Keeping horses commercially

How to meet expected welfare, health and safety standards in the horse industry if keeping horses for commercial purposes in the UK.

This guide is for anyone who keeps horses for either agricultural or non agricultural business purposes such as livery stables. A horse is considered an agricultural animal if it is:

  • used to farm agricultural land

  • farmed for meat or hides

For general advice on owning or looking after a horse, read guidance on keeping horses.

Owning a livery yard

At a livery yard, horses are housed and cared for in return for payment or reward but are not the property of the livery yard owner.

If you own a livery yard you must follow the code of practice for the welfare of the horses you look after. You and your staff should be familiar with the equine industry welfare guidelines compendium for horses, ponies and donkeys.

You can apply to become a certified or approved livery yard through industry groups such as The British Horse Society (BHS) or The Association of British Riding Schools, Livery Yards and Equestrian Centres (ABRS+).

Types of livery

There are different levels of responsibility for livery services:

  • full livery - the livery or yard manager is responsible for the care of the horse

  • part livery - the owner and the livery provider share the management and care of the horse

  • DIY livery - the horse owner is responsible for the care and management of the horse

  • working livery - the livery provider takes part payment and is allowed to use the horse - if this involves hiring out the horse the livery provider needs a licence

  • grass livery - the livery does not provide housing for your horse

Land use and planning for livery stables

Your local planning authority deals with planning applications for livery stables.

You can find up-to-date planning policy statements and guidance on the Planning Portal website.


It’s illegal to graze or abandon horses on public and private land. This is known as ‘fly grazing’.

If you find fly-grazed horses on your land, you must report it to police within 24 hours. If the owner does not claim the horse within 4 days, you can choose to:

  • sell through a private sale
  • sell at a market or public auction
  • gift or rehome

Read the National Equine and Welfare Council’s guidance on fly-grazed horses in England.

Horse manure and other types of waste

Read guidance on dealing with horse waste.

Using exercise pools

If you use an exercise pool, you must:

  • not spread water used to backwash filters on land

  • leave exercise pool water to stand for 7 days after chlorination or other chemical treatment before disposing of it

Storing pool chemicals

You must store pool chemicals in a secure area or tank with secondary containment, preferably with a roof. Your store should be on a sealed base, with a surrounding wall that is resistant to chemical attack. There should be no drainage outlet. If chemicals are spilled, contain them and soak them up using absorbent material.

If chemicals enter or might enter surface water drains, contact the Environment Agency immediately.

Horse ID and transporting horses

In England, you must have a passport for each horse that you own. All your horses must be microchipped. Follow passport rules if you’re importing or exporting a horse or related animal.

Horse welfare during transit

Follow rules on welfare of animals in transport.

Signing horses out of the food chain

Horse passports are used to ensure that horses do not enter the human food chain if they’ve been treated with veterinary medicines harmful to human health. If a vet gives a horse a medicine which is not authorised for food-producing animals, they must sign the relevant section of the passport to exclude the horse from the food chain.

Owners can sign the passport to exclude the horse from the food chain for any other reason.

You should think carefully before signing your animal out of the food chain. Once you’ve signed the passport, you cannot reverse this declaration. It might be more difficult to dispose of your horse when it dies.

Horse diseases

Horses that are imported to the UK for sale and breeding, or that travel from the UK to other countries, may transfer disease.

If you suspect that a horse or other equidae has a notifiable disease you must contact Defra Rural Services immediately.

Defra Rural Services helpline
Telephone (England): 03000 200 301
Telephone (Wales): 0300 303 8268
In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office

Failure to do so is an offence.

Notifiable horse diseases

The following horse diseases are notifiable:

  • African Horse Sickness (AHS)

  • Contagious equine metritis (CEM)

  • Dourine

  • Equine infectious anaemia

  • Equine viral arteritis (EVA)

  • Epizootic lymphangitis

  • Equine viral encephalomyelitis

  • Glanders - including Farcy

  • West Nile Virus

Read the World Health Organisation’s guidance on equine diseases.

Most of the diseases listed do not occur in the UK and are considered low risk for the UK equine population.

CEM occurs sporadically in the UK.

EVA and equine infectious anaemia occur worldwide, including mainland Europe, and have been reported in the UK in the past.

West Nile Virus cases in mainland Europe are increasing.

CEM and EVA can affect equine breeding. Read International Codes of Practice for CEM and EVA by the Horse Betting Levy Board.

Breeding horses

You should consider buying or rehoming a young horse before deciding to breed. You must also consider the foal’s individual future before breeding from your horse.

Learn about responsible breeding through World Horse Welfare’s initiative ‘Need to breed’.

Get help

For advice on keeping horses commercially you can contact:

Defra helpline
Telephone: 03459 335577
Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm Find out about call charges

Environment Agency incident hotline
Telephone: 0800 80 70 60
24 hours, 7 days

The Horse Trust helpline
Telephone: 01494 48 84 64

British Horse Society helpline
Telephone: 02476 84 05 00

National Fallen Stock Company helpline
Telephone: 01335 32 00 14

Updates to this page

Published 7 February 2023

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