By Tom Best

ON A daily basis we read or hear about the uncertainty surrounding the future of Britain post-Brexit, so much so that it’s a job knowing exactly what to worry about and more importantly anything to which we can look forward to.

It beggars belief that 18 months on, as a nation we are none the wiser about where our future lies but then again nor did we when we went to the polls to vote on the issue. Hindsight is a great thing, but I really do wonder how the vote would go second time round and perhaps there really is some wisdom in the old maxim: ‘The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.’

That seemed to have little appeal at the time for the Brexiteers. So perhaps, like me, you have pondered the question of how will the departure from the European Union on March 29, 2019, affect you and your horses or ponies?

One thing for sure, there are no answers and no specifics, as the agricultural community will agree and our politicians don’t seem to be any the wiser. I suspect that the funding of our horses and ponies might well be the most important issue to affect all of us and equestrian interests may well be outwith the finances of many people currently involved.

However, thinking positively that we will still have our equestrian interests intact post-Brexit, is there anything on which we should keep an eye?

There has been little on the horizon so far. However, two weeks ago rural and environment secretary, Michael Gove, raised his head above the parapet following a row over the failure of MPs to include animal sentience within the EU withdrawal bill. If, like me, you have no idea what ‘sentience’ means, my Google search tells me that this refers to the recognition that animals perceive and feel among other things emotion and pain.

It doesn’t take much research to know that they do (as anyone working with animals will know) and it does beg the question why it isn’t already recognised in EU regulation. In a written statement to MPS, Gove stated:“This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU.”

We have yet to find out how this will impact on horse/pony owners but it may raise its head in the tougher animal welfare rules which Gove hinted might appear post-Brexit, including a possible ban on live exports. While this may have ramifications for the agricultural industry, it would surely be music to the ears of many horse lovers of the UK.

It would also strengthen the case for greater capacity for the humane killing of horses at slaughter houses across Britain and Scotland. In my view, this is an issue which should have been addressed a long time ago.

The possible entry of horses into the food chain does lead us into the mine field of livestock ID and traceability, one of seven key topics to be found in ‘Farming, Forestry and Rural Issues’ on the Scottish Government’s web pages.

We all know that passports and micro-chipping answer any concerns over this, but the most up-to-date statement on this came on February 19, 2009, from the then Scottish Minister, Richard Lochhead, in the ‘Code of Practice for the welfare of equidae: export of horses and ponies from Great Britain’.

On the subject of passports and microchipping he wrote: The passport helps to:

* Make sure horses treated with certain medicines do not end up as food for human consumption;

* Prevent the sale of a stolen horse, pony or donkey, as the passport will prove its identity.

#Microchipping became compulsory on July 1, 2009 and aids accurate identification as it provides a permanent link between the horse and its passport. Microchipping will also help recover and identify stolen and abandoned horses, as well assist with welfare cases.

The infamous horse meat scandal of 2013 brought greater pressure to bear on EU member states to enforce stricter regulations on the identification of equines through a central database and more robust standards of documentation. The Central Equine Database (CED) has already been allocated to a company for administration by Defra whose consultation on equine identification was due in October, 2017, but not available as yet.

Full implementation of the CED apart, another of the existing problems concerns equines registered with a passport prior to July, 2009, which are unlikely to be micro-chipped. Additionally, there exists groups of ponies for whom derogation has been granted while they remain on designated, remote sites throughout Britain, such as the semi-feral ponies of Wales and the likes of Dartmoor.

Interestingly, 14 of 22 respondents in a 2016 consultation document from the Scottish Government on the implementation of revised EU rules on equine identification in Scotland, felt that all animals born before the 2009 EU implementation date should be micro-chipped.

There are obviously cost implications in such a move, but fairly practical nonetheless – especially in Scotland where there are few abandoned equines, unlike areas of England, Wales and Northern Ireland where the problem has improved but remains significant. Micro-chipping may help solve this problem but only if it is practically possible to enforce.

Enforcement is one thing, but what about the agreement on agricultural policy (equines included) among the devolved government of Scotland, the two assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland and Westminster itself?

I am reliably informed from inside one of the assemblies that Scotland seems to be well ahead on this one but as for a common policy for the UK, that seems a long way off. At the end of the day, one has to wonder how many of the so-called shackles of Euro-bureaucracy will actually be shed and left to the devises of our home-based politicians in whom, justifiably or otherwise, there is little faith. Then, there are government officers, many of whom have no idea how our equestrian industry works.

Does any of this matter post-Brexit or do we dare get it wrong at our peril? Yet another question to ponder.

I sent this e-mail to recently and had an immediate reply from the Animal Health Policy Team which has been dealing with the issue.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have recently come across a Scottish Government consultation document on the ‘Implementation of revised EU rules on equine identification in Scotland’ carried out in 2016. I read the conclusions with interest and wondered if there has been progress made in updating the rules and regulations regarding identification of equidae in Scotland.

I have unsuccessfully tried to find this on-line and will be happy to follow any link which you can provide.


Tom Best

ScotGov’s response:

Dear Sir, We are currently working towards a timetable that would see the introduction of the ‘Equine identification (Scotland, regulations)’ in early 2018. The new domestic legislation will only be applicable in Scotland.

Other administrations in the UK are currently drafting their own domestic legislation. When the ‘Equine identification (Scotland, regulations)’ come into force you will be able to find it through the link available in the e-mail footer below.