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RMR's Horsepeople's Forum

Should Horses have "Guardians" instead of "Owners"?


Please read this commentary that ran in a recent issue of Rocky Mountain Rider Magazine, and then let us know how you feel about "Owners" or "Guardians."


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Commentary Animal Guardianship

By Gregory M. Dennis, JD


Originally printed in the Equine Disease Quarterly, University of Kentucky


      Animal Guardianship: Imagine that overnight a new state law goes into effect declaring that from now on you do not own your animals but, rather, you are their “guardian.” Does this sound farfetched? Some local communities have already made this change. The first legal step on this road has been the addition of “owner-guardian” language to local ordinances, then changing the wording to “guardian” only. One state now has “owner-guardian” as a part of its law, and various federal agencies are using the word “guardian” in conjunction with “owner” whenever the latter appears in their regulations.

      Animal guardianship advocates suggest that referring to the human-animal relationship as one of guardianship rather than ownership will lead to better animal care. There is little basis for this assertion; an abusive animal owner would likely be an abusive animal “guardian.”

      While local ordinances to date have generally applied only to dogs, cats, and other companion animals, a next step would be to expand such laws to include all domestic animals. With the groundwork in place, guardianship advocates could then move to the state level.

      “Ownership” and “guardianship” are two distinct legal terms. The first is an expression and protection of the property owner’s legal rights, while the second imposes numerous legal duties and obligations on the guardian. Today as an animal owner, you can decide the animals’ care and future as long as you are not abusive, cruel, or neglectful: what to feed or where to house them; which animals to breed them with; what veterinary care to provide; whether to sell them, put them down, or include them in your Will.

      If the law changes and you no longer own your horses but instead become their “guardian,” you will always have to act in the horses’ best interest. As you can well imagine, there will be many times when your horses’ best interests are not yours: euthanizing a horse to avoid a substantial veterinary bill could be prohibited, as could using horses in endeavors like racing and showing. A guardian would be unable to sell horses, as they are no longer property.

      If you no longer own your horses, property insurance policies might not cover the loss of your horses or injury to them. Expenses, write-offs, and other deductions under federal and state tax laws, which are predicated upon horses being property and assets belonging to their owners, might no longer be available.

      A successor-guardian could be appointed to sue you on behalf of your horses for not having taken care of them properly, for their injuries, and even for their deaths. The list of legal repercussions that could befall horse owners should the law be changed from ownership to “guardianship” is extensive, and it behooves the horse industry to remain vigilant about pending legislation.


 This Commentary was reprinted with permission of the Department of Veterinary Science, Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, University of Kentucky, Lexington, HY 40546; 859-257-4757.



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Friday, March 22, 2013 7:34 AM


I own 6-15 horses

Little acts of changing definitions, while seeming benign, is a clever ploy by activists. This is what the term "Guardianship" is leading to. Bill HR 6388, is the so-called "Horse Protection Act." This is an animal-rights backed policy cloaking itself as a safeguard against the cruel practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses for show and competition. What it would really do is strip the entire horse industry of its ability to police itself. If this bill should pass, the federal government would be allowed to inspect any horse at any show organized by any breed association or discipline, and issue humane citations based on animal-rights groups' standards! This is a truly alarming piece of legislation which would rob horse owners of their rights and clear the way for government agents to shut down the entire competitive segment of our industry. We need your help to stop it! To be clear, I do not agree with the practice of soring TWH's. But, do we really want the FEDERAL government issuing a citation to us vs our own State. Being charged with a federal crime is far different than being cited under your State's statute. Check out the United Horseman's site. They are a non-profit organization representing horses and their owner's as well.


Thursday, March 21, 2013 9:18 PM


I own 6-15 horses

OWN! OWN! OWN! Just see what is happening in California . Your are a guardian of your companion animal. Therefore, it is nearly an act of congress to euthanize a pet that you own even if you have good cause. guard·i·an [ grdee ən ] 1.protector: somebody who or something that guards, protects, or preserves somebody or something 2.legally responsible person: somebody who is legally entrusted to manage somebody else's affairs, especially those of a minor 3.superior Franciscan: a superior in a Franciscan monastery Owner (business aspect) Definitions 1. A party that possesses the exclusive right to hold, use, benefit-from, enjoy, convey, transfer, and otherwise dispose of an asset or property. 2. Contracts: The party who awards a contract for a project and undertakes to pay the contractor. Also called contract owner. 3. An employee or executive who has the principleresponsibility for a process, program, or project. NOUN 1. somebody owning something: somebody who owns something


Sunday, March 3, 2013 9:23 PM


I own 1-5 horses

I am the owner of my animals. As you pointed out, guardianship is very different from ownership. This has been going on for many years, usually pushed by PETA because they consider owning to be equal to slavery. They are NUTS. As an equine advocate, feel I must address the comment made by Nevada about our nation's wild horses. Ir is NOT the advocates who want the horses rounded up! We want the BLM to leave our wild horses on the ranges that were designated for them by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Act of 1971. The BLM is clearly managing for extinction here, and most herds are already so small they are not genetically viable. And still the round-ups continue. We also don't want the horses in Short Term Holding by the BLM since we now have proof of what we have known for years - the BLM is illegally selling those horses to slaughter. Nevada , I know you hate the horses like most other Nevadans for whatever reason, but get your facts right before shooting off. YOU are responsible for the round-ups and thousands of horses in holding at taxpayer expense. Yes, YOU and all the others who want the Wild Horses' legal lands for yourselves and your cattle. Without the intense pressure from those who refuse to recognize the legality of the Wild Horses being on their ranges, they would probably still be where they belong, being managed for practically nothing instead of being exterminated. Sorry, but I HAD to correct Nevada 's erroneous statements. I'm rather sick of the advocates being blamed for the round-ups and long term holding. This is the absolute OPPOSITE of what wild horse advocates want. Back to guardianship. This is the REAL slippery slope. We cannot allow it to happen.


Saturday, January 19, 2013 12:46 AM


I own more than 15 horses

As a horse breeder, my thoughts on this new "guardianship" for horses, idea, instead of ownership, will work in reverse. It will not make anyone take better care of the animal. They will not be able to care for the animal at all ! If we do not own the animal, we cannot afford to have one! If we cannot sell them, If there is no monetary return, on our investment, and all of our other expenses, we cannot afford to buy hay, we cannot afford to pay the vet, or pay a farrier, or advertise, buy a pickup truck, gas for the truck, buy a horse trailer, saddles, bridles and blankets, brushes, or buy Land for them to pasture on, and barns to put them in. That will be the end of the horse business and all of the businesses that the horse business supports . If we cannot make our own decisions, as to what is best for the animal, Some government employee who doesn't know anything about a horse is not going to make a better decision than the "owners" who love that horse will do. I have had horses for over 60 years, and common sense would justify my experience, and my track record, of doing everything that is humanly possible to do, for the best interest of the horse! Without any government intervention! It appears to me that who ever came up with this insane "Guardianship" idea, wants to make it impossible for people who love horses, to have any. Just another government control tactic to keep everyone in debt, without a job, and no hope, and no light at the end of the tunnel. Betty Lynn Lynns Quarter Horses


Friday, October 5, 2012 1:08:51 PM


I own 6-15 horses

Horses are owned, they are like any livestock in that we as people are responsible to take care of them as any livestock. We are all guardians of the what we own. This means responsibility on our part to take care of what we own. To imply guardianship though is to imply the animal has a soul and rights under the constitution of this state and country. Horses are fun but so are other types of livestock to other people and they aren't trying to be guardians.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011 11:10:58 AM


I own 1-5 horses

I am really tired of these bleeding heart liberals telling me how I need to live and what I need to do. Why can't they let people live how they want to live. If I don't like something, I don't do it or get it or watch it or listen to it. If they don't like something, they make sure no one else can experience it either. Come on people, we are all individuals and we are all different. Let us live our own lives without having you but in and make us live our lifes how you want us to. I love my horses- they are family. I care for them, provide food, water, attention and regular vet care. I buy a horse - I own the horse. PERIOD!!!!!


Friday, June 10, 2011 8:31:10 PM


I own 1-5 horses

I OWN horses and mules . Leave the guardianship crap to the California bleeding heart liberals. I will NEVER be a guardian and I do not care what law says that I have to be a guardian. I will draw the line here. I take care of my animals and they are treated very well. This is just ridiculous.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011 10:50:48 AM

North Dakota

I own more than 15 horses

I am a quarter horse breeder. I own these animals. My neighbor raises sheep and cattle. He owns those animals. I don't know where 'guardianship' is coming from but you all need to get a life. You are guardian over your elderly when they can no longer care for themselves and need a 'guardian'. You are a guardian over your children until they're old enough to go out on their own. You OWN animals. Your responsibility as an OWNER is to be responsible for their care and well being. You feed them properly, you train them, you give them shelter and exercise, you make sure their health needs are met, etc. But you still own them. You have the right to buy an animal, to sell an animal, to give it away, to lease it, to put it down if it's quality of life is such that it is suffering or in danger or a danger. Everyone in this world is not able to care for a crippled animal which requires lots of special attention or feed - the absolute best option is to put that animal to rest - for EVERYONE. It is pitiful to see an animal struggling around trying to be normal when it can't and some bleeding heart thinking that they're being a good guy by making it possible for that animal to live in that condition. You will not find anyone who loves horses (or animals in general) more than I do, but I love them enough to know that they are my property and as such my responsibility to make the best decisions for - whether or not that is easy or comfortable for me!


Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 9:18 AM


This is some bleeding heart liberal idea. What would change from owning to guardianship??? The lady a few miles north of us abuses her animals, gets put in jail, pays bail and still has the horses to abuse. She does'nt feed them and lets them be in pasture without feed. 'Paws" is looking after her and Paws need to be put out of business, they only, after much starvation, jail her and give her the horses back to her. She is mentaly ill and hoards horses,[or what ever else]. So as I say, what would change for the horse ??


Sun, Oct 10, 2010 1:03 PM


It is very difficult for me to comment on this without using some four-letter words, but I will try. Horses are property. If I don't own the animal, I don't want it, as it could be taken from me at any time. This is one of the most ridiculous ideas I have ever read. It is like rescues that tell you that when you buy a rescue animal from them, you can't sell it or find it a new home if your circumstances change.


Fri, Oct 8, 2010 2:01 PM


I own my horses, I own my dogs. Even if they pass some stupid law that says we are "guardians" I will not honor it. I will not be a' guardian' to something I bought and paid for. I love and respect my pets more than I do most people, but they are still pets. I will take care of them however, I will not be told to be a guardian of any animal. Being a pet is far more important


Fri, Sep 3, 2010 10:44 PM


We need to give local agencys more muscle and authority to clamp down on abusive or neglectful OWNERSHIP. Being a guardian will not solve any these problems. Horse ownership involves certain responsibilties to a helpless animal that is under human control and has to rely on them for their entire exsistance. Let's put more emphasis on responsible, educated ownership with laws to enforce that when needed.


Mon, Aug 9, 2010 7:46 PM


I OWN my registered Haflinger gelding and my registered Appaloosa mare. They are livestock. They are also family members, have regular checkups, shots, de worming, ferrier and dentist/chiropractic appointments. Hell they are better cared for than I am OR my husband!

But they are still property. If they are just under our guardianship who is to decide if we should no longer be guardians? What does that mean? We make decisions, pay the bills but can't sell them? Can't put them down if injured or extremely ill? If a horse goes crazy or becomes dangerous, I might put it down or send it to the slaughterhouse. As an owner that is my decision.

The states really do need to come up to speed and increase the fines/jail time for animal neglect or abuse. But guardianship? NO way.

Liz Ross-McKee
Pasture slave and herd boss to a growing number of equines that are her property as well as her BBFs


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 8:12 PM


This country's government has gone NUTS trying to control every aspect of our lives! These are the same people that think milk comes from a carton and chicken and hamburges come from the store "where they don't have to be killed"!!! We already have very serious problems because the "Wild Horse Annies" want to save every wild horse and put them on preserves at taxpayers expense. Normally responsible horse owners are turning their horses out or shooting them because they can no longer afford to feed them. The horse market is in "the pit" because there are more horses out there now than the market will support. The processing plants have been eliminated so their is no longer any options for humane disposal of unmarketable and unwanted horses. Do you know that a bullet to the head is more humane for a horse than euthanasia by drugs? Ask any vet. I will OWN my horses (as well as my home and my guns) as long as I live and dare anyone to say otherwise. We DO have to keep our eyes open and quit being so complacent. Become proactive and for Pete's sake VOTE to get those legislators out that promote these idiotic ideas.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 5:01 PM


The proponets of this legislation are not concerned so much about animal care as they more concerned about taking away individual rights from whom ever they can, they sound like PETA. The states in todays world cannot protect neglected children, let alone neglected animals.


Wed, Jun 9, 2010 11:36 AM


This kind of careless government oversight is ridiculous, as it does not take the horse's interests into account, only the government's. Crawl back into your cage where you belong government.


Sat, Jun 5, 2010 12:49 PM


-I think the feds should take care of the borders and national security and stay out of it—


Fri, Jun 4, 2010 4:01 PM


Guardianship sounds ridiculous! Horses are too expensive of an investment to no longer "own" them. I would fight this law tooth and nail. It's not going to improve the treatment of animals by changing the status...all it does is take away the personal rights of the human. We are the ones who have to buy the feed, pay for the farrier and vet care. When a horse can do these things for himself, then he can be emancipated.


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