New legislation passed in France will require all horse owners to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of equine needs that promote wellbeing.
As part of their inter-species legislation, which aims to combat animal abuse and strengthen the bond between humans and companion animals, the French Parliament has introduced three laws that affect horse owners.
They were published in the Official Journal of the French Republic on December 1, 2021 and include a requirement for all horse owners to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of equine-specific needs; the registration of neurectomies in horse passports; and safeguards for agistment centre operators against unpaid fees.
Knowledge certificate for private horse owners: A welfare guarantee for equines
The newly adopted legislation aligns with the ownership requirements for other companion animals and requires all horse owners to demonstrate their knowledge of the specific needs and living conditions that align with equine wellbeing.
Unless already licenced by other governing bodies such as the French Equestrian Federation (FFE), horse owners will have to undertake education and obtain a certificate, and before selling or giving a horse to another person, the seller will have to ensure the buyer has this certificate.
The initiative to licence horse owners by requiring them to demonstrate their knowledge and capacity to protect the welfare of their horse has been a requirement for FFE members since 2019.
The FFE requirement is equivalent to the existing Galop® Level 4, which involves a theory module that is delivered online via the FFE Campus, and a practical module, which must be completed at one of the riding clubs affiliated with the FFE Education Department.
The Galops® are the certificates of skill required of all equestrians who are members of the FFE. They are divided into 7 levels. Levels 1 to 4 are designed for either young (pony) riders or adults, and the latter can progress through levels 5 to 7 to specialise within each discipline.
Since its establishment, FFE President Serge Lecomte has been lobbying the government for a legal framework to extend this knowledge requirement to non-members and non-professionals, a feat that has now been achieved because in 2020, the Prime Minister entrusted Loïc Dombreval, Deputy of the Alpes-Maritimes and President of the Animal Condition Study Group, with the mission of improving the welfare of companion animals, which includes equines.
It is particularly interesting to see that in France, equines have been added to companion animals in the legislation. In contrast, in 2018 in the US, President Donald Trump signed a bill which had the support of both chambers to classify ‘once and for all’ that horses are livestock, not pets.
In most other countries like Australia, horses remain in a grey area since they can be livestock, companion, service or working animals. The lack of clarity means they often fall through the legislation cracks.
While the decree that defines the content and methods of issuing the certificate of knowledge nationally still needs to be approved, it is expected that the obligation to obtain a horse owner’s licence will come into force next year.
Requirement to register a neurectomy in the horse’s ID documentation: A win for traceability
To promote transparency and help sport bodies, from now on, the registration of all neurectomies in the affected horse’s identification documents will be compulsory.
A neurectomy is a surgical procedure that involves cutting a nerve or rendering it insensitive as a means to relieve the pain of horses with otherwise untreatable/chronic or severe foot-related lameness.
As a veterinary treatment, neurectomies are not prohibited however, it is against the regulations of sporting bodies such as the FFE and horse racing as it allows unfit horses to compete, compromising their welfare and exacerbating existing injuries.
Unpaid Agistment Fees: A safeguard for Professionals
Until now, when a horse owner stops paying the agistment fees due, responsibility for the affected horse’s care had fallen on the professionals in charge of the facility.
With the new law just passed, failing to pay for your horse’s agistment will be considered ‘abandonment’, and will allow the facility’s owner to begin a remediation process whereby after a formal notice to the owner and a legal period of three months, the facility’s owners can appeal to the courts, who after studying the case, may authorise the auction of the equine.
The integration of these equine welfare laws is a progressive step forward that is welcomed by the FFE and acknowledges the shift in societal attitudes towards animals.
On behalf of the FFE, Serge Lecomte thanked the parliamentarians involved and in particular the two presidents of the Cheval Studies Groups as well as Loïc Dombreval, co-author of the legislation and Anne Chain-Larché, senator of Seine-et-Marne and Rapporteur to the Senate, for attending to the FFE’s concerns and understanding of the issues of equine well-being, and the resulting economic considerations for professionals.
Information for this article was sourced from the FFE.
Knowledge Certificate for all Horse Owners will be Required by Law in France