A website for Sandbeck Farm, www.sandbeckfarm.com, seen on 22 November 2017 included a number of pages in a “FALABELLA HORSES” section. A page headed “FALABELLA FOALS 2017” listed a number of foals, some which were for sale. Each horse had an information section next to the listing which included various pieces of information, including the horse’s “stable name”, date of birth, “pedigree name”, “passport number” and “sire” and “dam”. Pages headed “FALABELLA FILLIES”, “FALABELLA MARES” and “FALABELLA STALLIONS” included the same information.
The Equuleus Falabella Stud, stated that many of the horses listed in the ‘Falabella’ sections of the website were not on the Premier Register Of Falabella Miniature Horses (meaning they were DNA tested from both parents and bloodlines proven to be from Argentina only) and that some were part-bred, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Sandbeck Farm provided copies of the International Miniature Horse and Pony Society (IMHPS) passports they held for specific horses that had been available via their website and the definitions of the Falabella categories on the IMHPS register. They said that not all Falabella horses had passports from the IMHPS as keepers were able to obtain passports from other issuing authorities in EU Member states and therefore not all horses fell within the Falabella categories on the IMHPS register.
They said that DNA testing was only able to establish parentage of a particular horse and that it could not establish if a horse was of a particular breed. Further, they said that the parentage of a horse could not be proven by DNA alone as the Falabella breed originated from the Falabella Ranch in Argentina where they were bred since before DNA testing existed, and not all horses from that herd had been tested. They provided two documents from testing clinics and a statement from an industry member which stated that DNA testing could only be used to establish parentage. They provided a statement from the founders of the IMHPS which provided background information on the Falabella breed.
The ASA understood that Falabella horses were a breed of miniature horse which originated from a single ranch in Argentina. We also understood that the horses were popular with a wide range of consumers and were not just purchased by those who were familiar with the equine industry. We considered that, in the absence of qualifications suggesting otherwise, consumers would interpret the inclusion of specific horses under the headings “Falabella horses”, “Falabella Fillies”, “Falabella Mares” and “Falabella Stallions” to mean that those listed were pure bred Falabella horses.
We understood that the breeding of Falabella horses was a complex and small part of the miniature horse industry, which consisted of a small group of people and that the breeders and keepers held differing views as to what a Falabella horse was and how parentage could be established. The use of DNA testing was specifically a point of contention between breeders within the industry. We understood that DNA testing could only establish an individual horse’s parentage and that at the time of writing, on its own the test was unable establish whether a horse was of a particular equine breed. Therefore, we considered that a DNA test alone could not establish whether a horse was a Falabella and it would need to be accompanied by lineage for the Sire and Dam. We noted the advertiser believed that the original herd from the Argentinian ranch was not DNA tested whereas the complainant believed that they had.
Notwithstanding that, we understood that to be officially considered a particular breed a horse would need to be registered with either the relevant studbook of origin (or ‘mother Studbook’) for that breed or a daughter studbook which complied with all the rules of the mother studbook. The mother studbook for Falabella horses was based in Argentina and there was at present no authorised daughter studbook in the UK which meant that very few horses in the UK were likely to be officially of the Falabella breed.
We further understood that all horses in the UK had to hold a horse passport issued by a Defra approved passport issuing organisation (PIO). Passports could also be obtained from a different appropriate issuing body if they had their headquarters based in an EU Member State under the relevant legislation. There were a number of different PIOs available, some of which also managed studbooks. The IMHPS was a Defra approved PIO that was designated as managing the studbook for the International Miniature Pony which meant that they only issued passports for that breed. The IMHPS operated 15 separate sub-registers and so all horses which they passported would be entered onto one of those registers. The registers included three for horses described as Falabella: one for horses that were DNA tested from both parents and where bloodlines were proven to be from Argentina; one for ‘pure-bred’ Falabella horses without DNA testing or blend horses that were over 75% Falabella; and one for part-bred Falabella horses. We understood that the determination of the category which appeared on an individual horse’s passport was based on the information provided by the applicant and that it was the responsibility of the relevant PIO to satisfy themselves regarding that information. We also understood that information about which specific register a horse was on was information which could easily be obtained from the PIO.
We acknowledged that the advertiser had provided evidence that the relevant horses held passports issued by the IMHPS and that they were registered with them as Falabellas, although they had not in all cases provided evidence of which register they were on. However, because the majority of horses described as Falabella within the UK would not be registered with a Falabella studbook and many of them would not be pure bred, we considered that ads for horses described as Falabella needed to make clear the basis for that claim so that consumers could make an informed decision. If a horse had a passport from the IMHPS or a different appropriate issuing body from a member state, and was registered in a “Falabella” category we considered it would be unlikely to mislead consumers if it was described as a Falabella, provided the individual ad stated: which PIO the horse was passported with; the specific register the horse was registered under, including if it was classified as ‘part-bred’ or not by the issuing authority; and provided an explanation of or link to the category definition. It should also include any information held by the advertiser regarding the breed status of the sire and dam, including whether they were known to be part-bred.
We considered that because not all Falabella horses bred in the UK were likely to be “pure bred”, in order to avoid misleading consumers the ads should state the parentage information held by the breeder or keeper. Therefore, if a horse had a passport from the IMHPS or a different appropriate issuing body from a member state, and was registered in a “Falabella” category it would be unlikely to mislead consumers if it was listed as a Falabella, as long as the individual ad stated the specific category the horse was registered under, if known, including if it was classified as ‘part-bred’ by the issuing authority and provided an explanation or link to the category definition. It should also include any information held by the advertiser regarding the breed status of the sire and dam, including whether they were known to be part-bred.
While the ad included some information regarding the horses, such as the identity of the sire and dam, the pedigree name and passport number, it did not state which category of the register each horse was in, or specify those which were part-bred, or any information about the parentage in terms of breed status. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 (Qualification).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Sandbeck Farm to ensure that in the future each listing for horses described as Falabella included the information they held to substantiate the “Falabella” claim – which PIO the horse was passported with; the specific register the horse was registered under, including if it was classified as ‘part-bred’ or not by the issuing authority; and provided an explanation of or link to the category definition. It should also include any information held by the advertiser regarding the breed status of the sire and dam, including whether they were known to be part-bred.