Horses and the Law

While on a vacation in Colorado, my parents and a couple of friends, decided to do something that they had never done before–go horseback riding!

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Before being allowed to mount their horses, they were required to read and sign a waiver of liability, exonerating the stable from liability in case of accident, except if it was caused by the negligence of the stable. This is pretty much standard in most rental stables.

The first trail ride passed without incident and my dad loved it so much (wonder where he got that from!) that he encouraged one of the other couple to go on a second ride the next day.

The second trail ride started out much like the first, with the string of horses wending their way slowly up the mountain trail. On the way down, however, one of the horses got a large rock stuck in his hoof and stumbled. Not able to regain his footing, he fell on his side, trapping his rider’s foot. The trail leader was able to get the horse up, but the rider had sustained serious injury, caused by the stirrup iron slicing into her calf. She ended her trail ride with an ambulance ride to the local hospital.

This story illustrates the fact that accidents can happen at any time. They aren’t necessarily anyone’s fault and it behooves anyone involved with horses, either professionally or as a single horse owner, to take precautions to protect themselves from legal action. If a waiver of liability hadn’t been signed, the stables might have found themselves liable for medical costs and more. As it was, the rider’s insurance paid her medical costs for the transportation to the hospital and the emergency room care.

There are many instances when horse owners and equine professionals need to have agreements set out in a well-written contract.

For example, the owner of a boarding stable might find themselves out of pocket if a boarder doesn’t pay a board bill, if this is not covered in the legally binding boarding agreement.

Likewise, if a share-owner-, or lease-agreement is not thoughtfully written out, there might be disagreements as to who is liable for the cost of shoeing, or veterinary care or if one rider isn’t able to ride as often as they thought they could.

Well-written boarding contracts, lease agreements and waivers can give each party a clear picture of what to expect in terms of services performed, payments required. limits of liability etc. Carefully read any contract or agreement before signing it.

Most states have statutes on the books relating to livestock, recreational use, liens and equine activities. Knowing the law as it pertains to your situation, having adequate liability insurance and requiring the signing of waivers where appropriate can save you from potentially long and expensive lawsuits.

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