Michela Masoero, partner at Leading Law and journalist for Horses and Law

With the Legislative Decree N°36 dated February 28 2021 , in Italy sport horses have been assigned the status of athletsand are in every way legally acknowledged as such. e This is an important achievement and essential for the creation of rules to be established to protect animals that are bred and live as athletes together with their riders. This new decree, which in addition to horses also protects any animal involved in sporting activities, envisages a number of interesting obligations established to protect our equine friends

The Italian state has now proved that it wishes to protect all sports athletes, including animals: No longer a ‘mean’, but a ‘member of the team’


A horse can be considered an ‘athlete’ when having the three following requisites

  •  registration with an ID
  • declared as not being destined to food production
  • Registered with the ‘registry of athlete horses’ with the Italian Equestrian Sports Federation, FIPM or FitetrecAnte, or an Entity for the Promotion of Sport.

The wellbeing of the animal must be protected in terms of its nourishment, health and care provided while respecting its ethological needs.

Breaking in and training methods that might inflict damage on the animal’s psycho-

physical wellbeing are forbidden; all forms of coercion or constraints and the use of means or devices that could damage an animal’s health or psycho-physical wellbeing or cause any suffering are forbidden; training methods used must take into account animals’ cognitive capacities as well as their learning modalities.

Training and competing with animals whose physiological conditions are not compatible with the effort requested is not allowed; tack and equipment used for sporting activities, including shoeing, must be suitable and avoid injury, pain or psycho-physical suffering.

The technical characteristics of tracks, arenas and competition locations, as well as all equipment used, must respect animal health and safety criteria; facilities in which animals are housed must guarantee they have room to rest and move in compliance with their specific nature.

Every animal must be equipped with ID papers having an owner who is of age or a juridical entity assuming the duties linked to ownership, upkeep and care as well as a health record.

It is illegal to slaughter or in other ways euthanise animals no longer used for sporting activities with the exception of humanitarian euthanasia.

Vehicles used to transport animals must guarantee their health and safety, respecting all that is envisaged by Council Regulations (CE) 1/2005 (Art. 19/7)

Owners must have insurance covering all damage the animal might cause also when supervised by persons who are not the owners.

Allowing an animal to take part in a sports event and/or competition is subordinated to the veterinary surgeon approving it is fit to compete on the basis of its health, age and gender, as well as its correct identification and registration; the organisers of sports events involving animals must guarantee the presence or availability of a veterinary surgeon during the event and/or competitions.

Animals whose owners (or Person Responsible) have been convicted for crimes referred to

the Italian criminal code related to ‘crimes committed against respect for animals’ and ‘abandoning or ill-treating animals’ as well as any violations envisaged by sports regulations are forbidden from taking part in sports events and competitions involving animals.

Furthermore, National Sports Federations, Associated Sports Disciplines and Entities for the Promotion of Sport must be equipped with specific regulations involving disciplinary sanctions

So as to compete, horse athletes must undergo yearly veterinary check-ups by a qualified veterinary surgeon and also have updated vaccinations as envisaged by current regulations.

Equestrian sports public events or those open to the public must however guarantee all health and safety requirements for athletes, horses- athletes and for the public as established by the Health Ministry.

Just like people, in all equestrian sports horses are considered athletes in exactly the same way, requiring training, care, nourishment etc suited to a life involving sport

From Cavalli & Cavalieri may 2021