Your horse. Your choice
Protecting the barefoot option for our horses
Following the conviction on 2nd October 2014 of barefoot trimmer Ben Street, Ian Lawrie QC and Sunyana Sharma of 3PB Chambers, have issued some advice for owners and trimmers of barefoot horses. Ben was prosecuted by the RSPCA, under the Animal Welfare Act.
Ian Lawrie’s advice, which can be found in full here, can be summarised as follows.
- Accept any assertion the RSPCA Inspector may make that the RSPCA have statutory support for their actions.
- Let the RSPCA on your premises
- Answer any questions
- Allow them to remove your animals
- If the RSPCA Inspector is already on your premises, ask on whose authority he/she has come
- Ask them why they are on your premises.
- Ask him/her to leave
The prosecution of Ben Street was brought by the RSPCA and funded by charitable donations made to the RSPCA. The prosecution started life as a complaint from a farrier, Jonathan Nunn, to the FRC who in turn referred the complaint to the local branch of the RSPCA where the inspector was, yes you guessed it, a farrier.
Background to the continuing persecution of barefoot trimmers
The persecution of barefoot trimmers began with the FRC, the trade organisation governing the shoeing of horses in the UK, bringing prosecutions for “unlawful farriery” against UK based equine podiatrists, such as the one brought in September 2012 against Tom Bowyer.
It has now extended to the RSPCA bringing prosecutions for alleged cruelty, for trimming horses’ feet and applying glue-on boots.
The right to prosecute members of the public was conferred upon the FRC by the 1975 Farriers Registration Act, and the maximum fine is £1000.
In the case of the RSPCA, they are just exercising a right we all share to prosecute where we consider someone has broken the law. They also say that “In most cases, we don’t have to resort to prosecution because other prevention methods work, and this is our ultimate aim.”
Rather surprisingly where, as in the case of farrier Mark Wellfair, there was clear evidence of suffering caused by intentional cruelty, they took no action at all. While in the case of Ben Street they went straight for prosecution.
Mark Wellfair ripped off the shoes of several horses, in a fit of anger, causing severe damage to the horses’ feet and no doubt considerable suffering. The FRC merely suspended him for 3 months and the poor owner had to fund a civil action against him to recover a small amount of compensation.
The two charges were brought under Section 4, sub-section 1, and Section 9, sub-section 1, of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
In bringing the prosecution they acted on a complaint made by a farrier, Jonathan Nunn, and sent an RSPCA Inspector, Jackie Hickman, also a farrier, round to interview Ben Street under caution. Ben’s alleged crime? That after looking after the feet of Thomas for more than a year, and helping to improve Thomas’ feet, on one occasion in February 2013 he allegedly over-trimmed and over-bevelled Thomas’ feet and then later applied glue-on boots, allegedly causing Thomas unnecessary pain and suffering.
But the photos of Thomas’ feet produced by the prosecution in Court were of such poor quality it was impossible for anyone to truly judge whether these claims were correct, a point made by both Siobhan Dillon (equine podiatrist) and Edward de Beaukalear (equine vet). Sadly their evidence was subsequently ignored by the judge when he decided to convict Ben on both counts.
Prosecution of Tom Bowyer – September 2012
On Monday 3rd September 2012 Tom Bowyer, the second equine podiatrist to receive a summons for this offence, and the first to appear in court, pleaded guilty to two charges of unlawful farriery on the same horse. With no legal aid to cover the cost of his defence – estimated to be up to £20,000 – and no wealthy trade organisation to support him, he felt he had little choice. The court accepted that Tom had caused the horse no harm. Despite this, the magistrates fined Tom £900 and ordered him to pay £1000 towards the prosecution’s (ie the FRC’s) costs.
Flexible hoof wraps, such as Tom applied, are widely used by equine podiatrists, and other barefoot hoof care providers to support the damaged hoof in the period after a horse’s shoes are first removed. They can also be used to support weak hoof structures, such as my daughter Katie’s horse Pepsi has suffered from.
And so it is likely that, emboldened by the success of this transparent attempt to drive out competition, the FRC will mount further prosecutions under this Act against both barefoot hoof care providers, such as Tom, and owners like us who employ them to care for our horses.
Indeed they have now signalled their intention to do so very strongly on their website.
Like Tom Bowyer, the equine podiatrists, and other hoof care providers concerned, face both large fines and significant legal costs, especially if they try to defend their actions. And while the FRC has deep pockets and is able to afford the best legal representation, barefoot hoof care providers operate as individuals, with no such financial backing.
We’ve set up this website and have started this campaign to try to redress this massive imbalance.
But, just as important, more such prosecutions by the FRC risk driving this vital sector of the hoof care market underground or, worse, destroying it completely. And it will severely restrict our rights as owners to do what we believe is best for our horses.
The barefoot choice is not everyone’s; indeed barefoot horses remain a small, albeit growing part of the equine population. But, as I know from the experience of my three horses, it is a choice worth preserving and therefore worth fighting for. My wonderful horse Toby would not be functioning at the level he is today, if we hadn’t chosen the barefoot option. And the early use of flexible hoof wraps was fundamental to making the barefoot option work for him.
If you dislike the idea of the big guys using their financial strength to bully us into accepting that their way is the only way, then please let us know by joining our campaign.
Remember it’s not just the rights of individual barefoot hoof care providers we’re protecting here, but those of the entire community of horse owners.