Survey results – Public interference with privately owned horses


Public interference with privately owned horses – Survey results

With the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people walking in the countryside. Comments on social media and some news stories on websites and in magazines have highlighted cases of increased interference with horses in fields, including entering fields, chasing horses, leaving gates open, damaging fencing and gates, feeding horses and allowing dogs or children to chase horses. In 2020, the BHS ran a survey in conjunction with Bristol Vet School.

We also ran an online poll with four closed questions in the middle of February 2021. The poll was launched on the DrDavidMarlin Facebook page. We specifically avoided promoting the poll in any of the Facebook groups that are focused on this issue to try to reduce the risk of responses from those who had experienced interference. However, we still cannot discount that those who have experienced interference may have been more motivated to complete the poll. The poll was live from 18 February 2021 for 7 days. A total of 2745 complete responses were received. Only responses from the UK were accepted.

Key Result Findings:

  • 79% of horse owners reported experiencing members of the public interfering with their horses/ponies on private property (no timescale was specified)
  • 59% stated that this had got worse during the past year whilst 15% said they had not experienced this at all (i.e. interference)
  • 44% of respondents said their horses/ponies had suffered as a result of the actions of the public, with 90 cases where the classification was significant (the examples for significance were specified in the survey as euthanasia or fatality)
  • 72% of owners who had experienced trespass had not reported this to the police. Of 294 incidents reported to the police, in 20% of these the police were considered to have been helpful and 20% they took action, leaving 60% of incidents where the respondents said the police declined to help.

The full results:

Q1. Have you ever experienced members of the public interfering with your horses or ponies on private property? e.g. feeding, entering fields, leaving gates open, etc

Yes – 78.6%
No – 19.3%
Other – 2.1%



Q2. If you have, has this changed during the past year as more people are spending time in the countryside?

Got worse – 59%
Not noticed any change – 19.9%
Got better – 1.5%
Not experienced this – 15.4%
Other 4.2%


Q3. Have you had horses or ponies that have suffered as a result of the actions of members of the public either trespassing or accessing your animals from public spaces?

No – 44.2%
Yes – Mildly – 29.5%
Yes – Moderately (vet involved) – 11%
Yes – Significantly (fatality) – 3.3%
Other – 2.9%


Q4. If you have had members of the public trespassing in your horse and ponies’ fields, etc, have you tried reporting to the police?





Have had trespass reported to police and action taken eg attended or followed up – 3.6%
Have had trespass reported to police and action taken and they have been helpful – 3.6%
Have had trespass and reported to police and they have declined to help – 11.2%
Have had trespass, but not reported to police – 72.4%
Other – 9.1%

These results are being shared with stakeholders who are working to try and educate the non-horse public and or to ensure appropriate support for horse owners.

Free Printable Poster:

The Dr David Marlin Team has produced this poster and encourages horse owners to download, print, and attach it securely to their stables, gates, and field parameters to help warn and try to educate the public about the dangers of feeding horses.

Click here to download an A4 jpg version.
Click here to download an A4 pdf version.


About Author

Dr David Marlin is a physiologist and biochemist who has worked in academia, research and professional sport. He has worked in the equestrian and veterinary world and in human sport, healthcare, medicine and exercise science. In 1989 David obtained his PhD from the UK’s leading sports university, Loughborough University following a four-year study on the responses of Thoroughbred racehorses to exercise and training, undertaken at the renowned Animal Health Trust in Newmarket. You can read David's full biography in the Our Website section.