As a responsible horse owner, one of the most critical aspects of ensuring the wellbeing of any equine companion is the provision of adequate shelter. With so many different opinions and regulations surrounding the topic, it can be challenging to know what is required by law, and how to navigate the seemingly constantly changing rules around animal welfare.

The answer to the increasingly common question “do horses legally need to have shelter?”, in short, is yes – anyone who owns or cares for horses in New Zealand has a legal obligation to protect their animal from adverse weather and environmental problems.

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 states that animals need shelter to protect them from any weather related problems that could affect their health, including heat stress and its equivalent cold stress. While cold stress is relatively rare in New Zealand, sudden cold snaps and snowstorms can happen, as can other extreme weather events such as those seen across the country in recent years.

Why do horses need to have adequate shade or shelter?

As with all farm animals, horse owners must comply with the minimum standards for animal care and management as stated in the Code Of Welfare. Failure to provide adequate shade or shelter (or meet any other minimum standard) can be used as evidence and result in a criminal prosecution by relevant authorities under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Not only do horse owners legally need to provide shelter, but a lack of shelter will almost always play a significant role in the decline of equine health and wellbeing.

The provision of adequate shelter is particularly important for horses for several reasons:

  • Overheating can significantly impact on the health and wellbeing of a horse, with the larger body horses (such as draught horses) taking longer to cool down than those of smaller body breeds.
  • Any horses which feature white pigmentation of the skin (such as facial markings) will typically burn easier when left out in the sun without adequate shade or shelter.
  • The bane of every horse owner, horse-flies are more prevalent in open sun conditions.
  • High-fibre diets typically ingested by horses give off a lot of heat during digestion, which is somewhat of a double-edged sword – useful in winter for keeping animals warm, but harmful under a hot summer’s sun.
  • Breeds such as Appaloosas and Clydesdales are more susceptible to certain types of eye cancers than other horse breeds, owing to the amount of ‘white’ area around the pupil in the eye.
  • In addition to wild weather and extreme heats, shelter is also useful to ward off disease and ailments associated with rainy, muddy conditions, which often saves owners significantly in vet costs over the long run.

Evaluating the difference between environmental cover and man-made horse shelters

While environmental cover such as trees or hedges which give limited shade and shelter may be able to meet some animal welfare requirements, the provision of artificial shelter such as stables and purpose-built horse shelter structures can greatly improve equine health and are designed to meet and exceed all current standards under the Code Of Welfare.

Well-ventilated, open-style barn structures are known to benefit horses as they provide sufficient coverage without confining the animal to an enclosed area. Horses are known to require ample room to move throughout the day. One option for covered semi-outdoor riding is a dressage arena (such as those produced by SmartShelters).

Where wild horses will typically seek shelter in their surroundings, domesticated and purpose-bred horses that only know their confined paddocks and rely on human intervention will often not move into natural cover to sufficiently cool their bodies, so training their behaviour to move into man-made cover may be required.

Additional tips for providing shelter for horses

The provision of adequate shelter for horses is essential to maintain a high level of animal health, and to comply with the minimum standards laid out in the Code Of Welfare and enforced by the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Further tips for ensuring horses have the right amount of shade and shelter required include:

  • Certain horse breeds, such as Thoroughbred and Standardbred, may have thinner coats and skin, therefore requiring additional shelter compared to other types of horses.
  • Those with multiple horses on one property should ensure there are multiple sheltered areas to provide sufficient cover to each animal.
  • If horses are confined to yards or other small areas, they are more susceptible to extreme temperatures and weather events, given their inability to freely move and regulate their body heat.
  • While horse covers (also known as horse rugs) may be worn by each animal, please note that in the eyes of the appropriate authorities, they are not considered a shelter or shade replacement, so actual shelter must be provided.
  • If using horse covers, make sure these are suitable for the climate and current weather conditions, and carry out regular inspections to ensure they are fitted correctly.
  • To promote healthy eating habits and weight levels, a steady provision of hay or alternative supplemental feed should be provided to horses kept in enclosed shelters during the winter months.

Ensure you meet your legal obligations and safeguard the health of your horses

While horse owners looking to safeguard both the wellbeing of their animals and their own legal obligations have an overwhelming number of options available, the best way to ensure no harm comes to their animal and minimise any risk of not meeting the current minimum standards is to invest in a purpose-built horse shelter or covered dressage arena.

At SmartShelters, we provide a range of high quality, built-to-last farm shelters. Our team of dedicated agricultural industry experts are on hand to assist you with our extensive range of horse barns, arenas, and shelters.

Contact us today