Horses and The Law

What is "Equine or Equestrian" Law?

The legal profession, like the medical profession, is blossoming with specialties. Equine law is simply "law that relates to horses and riders." Legal issues that come up under equine law include contracts and litigation. Contracts cover, for example, the sale, boarding, breeding, leasing, training, and trailering of horses. Litigation involves misrepresentations, breaches of contract, and injuries to horses and riders. This article will focus on the purchasing and selling of a horse.

Horse Purchase: The Buyer's Perspective.

Whether you are purchasing a $1,000 trail horse, or a $100,000 hunter, to prevent unmet expectations, or even worse, a loss of time and money, it's helpful to set out your goals and priorities. Preparing in advance for your horse purchasing expeditions will help you to avoid conflict. With the escalation of litigation in today's society and the rising prices of horses, we are seeing an increasing number of lawsuits over misrepresentations and breaches of contract with the sale of horses. The litigation primarily arises from failed communication between buyers, sellers, agents, trainers and veterinarians.

Your Priorities.

First you need to understand what you are looking for and what are your goals. You also need to set your priorities. Where are you willing to compromise? Where are you not willing to compromise? For example, consider purpose, size, age, price, experience and location. If you have not determined your goals and priorities, you will be unable to communicate these to a seller or a trainer and you are setting yourself up for a conflict.

Communicating With Your Trainer or Agent.

Now that you have identified your goals, talk to your trainer about them. Be sure to ask for your trainer's advice and guidance when setting those goals. If your trainer or agent is regularly and actively involved with the sale of horses, he or she should be able to tell you how realistic your goals are.

Second, what will your trainer's involvement be? Will your trainer look for horses? Try out horses? Locate horses? View videotapes of horses? Is your trainer representing just you or both you and the seller? How and where does your trainer look for the horses?

Third, but not any less important, is to discuss compensation with your trainer. How and when your trainer will be paid--with a commission, by the hour, or a flat fee? By you, or by the seller, or both? Who pays for the expenses, such as travel? Again, it is helpful to write down these understandings. These written understandings can be made into a formal contract drafted by an attorney or in the form of a letter agreement written by you and your trainer. If you are spending many thousands of dollars on a horse, consider it cost effective to consult an attorney!

Dealing With The Seller.

If the agent or trainer has acted as a middleman, your contact with the seller may be limited. If you have not utilized a trainer, you will need to evaluate how the horse meets your goals and priorities.

Second, consider obtaining an independent appraisal of the horse's value. Equine appraisals are becoming more common, and are especially helpful if you are not working with a trainer.
Third, secure the horse's medical history as well as a pre-purchase exam from an independent veterinarian. Again, depending upon the investment you are making, you will need to consider whether an extensive pre-purchase exam is cost effective. Is a medical history and quick exam enough, or do you need x-rays, blood tests, etc.? Obtain the advice of your trainer, other horse persons, and of course, your veterinarian. Beware that veterinarians will usually place disclaimers on their pre-purchase exams. Like other professionals, they too are becoming more nervous about malpractice claims and litigation. For this reason, it is all the more important that you take the time to communicate with your veterinarian and educate yourself on the results of the exam.

Finally, be sure to obtain a bill of sale from the seller which transfers ownership to you free of any liens or encumbrances. For example, if the owner obtained a loan to purchase the horse and secured the horse against the loan, you will want to be certain that you do not assume that obligation. Also, if the horse is registered, make sure the owner transfers any registration papers to you.

I hope this information helps you to think about some of the issues you should consider when purchasing a horse. To ensure that your situation is handled appropriately, it's best if you contact a local equine attorney. Remember that laws also differ from state to state and country to country.

*article courtesy of Katy Bloomquist of Bloomquist Law Firm, PA.

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