February 2020 

Tethering is the practice of securing a horse to an area with a long rope or chain tied from its headcollar/neck strap to ideally a stake in the ground. Seeing horses tethered can be upsetting for many people. The BHS receives hundreds of calls every year from worried members of the public about tethered horses.

Is Tethering Illegal?

Tethering is not illegal and is therefore not an offence in itself, but it is essential the horse owner provides for the welfare needs of the horse. Tethered horses can often be seen on roadside verges or in public spaces, sometimes without the landowner’s permission, and in such circumstances this is called fly grazing.

The BHS acknowledge tethering is not the ideal way of keeping a horse, but if done correctly it can be an effective short-term solution. There are acceptable standards of tethering that are recommended in the Codes of Practice to ensure the horse’s welfare is not compromised. Tethering shouldn’t be used as a long-term means of keeping a horse as this can lead to a failure to meet the horse’s basic welfare needs as set out in the Animal Welfare Act (2006), Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

Our tethering guide aims to assist owners to tether their horses in the most welfare-friendly way. It also highlights common problems with tethering so that anyone concerned about a tethered horse can make an informed decision on whether that horse should be reported to a welfare organisation.

Acceptable Horse TetheringAcceptable Horse Tethering

An example of an acceptable standard of tethering


Ideally, all horses should have access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times. However, some owners of tethered horses do not leave water on site permanently as the buckets may be knocked over, stolen or thrown away. If this method of management is adopted, water must be offered at regular intervals throughout the day. Providing it just once or twice is not adequate. It is far more preferable to use a tyre to secure the water bucket than offer water sporadically.


Many horses will thrive on a grass only diet, but it is vital that tethered horses are moved regularly to ensure a constant supply of fresh food. During the winter months, or any other time when grass is limited, additional forage such as hay or haylage may need to be provided.


Not every horse needs to wear a rug. Horses don’t feel the cold like we do and naturally grow a thick coat in winter to keep them warm. Their coat also produces natural oils to help keep them waterproof. Many horses, especially breeds such as cob types, can adapt well to winter weather and easily cope without a rug.

Don’t worry if a horse is a bit dirty or muddy. They will roll on the ground to help groom themselves.

More information about rugging can be found in our Winter Care article.


Tethered horses should have access to a dry, well drained area and ideally a wind break such as a hedge line. However, horses shouldn’t be tethered close to trees where they can get caught up, potentially leading to a serious accident.

Unacceptable Horse Tethering

An example of an unacceptable standard of tethering

Concerned about a tethered horse?

Download our Advice on Tethering which will also help to explain if a horse is a cause for concern or contact the welfare team on 02476 840517 or welfare@bhs.org.uk to request a copy.

If you have concerns for a horse contact the welfare team on the above details.


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