Question: Everyone I know who has a horse considers their horse a pet, but horses are designated as livestock, not as pets. Why is that and what difference does it make?
Answer: Of course your horse is your pet! But, the verbiage may be merely semantic differences. By definition, animals that are kept and raised for the purpose of labor or food in an agricultural setting are considered livestock. So, whether you have a horse, or a pig, or a chicken, you have livestock by definitions. Even though many people keep those and a wide variety of other animals as pets, they are all still used for commercial purposes, either for labor purposes (like the work horse) or for food purposes (like the pig or chicken).
There are a few different terms we apply to our non-human companions, with “pet” being the most common casual term. The word “pet” definitely has feelings and emotions attached to it, whether of love or companionship. The word “livestock”, as addressed above, is generally used for the purpose of designating those outside agricultural/ farm animals. Another phrase that is not used in a casual setting, but that may be actually a better description of our animal friends is just the general term “domestic animal”.
The term “domestic animal” may be more accurate in terms of laws regarding animal welfare and abuse. In some states, such as Texas, any animal that is domesticated (which means a pet or a wild animal that is brought into a captive setting) is awarded more protection under the law than completely wild animals. (Simply put, if you hurt your dog you’d be in more trouble than if you hurt a feral cat or a squirrel or a wild rabbit.)
Other than additional protection for the animals’ well-being, occasionally, the use of the word livestock over pet may have some zoning legal issues. Animals that may be small (such as chickens) may be lumped in with the other livestock, preventing people from raising backyard chickens. But, in general, this wouldn’t be an issue for a horse. Clearly, you need plenty of space for a horse and would need to be zoned in an area that allows for livestock ownership.
Regardless of the legalities or the word you use to describe your horse, what’s important is that you care for it! If you love your horse, or any other animal, like a pet and care for it appropriately, then we cheer you on!