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Licensing riding establishments and other premises / Hiring out horses in England

Licensing riding establishments and other premises / Hiring out horses in England under the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018

Under the regulations the hiring out of horses is required by law to be licensed by the local authority in which the establishment operates.

A licence may only be issued or denied by the local authority following an inspection and report by a suitably qualified inspector.  If the inspector that is appointed is not a listed veterinarian, the local authority must appoint a listed veterinarian to inspect the premises with the inspector (the Regulations paragraph 4 (4)).

“4.(4) On receipt of an application in writing for the grant or renewal of a licence in respect of the activity described in paragraph 6 of Schedule 1, if no inspector appointed under paragraph (2)(a) is a listed veterinarian, the local authority must appoint a listed veterinarian to inspect the premises with the inspector appointed under that paragraph”

This means that before a licence is granted or renewed, the premises must be inspected by either:

  1. A suitably qualified inspector appointed by the local authority accompanied by a listed veterinarian, or
  2. A listed veterinarian, as a suitably qualified inspector appointed by the local authority.

If a listed veterinarian is carrying out the visit both as the veterinarian and the suitably qualified inspector (2), they must be authorised and appointed as an inspector under the Animal Welfare Act by the local authority for which they are carrying out the inspection.  The veterinarian must be provided with documentation to this effect, if they are not authorised and appointed correctly, they do not have any powers to inspect the premises or records.

It is strongly recommended that a Local Authority suitably qualified Inspector always attends with the Veterinary Inspector, and takes responsibility for checking the required written records, Health and Safety procedures and suitability of any issued personal protective equipment at any inspection involving the granting or renewing of a licence.  The annual (interim) inspections are carried out solely by the Veterinary Inspector.

Scope of the regulations

The term “licensable activity” means

“Hiring out horses in the course of a business for either or both of the following purposes – (a) riding; (b) instruction in riding.”

In scope activities will include riding schools, trekking centres, pony parties (but only where the ponies are ridden), hunter hirelings, polo/polocrosse instruction and hire, pony and donkey rides.

Out of scope activities are pony parties where none of the ponies are ridden (these should be licensed as animal exhibits); activities that are carried out solely for military or police purposes; riding stables that are used exclusively for instructing veterinary students at university for the purpose of their course and individuals who occasionally lend a horse, even if a small fee is charged, where there is no intent to make a profit.

There is an exemption where if trading income is less than £1000 the business would not need to be considered in the context of ‘hiring horses in the course of a business…’.  It is the local authority who are responsible for determining whether or not this exemption is applicable.

Length of licence and star rating

The star ratings and length of licence are determined on whether the business is meeting the minimum or higher standards as well as the business risk rating.  The guidance requires the Local Authority to address the following questions, based on the inspection and on records of past compliance, to determine the length of licence and associated star rating:

  1. Does the business meet the minimum standards?
  2. Does the business meet the higher standards?
  3. Is the business low or higher risk?

A business meeting the higher standards, that is classed as low risk, can obtain a 5 star, 3 year licence. The maximum star rating and length of licence a business attaining only the minimum standards can obtain, is a 3 star, 2 year licence.

Higher standards - meeting these optional higher standards is the only way for a business to gain a star rating higher than 3. The higher standards are classified in two types – required and optional.  To qualify as meeting the higher standards the business needs to achieve all of the required standards and a minimum of 50% of the optional higher standards.

New businesses (previously unlicensed) will need to meet all of the minimum standards outlined in the Guidance notes for conditions for hiring out horses (November 2018).  There is no option within the regulations for provisional licences.  The guidance is very specific that a licence will not be issued to new businesses that fail to meet all of the minimum standards. 

It is important when carrying out an inspection, that inspectors are aware of the wording within the guidance, some of the guidance is a ‘must’ and other areas are ‘should’.  For example under Section 5. Suitable Environment the guidance states:

  • There must not be any sharp edges, projections, rough edges or other hazards which present risk of injury to a horse.
  • Interior surfaces, including floors, should be even, impervious and able to be disinfected, where appropriate.  Floors must have a non-slip surface.

A new business can only obtain a 1 year, 2 star licence for meeting the minimum standards or a 2 year, 4 star licence if they meet the higher standards, as they will have no compliance history with the local authority and are therefore classed as high risk. 

Existing businesses that fail to meet the minimum standards can still obtain a licence as long as the failings are predominantly administrative and do not compromise the welfare of the animals.  In this case, only a 1 year, 1 star licence can be obtained.  A business that makes the necessary improvements to address any non-compliances can request a re-inspection for re-rating purposes.

Further information on the length of a licence and star ratings is available in guidance produced by Defra -

The Animals Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018. Procedural guidance notes for local authorities (October 2018).

Interim inspections

Regardless of the total length of the licence, there is a requirement for an annual inspection by a listed Veterinary Inspector.  This inspection should be arranged by the local authority and take place before the end of the first year after the licence is granted and then each subsequent year.  The intention of these interim inspections is to confirm ongoing compliance with the animal welfare requirements of the regulations and report any concerns to the local authority.

Suspension, variation and revocation

A local authority may suspend, vary or revoke a licence at any time, where satisfied that the licence conditions are not being complied with, there has been a breach of the regulations, the licence holder has supplied false or misleading information, or it is necessary to protect the welfare of an animal.

Changes to the list of horses

Only horses specified in the list of horses appended to the licence may be used for the licensable activity.  The licence conditions must clearly state the name, UELN and microchip number of all horses at the premises used for the activity. 

Any changes to the list of horses must be notified to the local authority by the licence holder; with evidence that a veterinarian has deemed any new horse as fit for the purpose, the licence will then be varied by the local authority. 

Full guidance on premises that require or are exempt from inspection and details of the requirements of the inspection, can be found here on the RCVS website: Riding Establishment Guidelines (England)

And in guidance produce by Defra: 

The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018. Guidance notes for conditions for hiring out horses (November 2018)