Written by: Suzana Gartner and Aram Simovonian

One of the most fascinating human-animal relationships is the one which exists between humans and horses. Horses are an integral part of Canadian society[1] and as a response to the important role they play a complex system of rules has been developed to regulate horse related activities.

Equine[2] law is the law which pertains to all matters relating to horses, such as organizations, activities, businesses and industries; legal services offered in the area of equine law may surround contracts, criminal, animal welfare, negligence, gaming, estate law and many others. The practice of equine law is a very specialized field and animal lawyers can handle the complexities and types of cases, including: contracts (purchase and sale agreements; boarding agreements; leasing agreements; co-ownership agreements) and negligence claims (injury or liability). Animal lawyers have expertise training in animal related matters, can handle horse-related disputes with sensitivity for the client and consider the best interest of the horse (s). Further, a collaborative process can help parties settle their horse-related disputes in a timely and less expensive manner than traditional litigation. However, litigation is proposed when parties are not willing or able to resolve their horse-related disputes through a collaborative process.

There are a number of Federal and Provincial statutes which address equine related matters; of particular interest is the (i) Horse Racing Licence Act[3] (the “HRLA”), (ii) the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act[4] (the “OSPCAA”), and (iii) the Criminal Code[5] of Canada (the “CCC”).


Horseracing is not a new concept and it has been a sport for hundreds of years. Ontario made the decision to regulate the horseracing industry by creating the Ontario Racing Commission[6] (the “ORC”). The ORC’s mandate was to govern, direct, control and regulate Ontario’s horseracing industry.[7]

The ORC was subsequently replaced by the HRLA in 2015. The HRLA dissolved the ORC[8] and transferred all matters pertaining to the regulation of horseracing to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (the “AGCO”). The AGCO has 5 regulatory functions[9] in relation to the horseracing industry, specifically:

1.     Officiating Races The AGCO will appoint 3 Judges/Stewards to supervise horseraces, enforce the Rules of Racing, conduct investigations and impose prohibitions when violations have occurred by way of fine or license suspension.


2.     Ensure Compliance Investigators/Compliance Officers will administer drug and breathalyzer tests on humans, conduct searches for prohibited items as well as assure compliance with racetrack security standards.


3.     Conduct Investigations The Investigation and Enforcement Bureau (the “IEB”) may investigate racing violations such as fraud, animal abuse, animal death and will also monitor equine medication programs and enforce orders or rulings made by Judges/Stewards.


4.     Issuing Licenses The AGCO is responsible for the issuance of licenses to persons and business as they relate to the horse racing industry.


5.     Regulation of Racetracks The AGCO also licenses, reviews the business plans, and fire safety and health plans of racetracks as well as approves the race dates requested by the racetracks.

The AGCO has established the Rules of Racing (the “Rules”) which have been developed as per s.5(1) of the HRLA; these Rules are enforced by Judges/Stewards appointed by the AGCO. There are two sets of Rules, (i) Rules of Standardbred Racing,[10] and (ii) Rules of Thoroughbred Racing.[11]

As with all areas of life, the world of horseracing is not free from dispute. There are two adjudicative bodies which hear horseracing disputes as they relate to the HRLA; (i) the Horse Racing Appeal Panel[12] (the “HRAP”), and (ii) the License Appeal Tribunal[13] (the “LAT”).


A person who considers themselves aggrieved by a decision of a steward, judge, veterinarian, race track official, racing association official, licensing agent or office or employee of the AGCO, may appeal the decision to the HRAP.[14]

For instance, in a 2017[15] decision, the AGCO imposed conditions on Mr. Fuller’s license because he administered illegal substances to his racehorse, “Saintpaddysboy”. Amongst other things, the conditions included the following; (i) the obligation to keep the peace and be of good behaviour (ii) the obligation to allow AGCO Investigators access to Mr. Fuller’s stable area at any time in order to conduct searches for illegal medication or drugs and (iii) the obligation to allow the AGCO Investigators to seize any illegal drugs which may be found. Alongside the conditions placed on his license, Mr. Fuller was fined and his license temporarily suspended; “Saintpaddysboy” received a temporary suspension from being able to race.[16]


The LAT’s mandate is to adjudicate appeals involving compensation claims and licensing disputes. The LAT adjudicates licensing appeals which pertain to over 25 statutes, including the HRLA.


The people of Ontario…believe that how we treat animals…helps define our humanity, morality and compassion as a society.[17] Horses are legal defined in a number of ways, they may be athletes, vehicles, livestock and even law enforcement animals. The protection the law offers horses is entirely dependent on their classification, meaning, the level of protection may be low or high depending on the categorization of the animal.

Below is an examination of the protections offered to horses under the CCC and the OSPCAA.


Causing unnecessary suffering to animals is prohibited under the CCC by way of s.445.1; this section is purposely broad and explicitly prohibits the encouragement, promotion, arrangement or assistance in activities that would cause unnecessary pain or suffering to a bird or animal. The penalty for this offence ranges from imprisonment of no more than 18 months (summary), and imprisonment of no more than 5 years and/or a fine not exceeding $10,000.00 (indictable).[18]

The scope of s.445.1 encompasses horses, however, due to the unique status, horses are offered further protection than the majority of other animals. The development of this protection was a result of an Edmonton Police Dog, Quanto, being stabbed to death while chasing a suspect in a parking lot. As a response to Quanto’s death, Parliament enacted the Justice for Animals in Service Act (Quanto’s Law),[19] which amended the CCC to add further protection for law enforcement, service and military animals. A law enforcement animal is defined as “…a dog or horse that is trained to aid a law enforcement officer in carrying out that officer’s duties”. Punishment for causing injury to a law enforcement, service or military animal ranges from imprisonment of no more than 18 months (summary), and imprisonment of no more than 5 years with a fine not exceeding $10,000.00 (indictable).[20] Canada recognized the need to offer protection to animals under the CCC and further recognized the need to protect animals which serve a particularly important role in our society, such as horses, at least in their law enforcement capacity.


Horses are offered protection against harm under the provincial OSPCAA. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the “OSPCA”) is governed by the OSPCAA and their mandate is to prevent animal cruelty and provide relief from cruelty to those animals who have been subject to such treatment.[21] In similar spirit to the CCC, the OSPCAA has a general section which prohibits causing or permitting the causing of distress to any animal.[22] The OSPCAA also has a more specific section which is dedicated to prohibiting harm directed at law enforcement animals, specifically horses and dogs.[23]

A person who finds themselves aggrieved by an order made under the OSPCAA[24] may appeal to the Animal Care Review Board[25] (the “ACRB”). When making decisions, the ACRB’s mandate is to ensure that the welfare of animals is of paramount consideration.[26]


Although the legal protection offered to horses has developed, unfortunately, there have been instances where these animals may still be categorized as food. For example, in a recent CTV News[27] article, Mr. Scott Vivian, the owner of the “Beast” restaurant in Toronto, served a horse tartar dish which, not surprisingly, resulted in public outrage. Mr. Vivian argued that animals raised for food should not be singled out based on their utility. In other words, she explained that if society is outraged with horse meat on their plate, they should be outranged to discover chicken, pork or beef or on their plate as well. In fact, horse meat is widely unpopular and the majority of Canadians regard horses as companion animals and working animals and find it repugnant to be served a dish with horse meat. As such, horses should be regarded as majestic animals that have served Canadians for hundreds of years. Horses have taken on many guises in Canadian history; they have been in wars, have been used as vehicles, they have been trained for athletic sport and now they protect Canadians as law enforcement animals. Although legal protection for horses has come a long way, the fight for animal liberation and equality is far from over.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201607/no-horsing-around-about-the-human-equine-bond; https://www.equestrian.ca/cdn/storage/resources_v2/XTEHyRosaHidTWQeX/original/XTEHyRosaHidTWQeX.pdf. It is estimated that horses and horse related activities contribute more than $19 billion annually to the Canadian economy (a 2010 report finds).

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equine.

[3] S.O. 2015, c. 38, Sched. 9.

[4] R.S.O. 1990, c. O.36.

[5] R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46.

[6] The ORC was governed by the Ontario Racing Commission Act, 2000, S.O. 2000, C.20., which was repealed on April 1, 2016.

[7] ibid at s.5.

[8] Horse Racing License Act, supra note 3 at s.43.

[9] https://www.agco.ca/what-we-do-horse-racing.

[10] https://www.agco.ca/sites/default/files/rules-of-standardbred-racing-version-april-2016.pdf.

[11] http://www.hbpa.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Rules-of-Racing-May-2016.pdf.

[12] Horse Racing License Act, supra note 3 at s.7(1).

[13] License Appeal Tribunal Act, S.O. 1999, c. 12, Sched. G at s.2(1).

[14] Horse Racing License Act, supra note 3 at s.8(1).

[15] Fuller (Re), 2017 CanLII 57443 (ON HRAP). Mr. Fuller administered a Class III drug (Hydroxy Metoprolo to the racehorse.

[16] ibid, “Saintpaddysboy” is ineligible to race from August 17, 2017 until October 3, 2017; Mr. Fuller was suspended from August 17, 2017 until September 19, 2017.

[17] Provincial Animal Welfare Act, 2008, S.O. 2008, c. 16 – Bill 50 at Preamble; this Act amended the OSPCAA.

[18] Criminal Code, supra note 5 at s.445.1.

[19] S.C. 2015, c.34.

[20] Criminal Code, supra note 5 at s.445.01(2).

[21] Ontario Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act, supra note 4 at s.3.

[22] ibid at s.11.2(1).

[23] ibid at s.11.2(5).

[24] ibid at s.17(1).

[25] ibid at s.16(1).

[26] http://www.slasto.gov.on.ca/en/Pages/Animal%20Care%20Review%20Board%20Pages/ACRB-Mission-Mandate.aspx.

[27] http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/horse-meat-reaction-blown-out-of-proportion-toronto-chef-1.3411411


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