The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines

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What does it mean for Canadian horse owners?

By Shelagh Niblock, PAS

Are you aware that a Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines (CPCHE) was published in Canada in 2013? Did you know that Equine Canada, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), and the Canadian Feed Inspection Agency were among the many partners involved in the development of the CPCHE under the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), and that they remain part of the team that supports the industry-recognized recommendations and requirements established within the Code for good equine husbandry? Let’s look at what exactly this equine Code entails.

What is the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines?

The CPCHE is a reference document that is intended to bring guidance to horse owners, and to provide regulatory strength to enforcement agencies working to ensure that horses in Canada are always treated humanely. The objective of the CPCHE is to ensure that horses, like all other livestock, are guaranteed the Five Freedoms:

1) Freedom from hunger and thirst — by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour;

2) Freedom from discomfort — by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;

3) Freedom from pain, injury, and disease — by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment; 

4) Freedom to express normal behaviour — by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animal’s own kind; and,

5) Freedom from fear and distress — by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

The Code was initiated under the umbrella of the NFACC, a group providing leadership at a national level for advancing farm animal welfare. NFACC includes farmers, regulators, scientists, and animal welfare groups collaborating to make science-based decisions on the humane treatment of farmed animals. The CPCHE is just one of a number of codes of practice developed for multiple species of livestock including beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine, goats, and poultry.

Related: Horse Welfare in Canada

Who developed the CPCHE? 

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In 1980, an early code of practice for horses was developed by the Canadian Association of Humane Societies. This early code was an attempt at establishing recommendations for the care of horses, but it was comprised only of recommendations, and there was no means of enforcement to it. The current CPCHE was initiated in 2005 by a Code Development Committee (CDC), acting under the auspices of the NFACC, comprising a range of stakeholders from the equine world including veterinarians, industry leaders, and representation from animal welfare organizations. The CDC for the current equine Code was assisted by the Science Council, a panel of equine veterinarians and equine research scientists tasked with ensuring that the recommendations and requirements eventually to be included in the guide were based on good peer-reviewed research and practical experience. The CPCHE was a work in progress for a number of years, and before it was submitted to the NFACC for publication, it was subjected to a 60-day public review process. All concerns and opinions raised through this process were considered in the revision of the draft version of the Code, and the finalized Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines was submitted to NFACC in 2011 and published in 2013. The last review of the CPCHE was in 2018 and the next is planned for 2023, as all Codes of Practice for each animal species are subject to review every five years.

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We must find a solution for Canada’s unwanted horses that ensures they never suffer. Photo: iStock/Piccerella

What is the purpose of the CPCHE? 

The CDC determined five key management areas that were thought to be the foundation for the humane treatment of all horses, including pleasure horses, performance horses, and horses which are destined for more commercial uses such as PMU mares (mares used for the production of hormones for pharmaceutical use). The five key management areas covered under the Equine Code of Practice include the following: 

  • Facility design and housing; 
  • Health and welfare, including pain management and health care protocols such as teeth, vaccination, and deworming; 
  • Feeding and drinking; 
  • Feedlot horse care; and, 
  • Handling and training. 

Each section within the CPCHE follows a specific format of recommended practices pertaining to the management area, as well as required practices. The required practices are those management practices that have been established in regulations around the humane care and treatment of horses and are, as a result, both mandatory and enforceable. The recommended practices are management practices demonstrated through either research or practice to be the best for ensuring the optimum care and treatment of horses, but are not yet mandatory. The objectives in developing the CPCHE were to provide a document that could serve as an educational guide, a regulatory guide, or as a guide for use in the assessment of equine care. 

Is the CPCHE being used or enforced in Canada now?

The CPCHE is now a foundation document for education, equine husbandry assessment programs, and regulatory agencies.  Requirements established within the Code are enforced by the British Columbia SPCA (BCSPCA) under the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Both the BCSPCA and the Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada (HWAC) promote the use of the Code on their websites. The HWAC offers an online course to familiarize the horse owner with the information contained within the Code. 

Equine Canada encourages participants in equine sport in Canada to familiarize themselves with the Code, and to take an active part in ensuring that horse sports in Canada always support equine welfare. The CVMA also promotes the Code, and many veterinarians use it as an assessment guide when evaluating the suitability of care and housing for the horses in their practice.

Related: Equestrianism and Animal Rights

Despite the review process every five years, there will always be areas of disagreement on the recommendations laid out in the Code. The partners within the NFACC work hard to obtain consensus on controversial areas of livestock production and always fall back on scientific evidence, tempered by the practical experience of the stakeholders in the industry. The CPCHE could possibly have more regulations in it to address management areas, such as long distance transportation of animals or less-than-ideal housing; however, it must be remembered that the development of the CPCHE is a dynamic process affecting an ever-evolving document. Revisions to the current Code are being worked on even now to address management areas which may need more regulation or more specific guidance within the document.

What does this mean for the average horse owner?

Most horse owners will find that they are already practicing many of the management recommendations and requirements laid out within the CPCHE. If, after reading through the Code, you find there are areas within your own barn management that do not meet the recommendation in the CPCHE, it’s always possible to have a To Do list whereby you prioritize items or management areas you want to address over time. The CPCHE is intended to be as much about education as it is about assessment and regulation. However, if a horse owner is in serious breach of the Code, it is advisable to develop a plan with the farm veterinarian as soon as possible to address some of the most pressing issues. Horse owners who are actively working to bring up older facilities to meet Code requirements are always appreciated.

There are instances where the horse owner’s facilities are in no way adequate and it is apparent that horses are suffering as a result. In many of these cases, the SPCA, the role of which is both regulatory and educational, is called because of public concern. In most of these cases, the SPCA will attempt to help facilitate change for the operation, but sometimes sufficient change is not possible and these cases can proceed to a legally enforced seizure of the horse(s) in question.

What role might the CPCHE have in finding a solution for the unwanted horse?

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Snow alone will not meet the water needs of horses, yet a common practice in some areas of Canada is to rely on snow to satisfy their water requirements. The Code specifies that horse owners must provide adequate clean water to maintain health and, in extreme weather, must pay special attention to how much animals are drinking. Photo: Shutterstock/Jsalinero

The CPCHE is undoubtedly a foundation stone in the work being done to ensure that horses in Canada, regardless of their job, always enjoy the Five Freedoms. In the ongoing endeavours of equine welfare groups, the Code will also be critical in ensuring that “the unwanted horse” never suffers needlessly. 

The issue of the horse that has no job and no future as a working horse or pleasure horse is a challenging one in North America. In other parts of the world, where consumption of horse meat is considered acceptable, the issue of the unwanted horse is not so pressing. But in North America we have a wide range of opinion on what is an acceptable solution for the unwanted horse. Regardless of what that solution is, the horse must NEVER suffer. We, as stakeholders in the equine industries we love, owe it to the horses to ensure that even if they are destined for slaughter or euthanization, they are always treated with appropriate care with respect to their transportation, housing, veterinary care, feeding, and their right to feel safe from pain or threats.

Related: Major Threats to Equine Welfare Identified in Research Study

The CPCHE is indeed an important document for Canadian horse owners in more ways than one. It is important for the education of horse owners, and as a baseline for regulatory agencies to enforce the appropriate care for horses. It is also a valuable tool for the assessment of equine facilities, and one that may be used by our equine veterinarians in their efforts to help clients with potential management issues. The CPCHE may well need more clearly defined regulations in the future to facilitate the goal of ensuring that the unwanted horse never suffers, but for that to happen the equine industry must also come to a consensus as to the solution for the unwanted horse in Canada. All Canadian horse owners and equine industries need to own this issue to ensure that we have a CPCHE that protects all horses.

The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines is available online and is downloadable in a PDF format. Consider downloading it and maybe even printing it off this winter. The best way for the CPCHE to work for our horses is to ensure that all stakeholders familiarize themselves with it and take an active interest in ensuring that it represents the best science and the best practical information for the care and handling of Canadian horses.

Shelagh Niblock

Comments

"Thank you, Shelagh Niblock, for bringing awareness to the “Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines” (equine Code) with your article in the 2021 issue of Canada’s Equine Guide.

Requirements within the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals refer to regulatory requirements, or an industry-imposed expectation outlining acceptable practices and fundamental obligations relating to the care of farm animals. Code Requirements are referenced in many but not all Canadian federal, provincial or municipal regulatory jurisdictions.

As written in the “Living by the Code” article, Codes of Practice are intended to be used as an educational tool in the promotion of sound animal husbandry and care practices. Survey results indicate the equine Code is underutilized therefore Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada (HWAC) is leading development of an equine Code awareness and education program. Anyone who owns, works with or is interested in horses is encouraged to access information at www.horsewelfare.ca/equine-code-training. All levels within the equine spectrum from pony club members to racetracks personnel were involved in the development of the program. 

Additional information respecting equine welfare and the equine Code is available on www.horsewelfare.ca."

- Mikki Shatosky, HWAC Executive Director

To submit a comment or letter to the editor, please email editor@horsejournals.com

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