Draft Horses as Livestock
by Gail Damerow
A change in the legal definition of horses could adversely affect horse
Several states have recently moved toward changing the legal status
of horses from livestock to companion animal, non-food animal, or some other
similar designation. The reason for the proposed change is that some people
believe it would prevent the use of horses for human consumption.
Regardless of your position on that issue, changing the legal status of
horses has other possible ramifications, as explained in a joint statement
issued by the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American
Horse Council. It says, in part:
"Livestock" is most commonly defined as animals kept or raised on
a farm or ranch and used in a commercial enterprise. The raising of livestock is
an agricultural endeavor that promotes the preservation of green space and a way
of life many people desire in today's society.
Horses have, traditionally and legally, been considered livestock in the
United States, as they are kept and raised on a farm or ranch and are used in
commercial enterprises. The horse industry is a major business that makes a
significant contribution to the economic well-being of the entire country. The
industry has a $112.1-billion impact on the U.S. economy, generates 1,404,400
full-time equivalent jobs, and pays $1.9 billion in taxes to all levels of
If the legal status of horses is changed, possible effects on the industry
Humane laws. All 50 States have animal anti-cruelty laws. Some laws
are written specifically for livestock, others are written specifically for
non-livestock. Livestock anti-cruelty laws are usually written to ensure the
humane treatment and care these animals deserve, while still providing for the
use of the animal. If horses are legally considered non-livestock, livestock
anti-cruelty laws will no longer apply.
State and federal support and monies. On the national level the care
and regulation of horses and horse-related activities come under the purview of
the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA provides technical
expertise and monetary support for such things as: research into the prevention
of equine diseases like Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA), Vesicular Stomatitis Virus
(VSV), Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis (VEE) and Contagious Equine Metritis
(CEM); enforcement of the Horse Protection Act; development and enforcement of
the Safe Commercial Transportation of Equine to Slaughter Act.
On the state level, each state's Department of Agriculture is usually
charged with the regulation of horse-related activities. Like the USDA, many
state Departments of Agriculture assist the horse industry through research and
regulatory programs. Changing the livestock status of horses means the possible
loss of financial support from the United States Department of Agriculture for
research, regulation, and disaster relief.
Tax issues. Under current federal tax law, commercial horse owners
and breeders are treated as farmers. This classification has tax ramifications
that could change if horses are not considered livestock. Horse owners and
breeders could also lose the advantages of state excise and sales taxes laws
that consider horses to be livestock. If horses are no longer livestock, horse
breeding will no longer be an agricultural endeavor and federal and state taxes
for horse operations could increase.
Limited liability laws. Many states have passed limited liability
laws, one purpose of which is to protect stable owners, equine event sponsors,
and wagon train organizers from lawsuits arising if an individual is injured
while attending or participating in such an event. Those involved in the horse
industry realize the horse is a potentially dangerous animal and are aware of
the risks when dealing with horses. Many of the state limited liability laws
pertain not just to horses, but encompass all livestock or farm animals
including horses. If horses are no longer considered livestock, a law that so
many horse people worked so hard to pass may no longer protect them.
The classification of horses as livestock does not prevent individuals from
enjoying their horses as companion animals. Doing so is their privilege, just as
others have the right to continue caring for horses as livestock. Changing the
state law to legally define horses as companion animals could adversely affect
horse owners and breeders without necessarily better protecting the horses.
You would be wise to keep an eye on your state legislature on this issue,
educate yourself about possible ramifications if such a classification change is
proposed in your state, and band together with fellow horse owners to fight any
initiative that might adversely affect your farm's equine activities.
For more information:
American Association of Equine
Gail Damerow is the former editor of
This article appeared in The Evener 1999 issue.