Raising and handling horses in Canada
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Raising and handling horses in Canada

Canada is home to over 500,000 equines. Equines include horses, ponies, miniature horses, donkeys, mules, and hinnies. Equines are raised in Canada for many reasons, including for sport, recreation, work, racing, or farmed to produce meat or pharmaceutical products.

Donkey grazing outdoors.
Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media

Life of a horse raised for meat

Raising horses for the primary purpose of meat production is a relatively small sector in Canada. However, thousands of horses are still being slaughtered for meat each year. The horses raised for meat in Canada come from many different sources and may live very different lives.

Horses may be sold into meat production after they have become sick or injured and no longer fit for the purpose they were being kept. But not all horses sent to slaughter for human consumption are unwanted or sent knowingly. In some cases, guardians who can no longer afford to care for their horses will bring them to livestock auctions, hoping to find a new home for them. Sadly, these horses may be bought by “kill buyers” who send them to slaughter. Horses sold into meat production may be transported directly to the slaughter facility or spend time in a feedlot to fatten up before slaughter.

There are also farms in Canada that specifically breed and raise horses for meat production. The horses spend their entire lives in barren feedlots before being sent for slaughter. These feedlots offer minimal protection from weather extremes, limited veterinary care, crowded conditions, and minimal enrichment.

Horses in a Canadian feedlot (picture credit Canadian Horse Defense Coalition)
Horses in a feedlot in Canada. Photo credit: Canadian Horse Defense Coalition.

The horses on these farms are often not slaughtered in Canada. Instead, these horses are transported overseas to be slaughtered. They are transported by plane in small wooden crates on journeys that can take more than 20 hours, during which the horses do not have access to feed, water, or rest. Canada is one of the only countries in the world that transports live horses overseas for slaughter. Since 2013, over 40,000 horses have been transported out of Canada. Learn more about our work to ban live horse export in Canada.

Priority areas for improving equine welfare

Despite the many reasons equines are kept in Canada, these welfare concerns apply to most. The Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines outlines requirements and recommended practices of equine guardians. The following areas in the Code should be improved to better protect the welfare of equines.

Protection from weather extremes

As equines should spend most of their time outdoors grazing, they can be exposed to weather extremes and require protection from the elements. In Canada, equines must have access to shelter that protects them from weather extremes. However, there is no requirement to ensure sufficient shelter space to accommodate all horses in a given turnout area or paddock at the same time. Additionally, there are not always enough dry lying areas for each equine when conditions are wet or muddy – a risk factor for lameness.

Horses gather near the fence of a large paddock at sunset.
Photo credit: Victoria de Martigny / We Animals Media

Increased space allowance

Increasing the space allowance indoors and outdoors will provide more freedom of movement for equines. Prescriptive space allowances, so people can clearly understand how much space is needed per size of equine, are important for clarity.

Adequate opportunities for turnout, exercise and socializing

Providing equines with free time in larger spaces, physical activity, and interactions with other equines benefits their well-being. Equines will become stressed and can develop stereotypic behaviours (e.g., cribbing, weaving) if confined to stalls for too long without opportunities for turnout, exercise and socialization. The Code of Practice should provide stronger requirements to ensure these important natural behaviours of equines are met.

Horses in individual stalls in a horse stable.

Prohibiting handling and training equipment that causes pain

Equine welfare can be significantly reduced if improper handling and training equipment are used. This can lead to many negative behavioural or physical problems. It is important for equine guardians to understand equine behaviour, consult a professional when needed, and always focus on forming a strong, positive bond.

Providing pain control

Branding is a painful form of identifying equines. Branding is still permitted, and there is no pain control requirement. Branding should be used as a last resort, and pain control should be used. Additionally, pain control should be provided when equines have injuries or diseases that cause pain.

Support a better life for equines

The BC SPCA is always working to build a better future for farm animals in B.C. and across Canada, including equines. Equines can live for 30 years or longer. Ownership is a long-term commitment of time and finances.

The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines is being updated, and the industry wants to hear from you! To stay up to date when the draft Code is ready for public comment, subscribe to our Action Alerts.

A group of horses outdoors.

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