Horse-Boarding Contract Basics

From blanketing, to feeding, to daily turnout, when the services you desire for your horse are put into writing, you take the guesswork out of your boarding agreement. | Photo by Betsy Lynch

Suburbia is encroaching on your area’s horse properties and riding trails. Or, you’re ready to cede just a little barn-management responsibility to someone


Or, you’d simply like the sense of community found at a local stable or farm. Whatever the reason, you’re ready to board your horse.

Before you seal the deal, be sure to get a boarding contract for legal reasons, and in case of emergency. Get contract savvy by watching for the following provisions:

Release of liability. These days, many stables include a release of liability within their boarding contracts. Boarding stables do this to protect themselves for injuries or losses that may be caused by their negligence or liability. Because releases can be very powerful under the law in most states, what you sign today, when all seems well, might virtually destroy your legal recourse against the stable if things go bad tomorrow.

Realistically, the boarding stable might insist that you sign its release before you can become a boarder there. Negotiating it out of the contract is, very likely, not an option. If you’re convinced that the stable is a good place to board, you’ll probably feel much more comfortable signing the contract.

Emergencies. Should a veterinary emergency arise, you may not be reachable, even via cell phone. Therefore, insist upon a clause in the boarding contract that gives the stable some sort of direction in the event that you can’t be reached in an emergency.

Several options are possible. The one I most prefer, especially when I represent stables, is a complete authorization for the stable to arrange all veterinary care that it deems necessary.

If you have a policy of mortality insurance and major medical insurance on your horse, it’s in the stable’s best interest to know this. These insurance policies require you to give the company (at its designated 1-800 number for emergencies) immediate notice if the insured horse has become injured or ill.

I’ve personally represented insurance companies ? and won ? in cases where the company wasn’t given proper notice and properly denied the claim, paying nothing, when the horse died.

Who’s responsible for feed and bedding and how much? These are just the beginning of the questions that should be addressed in a good boarding contract. | Photo by Bestsy Lynch

Side charges. What if your horse is a “hard keeper” who requires extra rations of grain and hay just to stay fit? What if you want your horse pastured during the day in a private paddock instead of the stable’s group pasture? What if your horse breaks down the pasture fencing and chews through the wood in his stall?

Check the boarding contract to see if the stable will impose extra charges on you for these and other services, goods, and repairs. Many of the stables I represent will attach a list of side charges in advance. If the stable doesn’t have this list of fees, ask that the contract include specifics of side charges, if any.

Health requirements. You can make sure that the stable sets reasonable health requirements for horses at the stable, especially those newly arriving. For example, stables can require health certificates before a new horse can enter the facility. Most of my clients simply require the owner to promise that the horse is current on immunizations and deworming.

Red Flags
Watch out for contracts that virtually give the stable full ownership of your horse if you fall behind on payments, with no advance notice to you. The fact is, most states have laws addressing this situation, and these laws require the stable to comply with the most basic and fundamental principles ? proper notice before depriving someone of his or her personal property. Those laws were designed to be fair.

Contracts that instantaneously give the stable your horse, without enough advance notice to the boarder and fair procedures for a sale, I believe, are trouble. They might also be illegal.

Julie I. Fershtman is an accomplished equine law practitioner whose practice crosses virtually all equine breeds and disciplines. She’s written more than 150 articles and is the author of two books, Equine Law & Horse Sense and MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense

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