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Illegally Grazed Horses

Advice to horse owners and the public

We sometimes receive reports about abandoned and illegally grazed horses on open spaces in the borough. These are mainly from members of the public that are concerned about their welfare, particularly in the winter when land becomes waterlogged and when it is very cold. We also receives calls from landowners who have had horses abandoned on their land.

We have been working closely with the RSPCA, other animal rescue charities, conservation groups, Kent County Council (KCC) and Kent Police over illegal grazing and welfare concerns.

What is illegal grazing?

Picture of a rolling horse.Illegal grazing of horses is the practice of placing a horse or horses on someone’s land without the permission of the landowner. This takes place on both privately owned land and public land. The horses are sometimes tethered on grass verges or left to roam on fields or green spaces.

Why is it a problem?

Animal welfare

At first glance the problems associated with illegal grazing may not be obvious. Many horses are in kept outside all year and the majority cope well even in winter weather as long as they have access to the basic requirements of food, water and shelter (this can be natural or man-made).

Horses have a naturally waterproof coat and a central heating system from digesting food and they enjoying being outside doing horsey things (including a good old roll in the paddock) and therefore during the winter months they can at times end up looking muddy and ungroomed. Not all horses will be rugged; those that are able to cope well in cold temperatures may become too warm if rugged, however, older horses, working (ridden) clipped horses and those with health issues are usually rugged. In the warm summer months they will need access to shade, fresh grass, any additional feed and water. In situations where the grazing is poor then supplementary feed, i.e. hay, should be available. Many times if the horse is not underweight it would suggest that the horse is getting enough food.

Illegally grazed horses may not receive the attention they need when they are injured or ill. Such horses can lack the basic need of a good worming programme, which if left untreated, is on many occasions fatal.


The land maybe close to busy roads such as the A2070 or in residential areas with high volumes of traffic. There is a clear risk that the horses could stray onto the road and be hit by a car with potentially fatal consequences for both the horse and driver. Horses that feel threatened can kick or bite passers-by when they are approached. There have also been occasions where members of the public have been threatened by horse owners.

Damage to land and conservation areas

Illegally grazed horses can damage the land or in conservation areas disrupt sensitive ecological habitats.

Where can I find out about horse welfare?

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have produced a code of practice for the welfare of horses, ponies, donkeys and their hybrids. This explains the duty of care for those who are responsible for horses and give guidance on how to provide for a horse’s need as laid down by the Animal Welfare Act.

Useful guidance on horse welfare including welfare conditions is provided by World Horse Welfare and the British Horse Society.

Picture of a poorly horse.What to do in an emergency situation?

If it is an emergency situation e.g. the horse is sick, injured or at immediate risk of danger telephone the RSPCA hotline on 0300 1234 999. You will need to give as much detail as possible and this should include their location and any access issues. Welfare conditions can also be reported to the World Horse Welfare Hotline 08000 480 180 and British Horse Society on 02476 840517.

Further guidance is also available from the National Equine Welfare Council.

What are we doing to tackle illegal grazing?

We do not allow horses to be illegally grazed on our land. Where a horse is being grazed illegally we will attempt to contact the owner of the horse but if this is not possible a notice will be attached near to where they are being grazed requiring the removal of the horse(s).

If they are not moved we will make arrangements to have the horse(s) removed. It should be pointed out that once a horse is impounded we will only be able to return it to its owners if a horse passport for the animal is provided.

Do we ever permit grazing on our land?

We do permit grazing on a limited number of public open spaces that are managed as local nature reserves / nature conservation areas. These include:

  • Ashford Community Woodland Local Nature Reserve;
  • Ashford Warren and Hoad’s Wood;
  • Hothfield Heathlands (including Hothfield Common Site of Special Scientific Interest).

Conservation grazing is individually permitted by our Conservation Officer on these sites and is undertaken in a controlled manner with particular hardy breeds (such as highland cattle and konic ponies). The owners of the horses have undertaken all necessary risk assessments and have safety procedures in place.

On sites such as these notices are permanently in place warning that any illegally grazing horses will be impounded under Section 41 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. This Act deals with abandoned property left on publicly owned land and will result in their immediate removal.

It should be noted that the council will remove any illegally grazed horses on its own land even if their welfare is not at risk. This is to protect public safety and prevent damage to land and the ecology.

What about illegal grazing on private land?

Where we are informed of a horse that has been abandoned on privately owned land, an attempt is made to contract the land owner in order to make sure they are aware of the situation and give advice on how to get the horse removed. Landowners actually become responsible for the care of the horse even if they have not given permission for them to be on their land. Landowners also become liable in the event of an accident or injury caused by the horses.

Steps to get a horse removed from private land

Under provisions contained within the Animals Act 1971 as amended by Control of Horses Act 2015 there are a number of steps that can be followed to get horses removed from your land when they have been placed there without permission. The steps include:

  • Report the horse(s) that have been placed on your land to the Police. This needs to be done within 24 hours
  • Put up an Abandonment Notice [pdf] 168KB(s) on the land advising the owner they have 4 working days in which to remove their horse(s). This notice also gives others the opportunity to pass on any information they have on the owner of the horse(s)
  • If nobody comes forward after 4 working days the landowner can arrange for the horse(s) to be removed (there are a number of horse rescue charities and rehoming organisation that are able to give advice on this)

For advice on how to prevent fly-grazing and horse abandonment, as well as advice on how to deal with a horse on your land, please visit the Redwings Sanctuary website. This includes what you should do if an owner does come forward.

What to do if you find a dead horse?

If you come across an abandoned dead horse on private land you should contact KCC Trading Standards. Out-of-hours you will need to telephone their contact centre on 03000 41 41 41.

If the horse in on the highway then contact KCC Highways and Transportation on 03000 41 41 41.

Contact us.


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