A Look at Switzerland’s Equine Protection Laws

Switzerland is a leader in animal rights legislation, and the impact on horse management is significant.
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Imagine a world where it’s forbidden to give horses anything but the highest standards of welfare. Hyperflexion is illegal, and barbed wire is outlawed. Keeping horses separate from other horses is forbidden, and even ear and muzzle shaving is punishable by fines.

Such a pro-welfare state is no fantasy. Since 2008 Switzerland has led the world in animal rights legislation, and the impact on equine management is significant. Anja Zollinger, BSc, a researcher from Agroscope at the Swiss National Stud Farm in Avenches, said statistics are showing impressive levels of compliance.

“Already, between 1997 and 2004, there was a 21% drop in the number of horses housed in individual box stalls and a 160% increase in those housed in stalls with free-access outdoor paddocks—and this was before legislation was passed on these requirements,” she said during a presentation at the 2015 French Equine Ethology Day, held April 9 in Saumur. In the same period, there was a 25% increase in horses stalled in groups, a 108% increase in those housed in group stalls with free-access paddocks, and a 50% increase in those allowed to interact with other horses.

Since 2008 new equid-specific Swiss laws require that all horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules be able to see, smell, and hear other equids, Zollinger said. “It’s impossible now to keep a horse alone,” even if it’s accompanied by other herbivores like cows or goats. Further, young horses (up to two-and-a-half years old) must be kept in groups

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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