Rural Heritage Horse Paddock

Draft Horses as Livestock
by Gail Damerow

A change in the legal definition of horses could adversely affect horse owners.

Several states have recently moved toward changing the legal status of horses from livestock to companion animal, non-food animal, or some other similar designation. The reason for the proposed change is that some people believe it would prevent the use of horses for human consumption.

Regardless of your position on that issue, changing the legal status of horses has other possible ramifications, as explained in a joint statement issued by the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Horse Council. It says, in part:

"Livestock" is most commonly defined as animals kept or raised on a farm or ranch and used in a commercial enterprise. The raising of livestock is an agricultural endeavor that promotes the preservation of green space and a way of life many people desire in today's society.

Horses have, traditionally and legally, been considered livestock in the United States, as they are kept and raised on a farm or ranch and are used in commercial enterprises. The horse industry is a major business that makes a significant contribution to the economic well-being of the entire country. The industry has a $112.1-billion impact on the U.S. economy, generates 1,404,400 full-time equivalent jobs, and pays $1.9 billion in taxes to all levels of government.

If the legal status of horses is changed, possible effects on the industry include:

Humane laws. All 50 States have animal anti-cruelty laws. Some laws are written specifically for livestock, others are written specifically for non-livestock. Livestock anti-cruelty laws are usually written to ensure the humane treatment and care these animals deserve, while still providing for the use of the animal. If horses are legally considered non-livestock, livestock anti-cruelty laws will no longer apply.

State and federal support and monies. On the national level the care and regulation of horses and horse-related activities come under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA provides technical expertise and monetary support for such things as: research into the prevention of equine diseases like Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA), Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV), Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis (VEE) and Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM); enforcement of the Horse Protection Act; development and enforcement of the Safe Commercial Transportation of Equine to Slaughter Act.

On the state level, each state's Department of Agriculture is usually charged with the regulation of horse-related activities. Like the USDA, many state Departments of Agriculture assist the horse industry through research and regulatory programs. Changing the livestock status of horses means the possible loss of financial support from the United States Department of Agriculture for research, regulation, and disaster relief.

Tax issues. Under current federal tax law, commercial horse owners and breeders are treated as farmers. This classification has tax ramifications that could change if horses are not considered livestock. Horse owners and breeders could also lose the advantages of state excise and sales taxes laws that consider horses to be livestock. If horses are no longer livestock, horse breeding will no longer be an agricultural endeavor and federal and state taxes for horse operations could increase.

Limited liability laws. Many states have passed limited liability laws, one purpose of which is to protect stable owners, equine event sponsors, and wagon train organizers from lawsuits arising if an individual is injured while attending or participating in such an event. Those involved in the horse industry realize the horse is a potentially dangerous animal and are aware of the risks when dealing with horses. Many of the state limited liability laws pertain not just to horses, but encompass all livestock or farm animals including horses. If horses are no longer considered livestock, a law that so many horse people worked so hard to pass may no longer protect them.

The classification of horses as livestock does not prevent individuals from enjoying their horses as companion animals. Doing so is their privilege, just as others have the right to continue caring for horses as livestock. Changing the state law to legally define horses as companion animals could adversely affect horse owners and breeders without necessarily better protecting the horses.

You would be wise to keep an eye on your state legislature on this issue, educate yourself about possible ramifications if such a classification change is proposed in your state, and band together with fellow horse owners to fight any initiative that might adversely affect your farm's equine activities.

For more information:

website: American Association of Equine Practitioners

website: American Horse Council


Gail Damerow is the former editor of Rural Heritage This article appeared in The Evener 1999 issue.

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13 April 2012 last revision