Position Statement on Equine Welfare | BC SPCA
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Position Statement on Equine Welfare

Responsible care of horses

The BC SPCA believes that horses and other equines must be provided with the Five Freedoms throughout their lives, regardless of the purpose for which they are raised. Should a horse or other equine no longer be desired for its original purpose, the owner must provide for its lifelong care.

The Society further encourages potential owners to think carefully about their decision to acquire an equine, who can live for up to 30 years, and ensure they have the long-term funds needed to provide for their welfare.

It is unacceptable to turn horses or other equines loose or out to pasture in the winter without suitable food, water, shelter and continued care to meet their needs. This practice is considered to cause distress under the B.C. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and may be considered an offense pursuant to the Criminal Code of Canada, particularly in an environment where grazing is scarce and the weather is extreme.

Responsible breeding and retirement of horses

The BC SPCA urges owners and breeders of horses and other equines to exercise great caution in their breeding practices to prevent the proliferation of surplus, unwanted animals.

Should an individual owner be absolutely unable to provide for the welfare of their equine, they should first seek to sell or give the animal directly to a suitable owner or a responsible equine rescue. Should no suitable owner be found, on-site euthanasia should be considered a preferable option to auction or slaughter, due to the stress imposed on equines during the processes of transport, auction and potential slaughter at a processing plant. If transport is necessary, it should be conducted using equipment designed for equines and over the shortest distance possible.

The BC SPCA believes it is irresponsible for an individual who acquires an equine for recreational purposes to send such an animal to auction or slaughter, rather than placing it with another suitable recreational owner or having it euthanised on-site. Equine owners should be aware that auctioning of their animal may result in it being purchased for slaughter, rather than for recreational purposes.

In accordance with the BC SPCA position statement on Humane Killing, equines must be killed only in a manner that either kills the animal instantly or that first renders the animal insensible to pain until death ensues. Both the behavioural nature and anatomy of horses and other equines can make humane handling and slaughter challenging. In order for equine slaughter to be considered humane, slaughter plants and government regulators must provide evidence that the facilities and methods used are appropriate for the species, as measured by legitimate monitoring of animal welfare indicators such as vocalisation, electric prod use, instances of slipping or falling, stun efficacy and post-stun sensibility.

Approved by the Board of Directors – July 2012


Horses and other equines are bred and kept in Canada for many reasons, including: companionship and personal recreation; commercial recreation such as racing and equestrian sports; working purposes such as ranching and logging; and meat production.

Equine Canada¹ estimates that as of 2010, 116,000 horses are kept in British Columbia by 21,600 owners, and that only two thirds of owners live on the same property as their horse. They also estimate that there are 963,500 horses in Canada and of these:

  • 219,884 (23%) are young horses not yet in use
  • 176,321 (18%) are kept as breeding stock
  • 175,357 (18%) are used in sport competition other than racing
  • 171,503 (18%) are used for pleasure riding and driving
  • 52,029 (5%) are used in racing (including breeding for racing)
  • 33,723(4%) are used solely for companionship or are in full retirement
  • 32,759 (3%) are used for work (ranching, logging, farming, etc.)
  • 22,161 (2%) are used for riding lessons
  • 8,672 (1%) are used for commercial trail rides, sleigh rides or tourist activities
  • 6,745 (0.7%) are raised for meat production
  • 3,854 (0.4%) are used in Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) production
  • 60,701 (6%) are used for other purposes

Minimum acceptable standards of care for horses and other equines are defined in Canada’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines, available from the National Farm Animal Care Council.

Background updated – July 2012


¹ Equine Canada 2010 Canadian Equine Industry Profile Study. http://equinecanada.ca/industry


Abandonment (of an animal): The act of leaving an animal in a situation where the animal must fend for her-/himself. Abandonment is illegal.

Anxiety: A negative emotion experienced in response to uncertainty about one’s environment. Animals experience anxiety most often in new and unfamiliar situations and respond by heightening their vigilance in order to assess the potential for danger. The posture of an anxious animal varies by species.

Distress: A severe negative affective state caused by physical and/or psychological factors. Physical distress may arise when an animal is hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, diseased, injured or in pain to an elevated degree. Psychological distress may arise when an animal experiences fear, anxiety, frustration or depression to an elevated degree.

When used in a legal context¹ by animal protection officers and veterinarians:

“An animal is in distress if it is
(a) deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, ventilation, light, space, exercise, care or veterinary treatment,
(a.1) kept in conditions that are unsanitary
(a.2) not protected from excessive heat or cold,
(b) injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or
(c) abused or neglected.”

¹ Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act [RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 372 (Section 12:1)

Fear: A negative emotion experienced in response to perceived danger or threat, usually accompanied by a physiological stress response.

Five Freedoms: A concept first developed by The Brambell Committee, formed by the UK government to examine the conditions on commercial farms. Now internationally recognized, the Five Freedoms are considered applicable to all animals.

The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms (adapted from the original list) are:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease
  3. Freedom from distress
  4. Freedom from discomfort
  5. Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.

The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms form the basis of the Society’s Charter and describe conditions that must be fulfilled in order to prevent the suffering of all animals in human care. The Society acknowledges that these freedoms are not enforceable and that absolute provision of these freedoms may not be possible, but strongly encourages all animal guardians to strive to provide them.

Humane killing: A method that ensures an animal is either killed instantly or that involves rendering an animal insensible to pain until death ensues.

Insensible: Lacking sensory perception or ability to react to a stimulus.

Pain: An unpleasant sensation generally felt in response to injury, disease or other forms of physical harm.

Stress: The physiological response to a stimulus in order to help an animal cope with his/her environment. The stress response can be associated with either positive emotions (e.g., excitement, arousal) or negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, frustration), depending upon the nature of the stimulus or the animal’s perception of that stimulus.

Suffering: An enduring negative affective state. Suffering is associated with feelings such as pain, hunger, fear and anxiety. All sentient beings are capable of suffering.

Welfare: An animal’s quality of life. An animal’s welfare depends upon both his/her physical health and affective state.

Animals experience good welfare when they are able to experience positive feelings arising from pleasurable activities and the fulfillment of behavioural needs, and when they are free from poor physical health and negative feelings (e.g., pain, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear and frustration).