Abandoned and fly grazing horses
Follow our advice to understand what you can do if you find an abandoned or fly grazing horse.
Abandoned and fly grazing horses are sadly not uncommon. However, legislation has made it easier for authorities, and public and private landowners to act quickly to protect the horse's welfare.
This guide should not be read as legal advice.
What is an abandoned or fly grazing horse?
There are differences between an abandoned and fly grazing horse.
Fly grazing horses have been deliberately allowed to graze on land without the landowner's permission. This includes those who originally had permission to graze their horse there at first, but the agreement with the landowner has now come to an end.
Abandoned horses have been deliberately left by their owner either permanently or for a long enough period of time for their needs not to be met, or to risk unnecessary suffering.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes a person guilty of an offence if they fail to ensure that the needs of their horses are met.
Read more on Gov.UK's code of practice for the welfare of horses.
I have found an abandoned horse. What should I do?
If you have found an abandoned horse and you're not the landowner, contact the landowner as soon as possible. If you do not know who the landowner is, you can contact your local police station, local authority or the RSPCA, who can advise you further based on the situation.
If you find a horse wandering in the road, call the police immediately. If there's a danger to road users, call 999, otherwise, call the non-emergency number, 101.
What to do if you find an abandoned or fly grazing horse on your land
If you are a public or private landowner and have found an abandoned horse on your land, there are some steps you can take.
The Control of Horses Act 2015 gives landowners in England the right to detain any horses that are abandoned or fly grazing on their land. If you detain an abandoned or fly grazing horse, you should:
- call your local police station to notify the officer in charge within 24 hours of detaining the horse and ask for an incident number. This is a legal requirement.
- put up an abandonment notice. This is not legally required, but we recommend putting up a notice, even if you suspect the horse is being fly grazed. You should leave the notice up for a minimum of four working days to allow the owner to respond. Download our equine abandonment notice template below.
- keep a record of all of your actions involving the horse's care and any photo evidence of damage to your land. This will help prove that you have acted in the horse’s best interests and cover you in case of any future claims.
- check whether the horse has a freeze mark – if you can see a freeze mark without getting too close to the horse, make a note of it and contact Premier Equimark for advice on 01938 570158
If the horse has not been claimed after 96 hours, ownership will legally be passed on to you. You can keep the horse, sell or rehome the horse, or you can contact a bailiff with experience of removing animals.
If you are considering rehoming an abandoned horse, our experienced team can provide help and support. Get in touch with us as soon as possible.
If you do wish to sell or rehome the horse, the horse will need a microchip and a valid passport – getting hold of the horse's passport may be difficult. If you need support with this, contact DEFRA for advice.
While the horse is detained on your land, you are legally required to meet their welfare needs. If you think the horse has been abandoned in a poor condition, contact the RSPCA.
What to do if the owner comes forward
If you are approached by someone claiming to be the owner of the horse, you can:
- check that they are the real owner by asking to see the horse’s passport, which they should possess by law. You can also ask for evidence of ownership, such a photographs or an accurate description of the horse. If you are unsure whether the person is the legal owner, contact the police for advice.
- keep hold of the horse until the owner has reimbursed you for any damage to your property
- keep the horse if the owner refuses to pay within 96 hours from when the horse was first detained
Contact your local authority if you find an abandoned or fly grazing horse on your land in Wales. Under the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014, landowners do not have the power to detain a horse in Wales, only the local authority can do this.
There is no specific legislation that covers fly grazing in Scotland, however animal welfare is taken very seriously under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, including abandonment.
If you suspect a horse has been fly grazed or abandoned on your land in Scotland, contact your local authority, or the SSPCA animal helpline on 03000 999 999 for advice.
Like Scotland, there is no specific legislation that covers fly grazing in Northern Ireland. So, if you find an abandoned or fly grazing horse on your land in Northern Ireland, it's advised to:
- contact the Police Service of Northern Ireland
- the Police Service of Northern Ireland will usually issue you with an incident number and advise that you display an abandonment notice
- ownership will automatically be transferred to you as the land owner if the horse is not removed within two weeks. You can then choose to keep, sell or rehome the horse, as long as they have a valid passport.
Taking care of the horse’s welfare
You'll need to care for the horse's welfare while they're on your land. This includes making sure that the horse is contained in a safe and enclosed area and supplying them with adequate food and water.
Do not approach the horse unless you need to, as a horse that has been abandoned is likely to be frightened. If you keep your own horses, make sure that the horse is not within touching distance – this will help reduce the spread of infectious diseases.
If the horse is injured, thin or looks unwell, contact the RSPCA.
Read more about what horses need.
Preventing fly grazing and abandoned horses on your land
As a land owner, there are steps you can take to make it more difficult for horses to be abandoned on your land, including:
- locking field gates, especially when the gates provide access to a public road
- if practical, plough or fence off areas of your field that are particularly vulnerable. Abandoned and fly grazing horses are most often left where there is grass.
- not allowing horses on your land without a written agreement, even temporarily
- set up security cameras on your land to act as a deterrent
- considering fly grazing insurance – this is available through several insurance companies
Livery yard owners
Unfortunately, some cases have been reported of owners booking into a livery with the intention of abandoning their horse. These tips should help you lessen the risk:
- Create a written agreement for new clients and ask for fees up front for a few months – this should act as a deterrent
- Confirm the client’s address by posting the contract to them and asking them to sign and return it. You could also ask for proof of address, such as a driving licence or utility bills.
- Ask to see the horse’s passport before agreeing to take on the horse. By law, the passport should be kept where the horse is kept.
I have found a tethered horse. What can I do?
A tethered horse is a horse that is secured using rope or a chain, and unable to move outside of a certain radius. Tethering a horse as a lone action is not illegal, but authorities including the RSPCA, can act if their needs are not being met or if there is potential suffering.
If a tethered horse is abandoned on private land and it has led to unnecessary suffering, supply the horse with adequate food and water if possible, and contact your local authority or the RSPCA – they will be able to help.
The term 'horses' refers to all equines.
• 3 July 2023
• 6 July 2026