Have you ever bristled when someone called your horse “livestock”? Maybe you’ve rolled your eyes when someone referred to a working ranch horse as a “pet”? If so, you’re familiar with the age old question – are horses pets or livestock?
The case for horses being classified as livestock.
When horses were used regularly in farming, they were considered livestock. They pulled plows, cleared the land, and were generally accepted as working animals. Fast forward a century or so, and the line between livestock and pet has blurred. The vast majority of horses in the US are now kept for recreational purposes rather than for “work” but they don’t quite fall into the same “pet” category as cats and dogs.
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R. 2), also known as the Farm Bill, removed horses from the “pets” group and created a stand alone category for them so they could be included in the PAWS (Pet And Women Safety) Act allowing them to be covered under domestic violence legislation along with companion and service animals. They are still classified as “livestock” on a broader scale, which the equine industry as a whole considers to be beneficial for reasons of legislation, research, and availability of funding.
While horses are legally considered livestock under US law, that’s not the case around the rest of the world, and not how the majority of recreational riders see it.
Horses as pets
The case for horses being classified as pets.
According to the U.K.’s Agricultural Holding Act 1986, the classification of horses as livestock only includes horses “kept for their meat, hides or for use in farming the land, such as ploughing or drawing farm vehicles. They do not include horses kept for recreational, stud or equestrian purposes”. This is probably how most of us think of horses. Little girls don’t dream of getting ponies for Christmas so they can go out and plow the back 40!
Making the case for horses as pets, humans’ relationships with horses are very different compared to other animals – however they’re categorized. People don’t often form as deep a bond with a cow, sheep or other “farm animal” as they do with a horse.
There is also an amazing level of trust in our relationship with horses – and it goes both ways. Humans are predators, horses are prey animals, and yet they trust us not only to put a halter on them and lead them, but to pick up their feet, and even sit on their backs. When you think of horses in the wild, any of those situations could put them in an extremely dangerous position.
When we humans do the haltering, leading, hoof cleaning, and riding, we’re also putting ourselves in a position that could be very dangerous. And yet we have forged this deep bond with these beautiful, trusting creatures. We literally trust each other with our lives.
Why it may not matter.
In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if we call horses livestock, pets, or something else altogether. What they offer to us is not something that can be described in such simple terms. They truly occupy a unique place in our history, our present, and our future, and I, for one, am glad to be able to call them friends.
I am lucky to know many people that enjoy Horses as Pets as well as those who see that as a tool to run their farm or ranch.
Jody Miller is a professional photographer specializing in Horse Photography, Equine Photography, and Equestrian photography. Her work can be viewed online here in her gallery section, and she is also featured at these Arizona Galleries: Van Gogh’s Ear Gallery on Whiskey Row in Prescott, AZ and Coops Coffee House at Talking Rock Ranch. Several images are also available at the current exhibit, Click: Expose The West showing at The Phippen Western Art Museum