We are regularly asked whether horse owners may transport their horses during the coronavirus outbreak, or whether this activity would amount to a breach of the laws introduced by the government to slow the rate of infection.
We await further detail on how amended restrictions will operate following the Prime Minister’s statement on 10 May 2020. But the Coronavirus Act 2020 provides that the Secretary of State has the power to restrict travel and gatherings of groups of people. The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Restrictions Regulations 2020 then imposed the ban on leaving home “without reasonable excuse”. Section 6 of these Regulations sets out a list of examples of what would amount to a reasonable excuse, but it is not restricted to those examples – there may be many more that would be reasonable, depending on the surrounding circumstances. Separate regulations govern Wales and Northern Ireland.
The question of what is reasonable in a particular case would, in practice, first be determined by a police officer who could stop an individual and question them as to where they were going. If it was determined that the individual did not have a reasonable excuse, they could be fined.
The concept of reasonableness is pervasive in law. It is, necessarily, an elastic concept and depends upon the particular circumstances of each case. It would, obviously, be impossible for the government to enact any legislation that set out a prescriptive category of what would and would not be reasonable. The question of reasonableness has to vary with the circumstances.
The government has given a lot of advice to the public around the question of what is and what isn’t reasonable, and police forces have done the same. In England, the latest government advice tells us that we should stay at home “as much as possible”, but some restrictions have been lifted. In England, it would not now be unlawful to drive elsewhere to exercise, provided it is safe to do so. In Wales and Northern Ireland, however, that is not the case. In Wales, it is still unlawful to travel a ‘significant distance’ from home.
There is nothing in the legislation or guidance for any part of the UK that overtly bans the transport of horses for leisure. On one analysis, if in England the public can take their dog in the car to another place to exercise together, it could be argued that it is perfectly reasonable for them to take their horse in order to exercise the horse.
However, there is a significant prospect that the police, who have a wide discretion to apply this law, would take the view that travelling with your horse for the purpose of exercise was not an activity that had a reasonable excuse. We suspect that the in the coming weeks in particular, and as the new guidelines bed in in England, the police may take a particularly strict approach to discourage those who seek to take the new rules further than they consider reasonable. Obviously, these rules are under constant review and are likely to continue to change too.
It is essentially a question for the individual as to whether they feel that, in their circumstances, their journey has a reasonable excuse. In any event, and even if the journey has a reasonable excuse, then the rules on social distancing should always be adhered to, including limiting close contact to people who are in the same household, and maintaining two metres’ distance between people wherever possible.
Finally, we must not lose sight of the fact that horse riding is a high-risk activity. If you were injured and needed to call an ambulance, that would inevitably place strain on the NHS, which is unwelcome at this time.
The safest course of action is probably not to travel with your horse unless this really is essential. Travel for welfare reasons would fall into this category. Provided the rules are followed, and the rate of infection continues to fall, we should all be able to enjoy our horses safely soon.
This article reflects the law and associated government advice at the time of writing. This advice is continuously being updated and you are advised to check the latest updates through the gov.uk website.