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Jill Headford

Posted 15 February 2013
by Jill Headford

Dog attacks horse

My previous blogs on dangerous dogs and horses have attracted a few questions.  The law differs according to whether a dog is merely out of control or actually attacks, whether this happens in a public place or on private property, whether it causes injury, and, most fundamentally, whether the victim is human.  For some questions and answers on dog attacks and what can be done about them.Below are some of the questions we are most often asked by horse owners.

Q       What can I do if a dog attacks my horses in their field?

A        Assuming the dog is in the field without permission and not on a right of way, a Complaint can be made to a Magistrates Court under The Dogs Act 1871 that the dog is ”dangerous and not kept under proper control”.  The Dogs Act 1906 classifies as ”dangerous” for the above purposes any dog “proved to have injured cattle or chased sheep” and “cattle“ for this purpose includes horses mules asses sheep goats and swine.  This form of Complaint can be brought regardless of whether the dog is on public or private land.

Q       What can the Magistrate do about it?

A        Make an Order that the dog be kept under proper control or destroyed.  The penalty can be imposed for non compliance of such an Order.  The Magistrate’s discretion is very wide although destruction orders are rare.  There is no power to impose a fine.

Q       Does “sheep worrying law” apply to horses?

A        Yes.  The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 creates an offence of attacking livestock or chasing them in such a way as may reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering.  Livestock includes cattle sheep goats swine horses and poultry.  However this Act only applies on agricultural land and does not apply at all if the dog is on its owner’s land and the livestock are trespassing (ie have escaped).  The penalty is a modest fine although the dog can be seized and the owner will have to pay all associated expenses to get it back.

Q       If a dog attacks my horse while I am out hacking, what can I do?

A        Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 applies if the attack happens either in a public place or a place where the dog is not allowed to be.  A criminal offence is committed by the owner of the dog (or the person in charge of it) if the dog is “dangerously out of control” or if it injures a person or “there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will do so”.  Cases of actual injury will be penalised more seriously.  However the crucial point about Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 – from a horse owner’s point of view – is that it is aimed at the protection of people rather than horses.  So if a rider trying to protect their horse is put in fear of or at risk of injury, that may well be enough to bring Section 3 into play.  But if the rider is not at risk and not in fear of injury, the only remedy may be a Complaint under Section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871.

Q       Can I get compensation if my horse is injured or ruined?

A        Yes, if you bring a civil claim under the Animals Act 1971 in the County or High Court.  The provisions of the Animals Act 1971 relating to damage caused by horses are notoriously problematic.  However Section 3 on dogs causing damage by killing injuring livestock is very clear – the keeper of the dog is liable for the damage.  Again, livestock includes horses and again there is no liability if the livestock are attacked when straying onto land owned by the keeper of the dog.  The main drawback of using the Animals Act is that the legal costs may very well be disproportionate to the compensation.

If you have been affected by a dog attack on your horse or if your hacking is restricted by nuisance dogs, please contact Jill Headford for advice.




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About the author

Jill Headford

Jill Headford

Partner and Solicitor

A partner in the firm since 1994 and an experienced Court and Tribunal advocate, Jill specialises in resolving disputes and is a member of the Property Litigation Association