and Social Opportunities

For the purpose of this Code, turnout means 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. Exercise refers to physical activity (indoors or outdoors) and includes, but is not limited to, walking in-hand, riding, lunging and hand grazing. Social opportunities refer to occasions when horses can interact with other horses via sight, sound and/or direct contact.

Horses are highly adaptable to many weather conditions - keeping them outdoors or giving them frequent outdoor access is encouraged. There are several advantages to providing horses with turnout and social opportunities. Research shows that horses with turnout time have greater bone density than those that are strictly stalled. Horses with increased turnout and social opportunities have also shown themselves easier to train and handle. If given ample social opportunities (either turned out with other horses or group housed), horses learn training tasks more efficiently and perform fewer undesirable behaviours (e.g. biting, kicking, bucking) compared to stalled horses. For a small percentage of horses, turnout may bring a risk of injury (depending on their temperament and whether they are accustomed to turnout). These horses may need to be transitioned to turnout over a period of time (e.g. transition from a stall to a small paddock and then to pasture).


Horses must have some form of exercise or turnout unless under stall rest for medical reasons or severe environmental conditions make this temporarily impossible. Refer to the above explanations for the terms exercise and turnout.


a.turn horses out with other horses or other equine companions 

b.allow daily exercise or turnout opportunities, ideally outdoors and with foraging opportunities or renovate facilities to allow ample social opportunities (e.g. group housing or stall design that allows horses to have visual or tactile contact with other equines)

d.provide stall-bound horses with continuous access to enrichment devices (e.g. trickle feeders, nibble nets, horse toys).


A stereotypy (formerly referred to as a vice) is an abnormal behaviour that serves no apparent function and is performed in a repetitive, invariant way. Common examples include weaving (side-to-side swaying of the head, neck, and forequarters); cribbing/wind-sucking (the horse grasps an object with its teeth and makes a grunting sound); and stall-walking (circular or patterned route-tracing inside the stable). Wood chewing, not usually classified as a stereotypy, involves stripping and apparently ingesting wood surfaces.

Working to prevent stereotypies is generally more effective than trying to "cure" the behaviour once developed. Stereotypic behaviour is most appropriately addressed via management changes that address the underlying cause of the stereotypy. Suggestions include providing ample forage and allowing stalled horses to have visual and tactile contact with other equines. Preventing the horse from performing the stereotypy without addressing its cause may lead to further stress, frustration, and the emergence of other stereotypies. A horse may continue to perform stereotypies even after the predisposing factors have been addressed. This does not necessarily indicate their current welfare status is poor.


a.minimize the risk of stereotypies by ensuring horses have ample turnout time and ample opportunities to forage and engage in social opportunities with other equines (these factors seem to be associated with equine stereotypies).

b.for horses with stereotypies: strive to address the underlying cause of the stereotypy (rather than physically preventing horses from performing the behaviour).

Behaviour and Handling

Section 6.2 is particularly relevant to handling groups of horses or single horses not on halter. Handling should be based on the concepts of field of vision, flight zone and point of balance. Refer to Appendix G.

With proper handling, animals experience less stress and fear, and the risk of injury to the handler and the animals is greatly reduced. Handling should accommodate the animal's behaviour and should be done in a calm manner.

Horses evolved as prey species and have a strong fight-or-flight response. When frightened, horses will generally flee. If they feel they cannot flee, they may become aggressive. Compared to horses, donkeys and mules are less likely to flee when frightened. Instead, they tend to study the situation before reacting (this is often incorrectly interpreted as stubbornness).

Horse welfare and handler safety is improved when handlers respond promptly to signs of fear and agitation in horses. Some examples include:

 tail swishing/wringing, in the absence of flies

the whites of the eyes are more visible

sweating with minimal physical exertion

flared nostrils or wrinkling at the mouth or nose

both ears laid flat back

pawing or striking

running away from or charging at the handler

vocalizations (e.g. snorting, squealing, calling)

head held very high

kicking or turning the hindquarters towards the handler.


Handlers must be familiar with equine behaviour and competent in humane handling techniques either through training, experience or mentorship.

Horses must be handled in a manner that does not subject them to avoidable pain or avoidable injury.


understand and apply the concepts of field of vision, flight zone, and point of balance (refer to Appendix G) avoid sudden actions or noises that may scare or frighten horses. Horses have sensitive hearing; provide adequate lighting so that horses do not baulk at shadows or poorly lit areas approach an unfamiliar horse carefully and at the shoulder (not the rear). Generally, horses are accustomed to riders/handlers approaching, mounting and leading on the left side of the horse.

       Handling and Restraint Equipment

Equipment used for restraint and handling should be effective without causing stress to the horse and should be designed for maximum safety of the handler and horse. Any restraint method used to assist normal management or treatment of the horse should be the most mild and effective method available, and should be applied for the minimum amount of time necessary to carry out the task.

A halter and lead rope is the most common form of restraint. Generally, the safest knots are those that can be quickly untied even if the horse has pulled on it. When used by knowledgeable handlers, other acceptable forms of restraint include hobbles, twitches, lead chains, stocks and chutes.

Tethering is a form of restraint that brings a high risk of injury to horses unless used correctly. For the purpose of this Code, tethering means attaching a long rope or chain to the halter or leg hobble so the horse can graze. Tethering does not refer to tie stalls or briefly tying a horse to a fixed object.

Refer to Appendix K for other resources on handling and restraint equipment.


Corrective action must be taken if restraint devices or equipment cause injury to horses.

Tethering must not cause injury and must only be used if the horse is under supervision. The person applying the tether must be knowledgeable in its use. Refer to the above explanation of tethers.

Electric cattle prods must not be used for the routine movement or handling of horses on-farm or during loading/unloading. Discretion must be used in an individual extreme situation when animal or human safety is at immediate risk, but prods must never be used repeatedly or used on the face, anus or reproductive organs of horses.


a.use properly designed and maintained restraint devices in the manner'they were intended to be used not turn horses loose in a pasture or stall with a halter on unless the halter has a break-away design

c.ensure handling equipment is engineered to minimize noise; loud noises are disturbing to horses

d.ensure chutes used to restrain horses have break-out walls to assist horses that go down during handling

Principles in Training and Learning Theory

Training is an important investment in a horse, and the level of training (from basic skills to specialized work) will depend on the intended purpose of the horse. Horses well trained in ground skills, under saddle skills and/or in harness skills are safer to work with and more likely to have good welfare their entire life. Poor training methods can cause behavioural problems. Horses with behavioural problems are more vulnerable to neglect, rough handling and more likely to face the prospect of multiple temporary owners attempting to manage an untrained or poorly trained horse. In training, the ideal is to make the "right thing easy and the wrong thing hard" for the horse. It is essential that horses be given a way to comply (i.e. respond in the way the trainer desires). Otherwise the horse is essentially in a "no win situation" and over time may show increased apathy or become dangerous and unemployable.

Tack and equipment must be maintained in good repair and must fit the horse correctly; ill-fitting equipment may cause sores, irritation, and may also cause the horse to respond to the irritation rather than the handler.

Learning theory can be used to explain how horses learn, think and react during training. The following principles of learning theory can be applied to any training context: (23,3)

use cues or aids that are easy for the horse to understand. Multiple cues or aids used together can confuse the horse, so it is essential that signals are applied clearly and consistently train and shape responses one-at-a-time. Each response should be broken down into its smallest possible components and then put together in a process called "shaping"

train only one response per cue, strive to minimize fear during training. When horses experience fear, they can come to associate everything about that environment with the fear, and fear can inhibit learning benchmark relaxation - observe the horse for aggressive or defensive behaviours and modify training methods to minimize them. Horses that stay relaxed during training are better able to learn include a system of reward to the training as it can make the task safer and easier for the horse and trainer (a reward does not have to be a food treat; wither scratching or the release of pressure are also good options)

minimize the time between the performance of the horse's trained response and its reward. Horses do not learn well when there is a delay in reward.

For more information on learning theory, consult Appendix K-Resources for Further Information. The Scientific Committee report for the equine Code, listed in the References, also provides more detail.


Horses must not be trained in a manner that subjects them to avoidable pain or that causes them injury as a direct result of the training method used. They must never be subjected to training methods which are abusive or intentionally injure the horse. This includes, but is not limited to, soring, excessive use of whips or forcing the horse's head position by tying the horse to a fixed object. The glossary provides a definition of soring.

Horses must only undergo training that matches their physical capabilities and level of maturity.

Equipment in use must be maintained in good repair and must fit the horse correctly.


a.consult an experienced trainer/coach and attend training clinics (exercise due diligence researching the qualifications of trainers/coaches and ask for references)

b.employ training methods that use the minimal force necessary to achieve the desired outcome

c.train in short sessions and space training sessions over time

d.ensure that, at a minimum, the horse is trained to lead, load into a trailer and stand for farriery, veterinary care and grooming (refer to Section 8.2.1-Training to Load)

e.ensure you are familiar with the correct use of all tack and training equipment and that you have an understanding of how to be certain that it fits the horse correctly

f.have a veterinarian examine the horse's mouth for any dental problems that may interfere with comfortable bitting and bridling.

Methods of Identification

Identification of horses is needed for reasons of animal and public health, proof of ownership, to ensure correct identification at competitions or shows, and when buying or selling horses. There are several methods of marking horses for identification or ownership, including permanent or temporary methods and methods that are visible or non-visible.

All methods of permanent identification cause some degree of pain to horses with the exception of the iris scan, which recently became available. Research shows that hot-iron branding is painful to horses. It leads to a skin burn that causes swelling and skin sensitivity for several days. Some studies comparing hot-iron branding to freeze branding suggest that freeze branding causes less pain and discomfort than hot-iron branding. The horse's response to micro chipping, if any, is short lasting, compared to freeze or hot-iron branding. Lip tattooing is another means of identification; however, there is limited research on this.

Government and industry are encouraged to develop more humane identification methods for verifying ownership. Until a reliable form of permanent, visible marking is available, branding remains necessary in some sectors of the horse industry. However, hot-iron branding is strongly discouraged - if a permanent, visible mark is needed, freeze branding is recommended over hot-iron branding. When branding is necessary, it is critically important to use the correct technique. Refer to Appendix K for a reference on hot-iron and freeze branding.


Animal identification must be performed in a manner that causes the minimum of handling stress and pain, regardless of the method used.

If branding is necessary, do not brand horses on the jaw/cheek.

When registering new brands, select an approved site other than the jaw/cheek. Consult the appropriate provincial regulatory authorities, breed registry or council for more information.

Horses must never be branded when they are wet.


a.choose the least painful method that fits the purpose for the identification. Horse owners are strongly encouraged to avoid hot-iron branding and re-branding of any kind

b.ensure that the method of identification is done by skilled personnel

c.ensure the horse has some previous experience with handling and restraint before the identification procedure is performed

d.discuss pain control options with a veterinarian, particularly when branding.


Horses are castrated to make them safer to handle, easier to manage, and easier to turn out in groups. In most provinces equine castration can only be done by a veterinarian. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) regards castration of horses, donkeys and mules as a veterinary medical procedure which should only be performed by a veterinarian using appropriate surgical, anesthetic and analgesic techniques.

Castration is a surgical procedure that causes pain and inflammation that persists for several days (3,24,25). Veterinarians have formal surgical training to perform the procedure to a professional standard. Licensed veterinarians have access to drugs to reduce pain arid inflammation. They also have access to sedatives and anesthetics which reduce the need for physical restraint and provide the optimal conditions for the procedure.

Equine castration should be performed by a veterinarian as it is a specialized procedure requiring considerable skill and expertise and has a high complication rate. Some complications (e.g. evisceration and hemorrhage) are potentially life-threatening. Castration of donkeys, mules and mature horses has an even higher risk of complication and must only be performed by a veterinarian.

Although equine castration by non-veterinarians may be exempt from certain provincial Veterinary Acts, this does not exclude non-veterinarians from being held accountable under animal protection laws if horses are put in distress by a non-veterinarian performing this procedure.


Castration of donkeys, mules and mature horses must only be performed by a veterinarian.

Horses with one or more retained testicle or other scrotal abnormalities (e.g. hernias) must only be castrated by a veterinarian.

Provincial regulations that restrict castration of horses to licensed veterinarians must be followed.

Where it is not prohibited by law, castration by a person who is not a licensed veterinarian must only be performed by a skilled operator and must meet the following requirements:

     there is a valid Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship with a licensed veterinarian who is willing to supply training (on the procedure and pain management), prescribe the required drugs for pain control and provide interventions if needed the scrotal area must be examined to ensure normal scrotal anatomy. If there is evidence of an abnormality, castration must only be performed by a veterinarian the handling and restraint methods must not cause injury or unnecessary suffering

pain control must be provided. At a minimum, this must include a local anesthetic and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Castration must not begin until the local anesthetic has taken effect the horse must be monitored during and after the procedure and, if complications occur, a veterinarian must be contacted without delay.


Horse owners are strongly encouraged to arrange for castration to be done by a veterinarian. Veterinarians can provide a combination of sedatives, anesthetics and analgesics along with optimal surgical care.

Alterations of the Tail

Tail docking involves the removal of part of the horse's tailbone, leaving it significantly shorter. Tail docking was originally done to prevent the tails from interfering with the harness equipment and machinery, impairing the driver's ability to control the horses and potentially causing the horses to bolt.

Depending on the amount of tail that is removed, docking can compromise the horse's ability to swish the tail at flies and communicate with other horses-or humans. Tail docking can also lead to serious health risks, such as infections. Research in other species suggests that both surgical and rubber ring methods of tail docking are painful; however, this has not been studied in horses. Any potential safety benefit of tail docking has also not been scientifically studied in horses.

Tail nicking involves cutting the horse's tail muscle to achieve an artificially high tail carriage for show purposes. Horses that have undergone this procedure wear a tail brace during their show career and their ability to use their tail is compromised.

Tail blocking is a procedure whereby the major nerves of the tail are injected with a substance that affects the horse's ability to lift, swish or control its tail. This procedure causes the horse to temporarily lose the use of its tail for any function. It is also associated with serious health risks and complications.


Tail nicking and blocking are unacceptable and must not be performed.

Tail docking for cosmetic purposes is unacceptable and must not be performed. Refer also to provincial regulations on tail docking, if applicable.

(In  Britain  it  is  against  the  law  to  dock  etc.  It  is  breaking  the  law.  Most  countries  now  do  not  allow  docking  etc. The  tail  of  a  horse  is  important  to  the  horse. Some  breeds  have  a natural  short  tail  in  hair  length - Keith Hunt)

Hoof Care

"No foot no horse" - regular hoof care is essential towards achieving overall horse health and longevity through hoof and leg soundness. All equities, including donkeys and mules, need regular hoof care but not all equities will need shoeing. Shoes are necessary when wear exceeds growth, or for correction of conformation or gait. Horse boots are a potential alternative to shoeing. Trimming to correct leg and hoof deviations is most effective when done as early as possible in the foal's life. All hoof and leg deviations worsen with neglect and excess growth.

Cleaning the foot is important, particularly to prevent thrush and to inspect the foot for any foreign materials that may cause injury. Thrush is an infection caused by bacterial and fungal yeast-type organisms. Signs of thrush include a foul odour and a black putty-like appearance of the frog (the frog is located at the heel of the foot and forms a V into the centre). Regular cleaning of the hoof prevents thrush from developing by aerating the exposed area. Refer also to Appendix K-Rssources for Further Information.

Strategies to maintain the hoof health of horses (26):

keep hooves free of defects through regular trimming and/or shoeing

keep corrals clean, dry and free from mud

provide adequate nutrition and exercise

clean out hooves regularly, ideally on a daily basis, and before exercise or riding       

avoid extended use of hoof polishes

use hoof moisturizers or hoof hardeners as needed.


Hooves must be trimmed and/or shod as often as is necessary to maintain hooves in functional condition. Whether shod or unshod, hooves must not be allowed to grow to excessive lengths causing injury or discomfort to the horse.


ensure the farrier or other personnel is skilled and uses recognized techniques (exercise due diligence researching the qualifications/experience of farriers, ask for references and continuing education practices)

train horses to stand for trimming and shoeing

provide the farrier with a clean, safe and well-lit area 

ensure the first hoof examination for foals takes place within the first month of life and regularly

monitor the foal's feet for deviations

ensure proper trimming or shoeing (which includes trimming and resetting) is done ever 5-8 weeks or as may be needed for individual equines (depending on factors such as age, activity level, nutrition and breed) 

clean out hooves before riding

consult a farrier or veterinarian for advice on how to control thrush.


Grooming is a good opportunity to form and maintain the bond between horse and handler, and can be calming to horses. It is also a good opportunity to inspect horses for injuries. Grooming loosens dirt and mud, which can cause skin irritation and infections. If allowed to accumulate, dirt and mud can reduce the insulating effect of the hair coat in cold environments. Debris (e.g. mud, burdocks) on the horse where the saddle and harness are placed or on the tack itself can cause injury and discomfort.


Horses must be free of debris where the saddle and harness are placed. The tack must also be free from debris before being placed on the horse.

Burdocks causing discomfort or injury must be removed without delay.