Legal Questions and Answers for the Horse Community

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Rachel Kosmal McCart
Please note that the following information is not intended to be legal advice or to create an attorney client relationship. Before relying on any information, you should contact an attorney licensed to practice in your state. See also BAEN's legal disclaimer. To submit a question for this column, email your question to Please identify yourself as well as any other parties involved so that we can be sure to avoid conflicts in interest in answering your question. We will keep all parties? identities confidential. By submitting your inquiry to this column, you grant permission for your inquiry to be published and for your inquiry to be edited for length, grammar or clarity. Due to space limitations, we cannot publish an answer to every question we receive, but we do try to provide an unpublished answer by email or telephone. View previous Q&A's in the Legal Solutions Archives.

What Constitutes Horse Abuse or Cruelty?

Q: I know of a horse (not a stallion) that's completely "boxed" in a place that she cannot see outside. Every time someone goes by, she cries out. Would this not be considered "abuse"?

A: In this specific situation, it is likely the size of the enclosure rather than the fact the mare cant see outside that may be unlawful. California Penal Code Section 597t provides in part, Every person who keeps an animal confined in an enclosed area shall provide it with an adequate exercise area.?nbsp; Please contact your city or county animal control and ask them to investigate.

Your question is an excellent one, as opinions among animal lovers often differ about what constitutes animal abuse or cruelty. Here are other activities that are criminal offenses under California law, with offenses pertaining specifically to equines listed first. Note that this list is merely a summary and there are exceptions and clarifications to many of the offenses. California Penal Code sections pertaining to other animals, such as elephants and fighting dogs and birds, are not listed. Your city or county may also have additional regulations.

  1. Poling a horse (causing it to hit or be hit by a pole or other object with the goal of teaching it to jump) or tripping a horse (using a pole or other object to cause a horse to fall or lose its balance). Misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 597(g).
  2. Using what is known as a bristle bur, tack bur or other like device on any horse or animal. Misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50 to $500 under California Penal Code Section 597(k).
  3. Docking a horses tail. Misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 597(n).
  4. Possessing, importing into or exporting from the state, buying, selling, giving away, holding or accepting any horse with the intent of killing, or having another kill a horse if the person knows that any part of the horse will be used for human consumption. Felony punishable by imprisonment for 16 months to three years under California Penal Code Section 598(c).
  5. Offering horsemeat for sale for human consumption. Misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no more than $1,000 or by confinement in jail for 30 days to two years under California Penal Code Section 598(d).
  6. With respect to a police horse or dog in the line of duty, willfully and maliciously with no legal justification striking, beating, kicking, cutting, stabbing, shooting with a firearm, administering any poison or other harmful or stupefying substance to, throwing, hurling or projecting at, placing any rock, object or other substance which is capable of producing injury and likely to produce injury. Public offense punishable, depending upon the severity of the injury by a fine of $2000 or less, imprisonment in a county jail for a year or less, or imprisonment in a state prison for 16 months to three years under California Penal Code Section 600.
  7. Selling, attempting to sell, loading, causing to be loaded, transporting or attempting to transport any live equine that is disabled if the animal is intended to be sold, loaded or transported for commercial slaughter outside of the state. Misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $20,000 under California Penal Code Section 597(x).
  8. Willfully poisoning an animal or exposing it to a poisonous substance. Misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 596.
  9. Maliciously and intentionally maiming, mutilating, torturing, wounding or killing a living animal. Misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $20,000 under California Penal Code Section 597(a)
  10. Overdriving, overloading, driving when overloaded, overworking, torturing, tormenting, depriving of necessary sustenance, drink or shelter, cruelly beating, mutilating or cruelly killing any animal. Felony or misdemeanor punishable by fine up of to $20,000 under California Penal Code Section 597(b).
  11. Subjecting an animal to needless suffering, inflicting unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, in any manner abusing the animal, failing to provide the animal with proper food, drink or shelter or protection from the weather, or riding or otherwise using an animal when unfit for labor. Felony or misdemeanor punishable by fine up of to $20,000 under California Penal Code Section 597(b)
  12. Permitting an animal to be in any building, enclosure, lane, street, square or lot of any city, county, city and county or judicial district without proper care and attention. Misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 597.1(a). Note that this offense covers only abandonment of an animal on public property and would not apply to leaving a horse on private property, such as a boarding stable. Interestingly, if you have a horse, mule, donkey or burro and you want to give them up, California Penal Code Section 597.2 requires your local publicly-funded pound or humane society to assist you (but not necessarily by taking possession of the equine for you).
  13. With respect to a domestic animal, carrying or causing to be carried in or upon any vehicle in a cruel or inhuman manner. Misdemeanor under California Penal Code Section 597a.

Shocked at some of the seemingly small penalties for some of the offenses? Think that there are some critical omissions? You can contact your California state legislators. Many of the above laws, such as those prohibiting equine slaughter, were enacted because of the actions of concerned citizens ?you CAN make a difference!

About the Author: Rachel Kosmal McCart, the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, is a lifelong horsewoman and experienced lawyer. Equine Legal Solutions, the Legal Counsel with Horse Sense TM , offers a full range of legal services for the horse community, including dispute resolution, customized contracts and risk management assessment.
Copyright ©2008 Equine Legal Solutions and the Bay Area Equestrian Network. All rights reserved. The above article is the property of the Author and may not be duplicated or redistributed in any way without permission.