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Riding Establishment Licensing paperwork

Riding Establishment Licenses

Do you need a license?Riding establishment riders

Riding Establishment License's (REL’s) are a licence provided by your Local District Council and are the result of legislation made to protect the welfare of animals involved commercial business’.

The primary focus of the licence is to make sure that a series of conditions are met that will ensure the welfare of the animals meets a minimum set of standards. This legislation also covers boarding kennels, dog breeders, pet shops and performing animals.

The new regulations require much more in-depth demonstration of your business’ ability to identify and maintain welfare standards for both your staff and animals.

They have recognised that the more you invest in your staff by training them to identify and maintain a high standard of welfare then the licensed establishment will be better equipped to uphold welfare standards for the horses and ponies.

what has changed?

On 1 October 2018, the way in which Riding Establishment Licences are assessed and granted changed to following a new set of legislative regulations and guidance notes.

  The restructuring of the standards and the assessment now mean that the inspectors can categorise your business in order to define to be high welfare, low risk establishment or low welfare high risk establishment.

More detailed evidence of how you train and asses your staff requires to be demonstrated as well as how your ability to keep your records, how you asses and implement your written policies and procedures for both employees and animals.

It is also important to note that this also includes non-paid employees; so volunteers, helpers, apprentices and any working liveries.

You will now be given a star rating, along the same lines as food hygiene, of 1 to 5.A 5 star establishment will hold a 3 year licence so this standard is the aim.

To achieve this you must fulfill all of the minimum standards and the higher standards. It also requires you to demonstrate how your theoretical policies and written work is actioned in practice and you will need to provide a minimum of three years of records to demonstrate this.

Who needs a license?

The new regulations make it very clear about who needs to have a licence for hiring horses and ponies, it lays out that anyone who makes more than £1000 per annum by hiring out horses regardless to whom from whom.

If you are in any doubt you should discuss your business and activities with your Local District Council.

What are the penalties for operating without a license?

It is important to remember that operating without one if it is deemed that you should have a licence will invalidate any insurance policy you have in place and could result in criminal prosecution. operating without a licence would be prosecuted primarily under The Animal Welfare Act.

It could also lead to prosecution by other departments such as trading standards, DVSA, HMRC and any other government department that feels their own legislation has been contravened as a result. (There was a published case in 2014 when an establishment in Wales was prosecuted by trading standards).

The penalty is in section 32(2) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The offence of not having a licence is under section 13(6). Not having a licence makes you liable to an unlimited fine or up to 6 months in prison.

Activities that fulfill one or more of the following criteria are subject to licensing: Businesses which hire out horses for riding or for riding lessons.

This includes riding schools and those that hire out horses, trekking, loan horses, pony parties (but only where the ponies are ridden), hunter hirelings, polo/polo cross instruction and pony hire, pony and donkey rides.


Hiring out horses: definition in Schedule 1 of the regulations: 

Hiring out horses in the course of a business for either or both of the following purposes:

(a) riding
(b) instruction in riding

(1) Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 7. The activity described in paragraph 6 does not include any activity:
(a) solely for military or police purposes, or
(b) involving the instruction of students at a university on a course of study and examinations leading to a veterinary degree to which a recognition order under section 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966(2) relates and for as long as such an order is in force.”*

* The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 Guidance notes for conditions for hiring out horses November 2018, pg. 3-4 

What must I have before applying

You can make your application at any time, but you will be asked to provide a number of documents and information at the time of your application.

An inspection date will be provided by your Local District Council for a trained inspector and a registered veterinary surgeon to visit your premises.

You will have to compile records for all of the below for the last three years:


Documentation to be provided at the time of application:

  • Operating Procedures
  • Staff Training Policy and Records (Annual appraisals, training schedules and records)
  • A valid insurance policy demonstrating coverage for Public liability and Employer’s Liability
  • Risk Assessments (General, fire, equine and evidence for off-site RA records where required)
  • Emergency Procedures (First Aid and Fire Action policies, procedures)
  • A plan of your premises
  • Copies of qualifications or evidence of equivalent experience to match a minimum qualification of OFQUAL Level 3
  • Application form (this will also require a list of the horses you will be licensing, their passport and microchip numbers)

Documentation to be provided at the time of inspection:

  • Equine care plan
  • Records for equines workload, showing and any veterinary treatments
  • Equine passports and microchip details
  • Public notices on display to fulfil the criteria – insurance documents, emergency procedures, proprietors notice and emergency numbers, yard rules
  • Accident reporting procedures and records
  • Rider information and indemnity forms
  • Safety certificates (PAT testing, fixed wiring, up to date fire equipment, gas safety and any other certificates where appropriate)

Does licensing differ from each council?

Yes, the nature of licensing in the UK means that the legislation and guidance notes form the minimum basis for conditions.

Local District Council’s are within their rights to interpret and add further conditions and standards to the inspection.

This is the same for any form of licensing from pubs to pet shops and music festivals. It does mean that the better your working relationship with your Local Authority the easier the process will be.


At the start of new legislation they are trying to understand what it means as much as you are.

Try and work with them to create your own standards within your LDC area.

As a result this advice and information is largely based on feedback from establishments going through the process and supplying their experiences.

The most important piece of advice is, if you are not sure, ask your Local Authority what they expect to see and work with them to achieve your best standard of practice.


Further information 

It is highly recommended to READ the full legislation and guidance notes, and call your Local Authority (LA) for further instruction.

This is helpful guidance and not a substitute for contacting your LA and reading the Government documents. 

The Equestrian Employers Association gives you all of the templates you need and full guidance to REL's. 
Read the full legislation
Read the full guidance notes
Read the Local Authority General Guidance (this document is what the LA uses to conduct the inspection)


Professional Polo Player with Pony Hire
The Professional Polo Player doesn’t teach anyone to play polo, apart from his patrons wife and kids in the summer sometimes, and he uses his old playing ponies, the ones that he hires out as umpire ponies when he hasn’t got a game.

He does sometimes hire out his top playing horses for the odd international game, but because he charges £1000 a chukka to his mates it's not part of his business. On his website he advertises lessons, hires, livery and transport. He doesn’t really do any of it because his real business is playing polo.

As the Professional Player hires his horses for money and earns more than £1000 per annum doing so, he also uses his horses for teaching and as umpire ponies, all activities he is charging for therefore the ponies used for lessons, umpiring and also the ones he hires for playing need to be on a licence.

His mates that hire the horses are also professional polo players so it doesn’t matter?

This is a totally made-up myth, the law doesn’t discriminate between who the hirer is or who the person is hiring the horse, the legislation is about how animals that are used to make money are cared for.

It is there to ensure that commercially kept animals, in this case polo ponies, have a minimum standard of welfare recorded and inspected by a Local Authority. Any insurance policies currently in place would also be void in any instance that a claim was taken against the Professional Polo Player.

The legislation does not accommodate seasonal business’, this is not because they are a minority in the commercial equine world, but because it recognises that the welfare of the animals is a year round concern, and that operators must make accommodation for their high standard of care regardless if they are in work and earning or not.

Operating without a licence carries the risk of being prosecuted under the Animals Act, but also any other legislation of government department that you might be infringing from employment law to transporting of animals.


The Trekking Centre, with Sales Livery

The trekking centre horse are straight forward and the horses that are used have been with the centre for quite a few years, however they often get in a few horses on sales livery or they buy and sell the odd cob during the year to keep up a decent income stream.

Sometimes they use these horses for lessons and treks in the peak season to help with busy days, but also because the horses get ridden and its easier to sell them if they can be seen in work, but they aren’t at the yard for very long and sometimes they below to other clients so really they are a 'sales working livery'.  

These horses and ponies haven’t normally been added to the licence because they are only with the yard for a month of two.  The centre offers short hacks, day treks and even trekking holidays across large areas of common land.

Adding and removing horses to and from your licence constitutes a major change so if you intend to use any horse as part of your riding school and trekking service then they must have passed a vet inspection and the LA notified.

Each LA will have a specific process for adding and removing horses to your licence. In many cases you will simply need your vet to conduct a 2-stage vet check and confirm to the LA that the horses you are adding are fit to work. It's best for establishments that have a high turnover to discuss their needs with their LA about how they will want these changes to be processed.

Using horses that have not been listed on the licence will void your insurance and effectively make your licence ineffectual. This is the same for working livery horses, they should also be listed on the licence.

Trekking or hiring horses in another county from where your licence is held is no longer a problem.

The new legislation makes accommodation for horses that travel or work across county boundaries, however if you licence in one particular LA and your horses in fact live and work in a different location permanently then this is a different scenario.




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