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AAEP Principles of Equine Welfare (2016)

As a voice for equids on issues affecting their well-being, the AAEP believes: 

1. The responsible use of animals for human purposes, such as companionship, food, fiber, recreation, work, education, exhibition, and research conducted for the benefit of both humans and animals, is consistent with the Veterinarian's Oath.¹

 2. Equids must be provided water, food, proper handling, health care and an environment appropriate to their use, with thoughtful consideration for their species-typical biology and behavior.¹

 3. Equids should be cared for in ways that minimize fear, pain, stress and suffering.¹

 4. Equids should be provided with protection from injurious heat or cold and harmful adverse weather conditions.

 5. Equids used in competition, spectator events, shows, exhibitions, motion pictures and television should not be subjected to the fraudulent use of drugs, non-nutritive agents, equipment or procedures intended to alter performance, conformation or appearance.²

 6. Events and activities involving equids should continually strive to put the horse first above all other interests.

 7. Equine industry organizations should identify areas where equids are being subjected to adverse procedures or training methods and work to eliminate any inhumane acts.

 8. Equids should be transported in a manner which minimizes the potential for infirmity, illness, injury, fatigue or other undue suffering during the journey.

 9. Equids shall be treated with respect and dignity throughout their lives and, when necessary and at the appropriate time, be provided a humane death.¹

 10. The veterinary profession shall continually strive to improve equine health and welfare through scientific research, education, collaboration, advocacy and the proposal or support of appropriate legislation and regulations that promote the humane existence of equids.¹

¹Adapted from AVMA Animal Welfare Principles, 2006.

²Adapted from AVMA Policy on Animals Used In Entertainment, Shows, and for Exhibition, 2007.

Revised/Reviewed by AAEP board of directors in 2016.

Position on the Use of Hog Rings (2020)

Cribbing (also known as crib biting or windsucking) is one of many repetitive behaviors known as stereotypies which are sometimes demonstrated by horses. A variety of devices have been utilized to prevent horses from cribbing, including hog rings.
The AAEP opposes the use of hog rings placed around the maxillary incisors to prevent cribbing in horses. These devices are detrimental to the welfare of the horse due to the potential to cause persistent pain, damage to the gingiva, periodontal disease and abrasive wear to adjacent teeth. Hog rings should not be used as an anti-cribbing device.

Position on Equine Exercise (2020)

In circumstances where horse owners are unable to regularly ride or otherwise exercise their horses, caretakers may provide turnout opportunities for horses in a safe enclosure. If safe turnout space is not available, horses should be exercised to maintain physical health and mental wellbeing. Healthy horses should not be confined to a stall for extended periods of time without exercise. Horses owners and caretakers should consult with their regular veterinarian regarding minimum exercise programs for individual horses, dietary modifications to accompany decreased work, and later a safe return to fitness after an extended period of downtime.   

Racehorses in a training and/or racing environment are predisposed to health emergencies and perilous behavior if their exercise routine is abruptly suspended, posing significant risks to horses and handlers. Horses at racetracks and training centers should be allowed controlled exercise in an amount needed to maintain fitness, mental well-being and safety, while adhering to public health protocols that safeguard the welfare of those responsible for their care. Sport horses used in other types of equestrian competition have similar challenges and should be managed with the same considerations in mind.

Approved by the AAEP board of directors, April 2020.

Position on Equids Used in Entertainment, Shows and for Exhibition (2014)

The AAEP supports the humane and ethical use of equids in spectator events, competitions, exhibitions, and entertainment in accordance with existing federal, state and local animal protection laws. Examples include but are not limited to racing, horse shows, polo, rodeo, and audiovisual media such as movies and television. The AAEP encourages all organizations and individuals involved in such events to develop and abide by stringent standardized rules, policies and procedures that ensure equids shall at all times be treated humanely and with dignity, respect and compassion. This should also include proper housing, transportation, nutrition, restraint, management oversight and veterinary care before, during and after use.

The AAEP opposes tripping, injuring or causing the death of horses, mules and donkeys for any entertainment purpose or during the training of such equids for any entertainment purpose and recommends that all equine welfare guidelines or standards be adhered to. Similarly, the AAEP believes that equids used in competition, spectator events, shows, exhibitions, motion pictures and television should not be subjected to the fraudulent use of drugs, non-nutritive agents, equipment or procedures intended to alter performance, conformation, appearance or function.

The AAEP encourages quality, standardized drug testing to ensure equity, fairness and the appropriate use of therapeutic medications.

Certain events involving equids are prohibited in some jurisdictions. The organizers of any kind of competition, spectator event, show, exhibition, motion picture or television production should contact the local and state authorities prior to scheduling such an event to be sure they are acting in accordance with local laws and regulations.

Approved by AAEP board of directors in 2014.

Position on the Practice of Intentional Unilateral Castration (2018)

The removal of a retained testicle, while leaving the descended testicle within the scrotum without permanent identification of the horse as a unilateral castrate, may expose that horse to unnecessary additional invasive surgical procedures. Subsequent efforts to locate and excise the previously removed retained testicle may require extensive abdominal exploration with increasing risk of post-operative complications.

As it is in the best interest of the horse, the AAEP recommends a permanent visual identification of unilateral castrates that is performed by the surgeon at the time of retained testicle removal. The surgeon shall apply an “U” lip tattoo on the lower lip of the horse. Once the tattoo has been applied, the surgeon or designated owner must complete a “Castration Report” to the Jockey Club. Tattooing as means of identification of unilateral castrates will continue at least until a time when an electronic record keeping system and electronic individual animal identification devices meet the immediate identification needs of the equine surgeon. 

Reviewed by the AAEP board of directors in 2018.

Position on Stewardship of the Horse (2016)

The American Association of Equine Practitioners advocates respect for the dignity and the welfare of all horses and recognizes their specialized needs. It is the responsibility of AAEP members to serve as stewards of the horse and to follow practices that promote the health and welfare of the horse.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners champions and fosters: research towards understanding and reducing injuries and illnesses, education to inform and support owners, trainers, event organizers and veterinarians regarding preventive medicine, responsible training and the humane treatment of horses; modern and progressive horse care as insured by periodic examination and disease prevention implemented by licensed veterinarians in partnership with horse owners, breeders and managers, euthanasia when justified by thorough and expedient diagnostic procedures to end inhumane suffering.

Regarding the horse in competition, the American Association of Equine Practitioners advocates: ethical and humane conditions and handling which includes proper housing, transportation and nutrition in the training and care of the competitive horse; standardization of rules, policies and procedures for all equine events to insure maximum safety, health and welfare for all participants; and quality drug testing to assure equity and fairness regarding the regulation and use of appropriate therapeutic medications as they affect the competitive horse.

Reviewed/revised by the AAEP Board of Directors in 2016. 

Position on Transportation and Processing of Horses (2016)

The AAEP advocates the humane treatment of all horses and believes the equine industry and horse owners have a responsibility to provide humane care throughout the life of the horse. However, a small percentage of horses are ultimately unwanted because they are no longer serviceable, are infirm, dangerous, or their owners are no longer able to care for them. 

The AAEP recognizes that the processing of unwanted horses is currently a necessary aspect of the equine industry, and provides a humane alternative to allowing the horse to continue a life of discomfort and pain, and possibly inadequate care or abandonment. The AAEP encourages, fosters and provides education regarding responsible ownership and management that will reduce the number of unwanted horses. In addition, the AAEP supports and commends the efforts of equine retirement facilities and adoption groups. 

Regarding the care of horses destined for processing, the AAEP’s position is that these horses should be: 

  • Treated humanely and with dignity;
  • Transported to the production facility in accordance with the United States Department of Agriculture regulations;
  • Euthanized in a humane manner in accordance with the guidelines established by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). 

In addition, the AAEP recognizes that the human consumption of horsemeat is a cultural and personal issue and does not fall within the purview of the association, whose mission is to improve the health and welfare of the horse. 

Reviewed/revised by the AAEP board of directors in 2016.

Position on the Management of Mares Utilized in the Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) Collection Industry (1996)

Through on-site investigations and peer review of ongoing research, the AAEP believes the collection of urine from pregnant mares and care of their offspring as prescribed by the recommended “Code of Practice,” represents responsible management of horses to produce a commodity for the benefit of man. These practices should not result in abuse, neglect or inhumane treatment of horses. 

The recommended Code of Practice is accessible here

In June 2014, the Equine Ranching Advisory Board developed a white paper on “Care and Oversight of Horses Managed for the Collection of Pregnant Mares’ Urine (PMU).” The AAEP acknowledges the thorough nature of this document and believes it is a good resource for parties interested in the management of PMU horses. Unlike the other white papers available on the AAEP website, this document was not created specifically by the AAEP; it was prepared by the Equine Ranching Advisory Board, many of whom are AAEP members. It was reviewed for inclusion on the AAEP website by the AAEP Welfare and Public Policy Advisory Council. The AAEP does not endorse or support any specific product or company referenced therein. You can read the paper here

Reviewed by AAEP board of directors in 2010.

Position on the Use of Horses in Urban Environments (2020)

The AAEP supports the humane and ethical use of horses in urban environments, such as mounted patrols, tourist carriages and taxi/limousine services, in accordance with federal, state and local animal protection laws. Research has shown that horses in urban settings adapt easily to their surroundings. Horses engaged in these activities require that special working and living conditions and precautions be taken for their safety and well-being. Urban environments present potential health and welfare hazards that may preclude their use, such as extremes of pollution, icy or otherwise slippery surfaces, climate and load. 

Guidelines for the care of individual horses may vary by location. Horses should have access to fresh water and should be staged in areas which provide shelter from adverse weather conditions. The AAEP encourages research into the effects of climate on working horses in urban environments. This would avoid the tendency for setting arbitrary regulations that are based upon the effects of climate on horses in other equestrian activities that experience different levels of work than horses working in urban environments. Provisions concerning work hours, workloads and living conditions, healthcare, feeding, management, standards of driver training, and passenger safety should be prepared for each jurisdiction with the assistance of an equine veterinarian familiar with local conditions. The appropriate licensing standards with recommended minimum guidelines should be established and adhered to by local authorities and funding should be provided for re-inspection and renewal to confirm guidelines are being followed. 

To ensure the health and welfare of horses in urban environments, they should be examined at least annually by competent equine veterinarians familiar with local conditions, with regard to body condition, freedom from lameness and disease, and appropriateness of living conditions and transport, with all findings recorded. 

The equine veterinarian is the most qualified individual to manage the healthcare needs of the horse. The owners and caregivers of horses working in urban settings should have a professional relationship with a veterinary practice with equine expertise that can respond appropriately to all emergencies, including those in which humane euthanasia is required. In the absence of a veterinarian in such a situation, the AAEP acknowledges that it may be necessary for licensed, qualified animal control or trained law enforcement personnel to perform euthanasia using the established guidelines of the American Veterinary Medical Association. A veterinarian should be consulted, if possible, prior to euthanasia by a trained non-veterinarian. Educational programs should be developed for equine veterinarians to train law enforcement and animal control officers in horse handling, emergency assessment, and humane euthanasia.

Position on the Use of Vesicants (2019)

The AAEP does not support the use of vesicants in the management of musculoskeletal disorders and finds no scientific evidence to validate their use in the horse.

Position on the Practice of Soring (2002)

The AAEP condemns the practice of “soring,” as legally defined in the Horse Protection Act of 1970 (HPA), to accentuate a horse’s gait for training or show purposes.

The AAEP supports the efforts of APHIS in the application and enforcement of the HPA as outlined in the APHIS Horse Protection Operating Plan and strongly recommends imposing sufficient sanctions to prevent these practices.

As legally defined in the HPA, “soring” refers to:

1. An irritating or blistering agent has been applied, internally or externally, by a person to any limb of a horse;
2. Any burn, cut or laceration has been inflicted by a person on any limb of a horse;
3. Any tack, nail, screw or chemical agent has been injected by a person or used by a person on any limb of a horse; or
4. Any other substance or device has been used by a person on any limb of a horse or a person has engaged in a practice involving a horse, and, as a result of such application, infliction, injection, use or  practice, such a horse suffers, or can reasonably be expected to suffer, physical pain or distress, inflammation or lameness when walking, trotting or otherwise moving, except that such term does not include such an application, infliction, injection, use or practice in connection with the therapeutic treatment of a horse by or under the supervision of a person licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the State in which such a treatment was given.

For additional information on this issue, please read the AAEP’s white paper “Putting the Horse First: Veterinary Recommendations for Ending the Soring of Tennessee Walking Horses” (2008), available at here.

Reviewed by AAEP board of directors in 2016.

Position on Tail Alteration in Horses (2015)

The American Association of Equine Practitioners condemns the alteration of the tail of the horse for cosmetic or competitive purposes. This includes, but is not limited to, docking, nicking (i.e. cutting) and blocking. When performed for cosmetic purposes, these procedures do not contribute to the health or welfare of the horse and are primarily used for gain in the show ring (nicking/cutting, blocking and docking) or because of historical custom (docking). If a horse’s tail becomes injured or diseased and requires medical or surgical intervention such care should be provided by a licensed veterinarian. 

The AAEP urges all breed associations and disciplines to establish and enforce guidelines to eliminate these practices and to educate their membership on the horse health risks they may create. Members of the AAEP should educate their clients about the potential health risks, welfare concerns, legal and/or regulatory ramifications regarding these procedures based on the relevant jurisdiction and/or association rules. 

Position on Thermocautery or Pin Firing (2019)

When applied judiciously and in conjunction with appropriate analgesia and aftercare, thermocautery or pin firing has been considered an acceptable therapeutic modality for specific conditions in the horse. With the advent of current science-based procedures to treat specific musculoskeletal conditions in the horse, AAEP no longer supports the use of thermocautery or pin firing.

Position on the Management of Bureau of Land Management Wild Horses and Burros (2019)

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have adopted a policy on the Management of Bureau of Land Management Wild Horses and Burros, which reads as follows: 

The wild free-roaming horses and burros on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Western United States are a unique population of animals protected by the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (Public Law 92-195). This act and subsequent amendments provide for the necessary management, protection and control of these animals on public lands. 

At present time, the number of wild horses and burros on the range is three times greater than the appropriate management level determined by the Bureau of Land Management. Historically, herd population numbers have increased at the rate of 15-20% per year. Overpopulation has created welfare risks such as starvation and dehydration due to scarce food and water supplies in some management areas. Current population control methods employed by the BLM, including the removal of excess horses from the range, adoption of gathered horses by private individuals, sex-ratio adjustments and contraceptive vaccines, have not been successful in achieving manageable population numbers. 

The AAEP and AVMA believe multiple strategies are necessary for the wild horse and burro population to reach the desired level that optimizes the health of the animals on the range, while reducing welfare impacts caused by overpopulation in areas of limited resources. 

The AAEP and AVMA endorse the humane management of the wild horse and burro population through a combination of the following strategies: 

A. Ongoing development and use of long-lasting, effective contraceptives in herds where feasible. 

B. Use of permanent sterilization methods such as spaying or castration in selected herds where repeated capture or darting with contraceptive vaccines is not feasible. The AAEP and AVMA encourage research into other methods of permanent sterilization to prevent pregnancy. 

C. Continued removal of animals from areas where the range cannot support a growing population because of the danger of starvation or dehydration or where the population numbers threaten limited rangeland resources and wildlife. 

D. Continued development of new adoption and sales strategies for animals removed from the range. Strategies may include collaboration with private enterprises within the horse industry as well as public sector and non-governmental organizations so that the animals may be utilized for recreation, companionship or placement in privately funded sanctuaries. 

E. Unrestricted sale, which was incorporated into the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act by amendment in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2005, should also be an available management strategy for horses in holding that are over the age of 10 years or have been offered for adoption unsuccessfully three times. 

Additionally, the AAEP and AVMA support the BLM’s existing policy that allows for the humane euthanasia of wild horses and burros for reasons related to health and welfare, including animals that are seriously ill or injured with a poor prognosis for improvement; irreversibly lame; starved with a poor prognosis for recovery; or dangerous. 

While safe and effective long-lasting contraceptive methods are under development, it will be years before they are fully tested and available. The AAEP and AVMA believe short-term and permanent sterilization methods combined with greater private-sale and adoption options will best serve the Bureau of Land Management’s mission to protect the health and welfare of wild horses and burros.

1. American Veterinary Medical Association. AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia available here.

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