Is a Horse a Pet or Livestock?

Dogs may be billed as being “Man’s Best Friend,” but if there’s any animal that can give them a run for their money there, it’s horses. For thousands of years, they have been our companions in war and peace, in high society and heavy work and everything in between. Whether you’re someone who lives life in the saddle or simply enjoys the products of our relationship with them, there’s no denying that horses have played an integral part in human society.

Still, dogs are unequivocally pets, but what about horses? They’re incredible companions, like dogs, but they also do a lot of farm work for us, and we don’t tend to think of cows or pigs as pets, but livestock.

The Case for Them Being Pets

Let’s start with the fact that horses are simply incredible companions. They offer the kind of emotional comfort that you would hope for in any pet. What’s more, given the fact that they can live for decades, they can offer that comfort for longer than you might expect from many other potential pets.

Horses, like cats and dogs, have a ton of personality. Raise a horse from the time they are a foal and you’ll be able to see their personality grow and change as the two of you develop a bond that’s unlike anything else. Cat lovers adore their feline friends and dog people swear by the relationship they share with “Man’s Best Friend,” but the bond between mounts and their riders ranks right alongside them in terms of closeness and depth.

The Case for Them Being Livestock

That said, for as emotionally close as you may be to your horse, and as much as they may feel like a pet under that understanding of the term, that does not necessarily mean that they are legally considered as such.

Instead, they may be considered livestock, as intimated above. As stated there, we tend not to think of horses in the same way because livestock often connotes as animals with which we don’t share the same kind of personal bond. Chances are you aren’t nearly as attached to any horses or sheep or pigs you might happen to keep on your property, and yet all of them would be considered livestock and subject to livestock and husbandry laws.

The fact of the matter is that horses are livestock as well, which begs the question – just what is livestock then, in a legal sense?

Put simply, livestock are animals raised on farms or similar settings that are meant for commercial uses. This is one reason why we don’t tend to think of horses in the same light. Sure, horses are incredibly expensive and there is a massive commercial industry around them, but we tend to focus on their personality and the joy of riding them rather than as part of “commerce.” That said, this is partly a product of the greater leisure time we enjoy in our modern age. Ask a farmer hundreds of years ago whether they’d consider a horse livestock and thus part of their essential agricultural work and selling produce, and they’d likely say yes. That legal way of viewing horses lives on today, which is why in the United States and other countries horses continue to be considered livestock.

In addition, there are many benefits to designating horses as livestock for legal purposes.

For starters, putting down horses as livestock can help you take advantage of a number of different farm tax exemptions. These may vary depending on the amount of horses you have and the state you live in, but there are any number of ways that horses can help save you money.

In addition, using horses in this manner can open a wide range of horse-related commercial opportunities for you. For example, you can pursue a career as a proper trainer, breeder, or dealer. All of these are careers which, to be considered above board and ethical for the animals as well as from a business standpoint, requires you to have proper legal standing as far as the horses are concerned.

In addition, registering your horse as livestock can have benefits for other horses as well. For example, doing so will up the amount of horses counted in your area as livestock, and that can have collective benefits such as government funding.

In addition, if your horse is designated a companion animal or pet rather than as livestock, it could have an impact on the way it is viewed under the law from a humane standpoint. Not all states have the protections given to horses under husbandry and livestock-centric laws extend to those who share companion animal or pet status. As a result, you may actually be depriving your horse of rights and protections by failing to designate them as livestock in certain states and situations. This is obviously not uniform from state to state and you’ll need to check on the particulars of your own area, but it is still something to consider.

Horses are also powerful creatures that could, even with the best breeding and training, potentially accidentally hurt someone if let loose. Liability laws in certain states protect owners who own horses as livestock, but that may not extend to your horse if you own it on a companion animal or pet basis.

So Where Does That Leave Us?

As you can see, there are a plethora of reasons why, financially and legally, it is often preferable to designate your horses as livestock. Obviously, this is not always possible. If you do not own a farm or plot of land that could be considered agricultural in nature, or simply keep your horse in a rented stable space, chances are they more aptly fit the pet status. That said, given the wealth of reasons for registering your horse as livestock, you may still want to do some research.

Ultimately, however, whether they are pets or livestock, horses are still bound to be the same tremendous force in your life as they have always been in the timeless bond between horses and humanity.