Removing horses who have been abandoned on land without lawful consent (known as fly-grazing) has been a difficult area for landowners for many years.
Under the Animals Act 1971 a horse abandoned on an owner’s land could only be disposed of after 14 days by way of sale at market or public auction. The Control of Horses Act 2015 (“the Act”) which came into force on 26 May 2015 brings in new rules designed to attempt to reduce the number of fly-grazing horses.
The Act gives powers to both local authorities and freeholders or occupiers of land to detain any horse which is on any land in England without lawful authority. This article concentrates on the provisions relating to freeholders or occupiers of land.
Notice of Right to Detain
Once the horse is detained, the freeholder or occupier has 24 hours (beginning with the time from when the horse is first detained) to give notice of the detention to:
(a) The officer in charge of a police station; and
(b) If the person detaining the horse knows to whom the horse belongs, that person.
If such notice is not given within the 24 hour period then the right to detain the horse ceases. If the notice is given then the right to detain the horse is extended to 96 hours, beginning with the time from when the horse was first detained. Any time which falls on a Saturday or Sunday, Good Friday or Christmas Day or a day which is a designed Bank Holiday is disregarded for the purposes of calculation of the 96 hour period.
Claim by Owner
If during the 96 hour period the person entitled to possession of the horse claims it, the right to detain the horse ceases provided that the owner of the horse also complies with the provisions of Section 4A of the Act by tendering money to each person with a claim under this Section sufficient to satisfy the claim.
Claim by Person Detaining Horse
Under Section 4A of the Act the person to whom the horse belongs is liable for:
(a) Any damage done by the horse to:
(i) The land, or
(ii) Any property on it which is in the ownership or possession of the freeholder of occupier of the land, and
(b) Any expenses which are reasonably incurred by a person detaining the horse:
(i) In keeping the horse while it cannot be restored to the owner or while it is being detained; or
(ii) In ascertaining to whom the horse belongs.
Sale or Disposal of Horse
If at the expiry of the 96 hour period no person has claimed the horse, ownership of the horse passes to the person detaining it who may dispose of it by selling it, arranging for it to be destroyed or in any other way.
Net Proceeds of Sale
If after sale of a horse under the Act the proceeds of sale, less the costs of the sale and any related costs exceed the amount of any claims under Section 4A, the excess is recoverable from the person detaining the horse by the person who would have been entitled to possession of it had notice been given within the 96 hour period.
Damages Claim Against Person Detaining the Horse
Those detaining a horse should also be careful to ensure that whilst in their possession the horse is well cared for as that person is liable for any damage caused to the horse by a failure to treat it with reasonable care and supply it with adequate food and water whilst it is in detention.
The purpose of the Act was to discourage the act of fly-grazing but it does not remove any of the difficulties (not to mention associated costs) that a freeholder or occupier will have in finding suitable accommodation in which to detain the horse and subsequent arrangements as regards its sale/disposal. It remains to be seen therefore the extent to which the Act will achieve its intended purpose but at least the time scales during which a horse has to be retained have been significantly reduced.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.