Management for Horse Owners - Equine Law
Expert Julie I. Fershtman
Disclaimer: The material presented here is not to be deemed the rendering of legal advice; legal advice is only given in a mutually established attorney-client relationship. By participating in viewing information contained herein you agree to indemnify Equerry, it's associates and it's experts from any liability that might arise from its use.
Questions (For answers, scroll down or click on
In California, what does the boarding stable owner do to gain legal ownership and the right to sell an abandoned horse in order to recover board fees and costs owed? In this case, the amount owed is $2000 and the horse is worth about $2500-$3000. The horse owner refuses to respond to calls or letters.
Can you provide a model lease agreement or form that can be used to allow another person to lease a horse we own on a part-time basis or provide a specific guide as to what should be such a lease agreement?
I plan to do a half lease with the owner of a horse. I know nothing of what is common practice entering into a contract of this type. What questions should I ask? What are my financial responsibilities?
My vet performed $800+ worth of routine services (vaccines, worming, teeth floating) to my three horses without contacting me first and getting my permission. The horses were due for vaccines but I was making other arrangements for these and did not call her for an appointment. Am I liable for the bill?
you please tell me where I can get a release of injury or whatever it is I
need so that I am not responsible for any occurrence - liability for my
boarders to sign.
Questions and Answers
A: We all wish the day would come when a document would magically make lawyers and lawsuits disappear -- for good. We wish a piece of paper would permanently absolve us from all legal responsibility. I have some good news for you (and some bad news, too) in response to your question.
First, your question refers to "a release of injury or whatever it is I need so that I am not responsible for any occurrence." I assume you refer to a release of liability that you, a boarding stable owner, could use. If I am correct, let's start with the good news: courts in almost every state across the country are willing to enforce properly worded releases of liability (also called "waivers") that are used in sporting and recreational activities. These documents, when done right and when signed right, have the potential to protect businesses, stables, instructors, and others from liabilities that arise from the consequences of their own negligence or other types of liabilities. That's powerful.
But there are limits; you cannot legally release away liability for everything. For example, most states indicate that people cannot release away liability for serious wrongdoing, such as "gross negligence," "willful and wanton misconduct," or intentional misconduct.
The next part of the question is where to get a release of liability. The best document, in my opinion, does not come from a form book -- after all, there are simply too many variations among the states and a one-size-fits-all form cannot possibly cover all of your needs. You would need to contact a knowledgeable lawyer. The lawyer can discuss drafting several documents for you, such as a liability release and a boarding contract.
Q: What is a reasonable amount of notice for the lessee to require of the lessor when leasing a horse (i.e., how much notice should the owner have to give to the person leasing the horse if the former decides to sell the horse, thus leaving the person who leased the horse without a horse to ride)?
A: This question is one of the most foreseeable in the equine lease setting -- when does the lease end or how much notice must the lessor (the one who owns the horse and temporarily parts with it) give to the lessee (the one with temporary use of the horse under the lease's terms)?
First and foremost, I always suggest that equine leases be reduced to writing and that both of these questions be carefully addressed in the lease document. However, nothing in the question here indicates that the parties had a written lease agreement. Let's assume that the parties only had a handshake deal.
If, as seems to be the case here, there is no written agreement that covers the key issues, here's what happens under basic contract law: the intention of the parties governs.
Sounds awfully unclear and legalistic, doesn't it? Well, in a legal proceeding, the court would look to several factors, such as:
If no answer can be found to these questions, a court typically would resort to Plan B -- that is: Did the parties have a course of dealing between themselves in past lease arrangements? If so, and if they were, for example, 1-year leases with 30 days notice to terminate, the court would end the matter there and hold the parties to that arrangement.
If Plan B yields no answer or is inapplicable, some courts might resort to Plan C -- that is: Is there an industry custom and practice that can be applied to the matter?
Unfortunately, I cannot comment on an industry custom and practice without more information, such as the horse breed, discipline, location of the arrangement, and more. When it comes to equine leases, our industry is full of varying arrangements, anyhow, so it's awfully hard to even find out what a "standard" might be.
Bottom line: without a written agreement that addresses the matter and without more details of the understanding reached between the parties, the issue is difficult to answer outright. If the matter proceeds to litigation, expect a hefty battle with an uncertain outcome.
My new book (which will be released in early April) called MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense discusses equine leases. It also discusses injunction proceedings (which might be appropriate if you, the lessee, believe that the lessor is breaking the contract by re-claiming the horse). You can receive an advance order form for the book by calling my office at (248) 644-8645. Best wishes for a workable and amicable solution to this lease matter.
A: Insurance, in Michigan, is an option. However, I strongly believe that it is a very important option, which all horse owners and businesses should take very seriously. When the setting involves your allowing a friend to ride your horse, the insurance options vary with the circumstances. For example:
Q: My vet performed $800+ worth of routine services (vaccines, worming, teeth floating) to my three horses without contacting me first and getting my permission. The horses were due for vaccines but I was making other arrangements for these and did not call her for an appointment. Am I liable for the bill?
A: Answering your question requires more facts than have been given, but let's examine a few possibilities:
First, let's assume that you used the same vet for an extended period of time and the vet and you had developed an understanding that she would do the routine services such as the ones you described on a regular basis, and you operated under this arrangement for some time (and paid her). If that is the history or, as lawyers call it, the "course of dealing," chances are good that you are obligated to pay.
But now let's change the scenario. Let's assume that you did not consider that vet your regular attending vet, and you did not use her for vaccinations, de-worming, and teeth floating on a regular basis; in a given year, she did not do the regular inoculations or de-wormings. If that's the case, then it is fair to say that she performed unauthorized services. You might be justified in non-payment (but run that by a local lawyer -- I do not know what state we are looking at here).
Now let's look at another angle. Let's assume that the vet did services for you in the past but only with your prior authorization, and you never gave such authorization in this case. Under the law in many states, if someone confers on you a benefit, under an implied agreement, and if you accepted the services (the odd twist here is that you had no choice since your horses were vaccinated, their teeth floated, and de-wormed), you might be responsible for paying the reasonable value of the services rendered. Lawyers call this "quantum meruit" (latin terms). If that is the case, then it is possible that you may be obligated for the reasonable value of the services. You then would evaluate whether the $800+ dollar tab was truly reasonable for what was done to your horses. If you can get other veterinarians to state that you were overcharged, then you might have a defense that the vet's charges were unreasonable. Again, you'd be wise to run that theory by a local lawyer, too, especially one who knows the facts and the law of your state.
Now, let's look at damage control. I assume that you have lost confidence in this vet and do not want to use her again. If so, then, after you are certain what position you will take on the bill, you or your lawyer can write her a letter (certified mail would help) advising her that she is no longer to perform ANY services on your horses without your written authorization. Think through this last option carefully, because you might have a delicate situation on your hands. What if she is the only vet in the area? What if an emergency arises (I'm hoping this will never occur, but you never know) which requires emergency attention to your horse(s). Better to be careful before burning bridges with what might just be the only vet to save a horse's life. If this concerns you, then you and your lawyer might discuss suggestions for resolving the matter in an amicable way through an agreed-upon settlement of the debt coupled with a friendly understanding about how things are to be done in the future.
Q: I plan to do a half lease with the owner of a horse. I know nothing of what is common practice entering into a contract of this type. What questions should I ask? What are my financial responsibilities?
A: What an interesting question! Actually, it has come up so frequently in my law practice that I wrote about it in my newest book, "MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense." (You can order the book by calling 800-662-2210). Here are the top 5 issues, in my opinion:
Q: Can you provide a model lease agreement or form that can be used to allow another person to lease a horse we own on a part-time basis or provide a specific guide as to what should be such a lease agreement?
A: First of all, congratulations for recognizing the value of contracts! Too many people in the horse industry lease horses with absolutely nothing in writing. The problem is, your question suggests that you will immediately copy and put to use any form you receive. This, in my opinion, could be trouble waiting to happen. "One size fits all," ready to use form contracts are cheap and quick. At best, these forms provide a good starting point for people and their lawyers to develop customized, legal contracts. At worst, these forms run serious risk of containing illegal or unenforceable provisions or failing to include certain language required under the applicable state's law.
My equine law books (available by calling 800-662-2210) do not include form contracts, but they discuss the key elements of what goes into lease agreements. Read on for a description of some elements. Here are few reasons why I am opposed to "one-size-fits-all" form contracts:
Reason 1: "One Size Fits All" May Work for Clothing But Not for Most Equine Industry Contracts. "One size fits all" might work with hats and mittens; where equine matters are involved, however, the era of the "one size fits all," ready to use form contract is over. The main reason for this is that state laws are now more diverse than ever. As of July 2000, 44 states across the country have passed laws that, in some form, control or limit certain liabilities for equine activities. Most of these laws require equine professionals, sponsors of equine activities, and others to include special language in the contracts and releases they use. Language requirements vary considerably from state to state.
Reason 2: Generic Forms Sometimes Omit Important and Unique Elements. By design, most "one-size-fits-all" form contracts are generic and often fail to take into account the unique interests of the parties who rely on them.
Reason 3: The "Lawyer in a Package" is a Myth. Some "one size fits all," ready to use form contracts are touted as being written by equine lawyers. This is probably true. Equally true, however, is the fact that the lawyer who writes a form contract is not your lawyer and has no idea of the state you are from or your specific legal needs. A well-written lease can include, at a minimum:
* description of the horse
-- and much more
A: I truly believe there is no absolute right or wrong answer to this one. I am unaware of an "industry standard" on this, either. The fact is, the parties to the lease know there is always a risk that the animal might not fill out the lease (due to death or disability). So what do you do? The answer depends on what the parties intended. In the annual leases (lump sum for a year version) that I have been asked to draft by some of my clients, I start by asking my clients what stand they want to take on this issue. Then, I draft the contract accordingly. Consequently, there are options for language in the lease contract as to the death of the horse and what, if anything, the lessee gets. Here are some of them:
Obviously, these are the easy ones, but it can get more complicated than that, especially if the lessor and the lessee negotiate the contract heavily. Here are some of the more complicated "spins" on these themes:
Certainly, some lawyers could make crafty arguments that the lessee might deserve a refund if the horse's demise makes it impossible to perform the contract. That argument is convincing, but it isn't always guaranteed to work for the lessee; it might also be overcome by a contract in which the parties make clear how they intend for refunds to apply (or not) during the lease term.
Because of these, and more, variations, I strongly suggest that the lease agreement be in writing. My newest book, MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense, has a section that discusses leases, how to avoid disputes with them, and a list of effective ingredients to the lease agreement. To order this book, or my first book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, call (800) 662-2210. (NOTE: There are no forms in either of my books, precisely because of what you see above -- these documents can vary considerably!)
Q: In California, what does the boarding stable owner do to gain legal ownership and the right to sell an abandoned horse in order to recover board fees and costs owed? In this case, the amount owed is $2000 and the horse is worth about $2500-$3000. The horse owner refuses to respond to calls or letters.
A: Because you stabled someone else's horse for a fee, chances are excellent that you have a "stablemen's lien law" or "agister's lien law" under the law of your state. In California, the law I am referring to can be found in Cal. Civ. Code Section 3080.01 and possibly in sections that immediately follow.
These laws, which differ across the country, often tell:
As my first book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, explains, stablemen's lien sales can be risky if stables do not follow the law. The good news is if a stable follows the law TO THE LETTER, and can prove it to the breed registry's satisfaction, many breed registries will transfer the horse's registration papers into the buyer's name. The bad news is that if the sale is not done legally, the stable faces the potential for a mess of legal hassles, beginning with the police (who could claim the stable or the new owner stole the horse!), the disgruntled new owner (who claims he or she lacks clear title and wants to hold the stable accountable), and the former owner/non-paying boarder (who charges the stable with stealing the horse and violating the terms of a contract).
A: Good question! Most equine sales transactions are done on a handshake. Unless that is unlawful in your state (I regret that I do not know what state you are from), here are some ideas to think about:
1. Optional - Bill of sale. Maybe you want a document signed by the seller that merely affirms what the seller has given you (horse name, age, breed, registration #, color, in foal or not, price, payment received in full, seller's name and address, and date of sale). My first book, Equine Law & Horse Sense, explains how to write a simple sales contract in about 5 minutes that covers the most basic, minimum elements. My books are available by calling (800) 662-2210.
2. Optional - Sales Contract. Maybe you prefer details. For example, maybe you want written warranties from the seller as to the horse's condition (such as "the horse is not lame now and has had no illnesses or lameness conditions in the last X years). Maybe you want a warranty from the seller that the horse has no known vices or bad habits. These are just a few ideas.
As a lawyer with an Equine Law practice, I have written sales contracts for clients all over the country. Some are, at the client's request, simple. Others are (such as where my clients spend hundreds of thousands or even a million dollars or more) very detailed.
For the best protection, consider hiring a knowledgeable lawyer to help you out. The price you pay for the assistance and contract could easily save you tens of thousands of dollars, down the line, if something goes wrong. In short, dispute prevention is far more valuable than litigating the dispute.
A: First of all, congratulations for recognizing the value of contracts in your equine business. Too many people in the horse industry will buy, sell, board, train, lease, or breed horses with absolutely nothing in writing. The problem is, your question suggests that you plan to immediately download and put to use any form you receive from whatever source. This, in my opinion, could be trouble waiting to happen.
Form contracts are cheap and quick. At best, form contracts provide a good starting point for people and their lawyers to develop customized, legal contracts. At worst, form contracts run a serious risk of containing illegal or unenforceable provisions or failing to include certain language required under the applicable state's law. Both of my equine law books do not include form contracts, but I draft individualized contracts for my clients. Here are a few reasons why:
A: First of all, congratulations for recognizing the value of contracts in your equine business! Too many people in the horse industry buy, sell, board, train, lease, or breed horses with absolutely nothing in writing. The problem is, too many people in the horse industry immediately copy and put to use any form they receive. This, in my opinion, is often trouble waiting to happen.
Certainly, you might be able to ask a respected equine facility to share with you its business contracts. That will give you a starting point to develop your own or to share with your lawyer. But if you seek standardized forms from a book or software package, I would advise you to use caution. "One size fits all," ready to use form contracts are cheap and quick. At best, these forms provide a good starting point for people and their lawyers to develop customized, legal contracts. At worst, these forms run a serious risk of containing illegal or unenforceable provisions or failing to include certain language required under the applicable state's law.
Both of my equine law books, Equine Law & Horse Sense and MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense, [to order, contact Horses & The Law Publishing at (800) 662-2210 ] do not include form contracts. The second book includes some actual language from liability releases that succeeded, and I offer a few suggestions for clauses that go into contracts. As a lawyer with a busy equine law practice, I draft contracts that are customized for each of my clients. Here are a few reasons why:
1: "One Size Fits All" May Work for Clothing
But Not for Most Equine Industry Contracts
comparison, Rhode Island's equine liability law requires:
Wide variations like this illustrate how a "one size fits all" form contract cannot account for every state's required language.
2: Generic Forms Sometimes Omit Important and
3: The "Lawyer in a Package" is a Myth
A: Your question is unclear and you do not specify what state you are from. Also, the answer depends on what type of license you seek. If you are, for example, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, riding instructors must be licensed. A state entity (I do not know which one) regulates that.
Online resources are available. Start with a search engine (my favorite is www.excite.com) and see where it take you. Obviously, if you are concerned about keeping in compliance with the law, then the most obvious resource is a knowledgeable lawyer who knows, or can research, the applicable state law. I hope your business venture goes well.
Q: I had a verbal agreement with a man to keep a mare that was supposed to be pregnant. In return, I would keep the foal. As it turned out, she wasn't pregnant. Now, after two years, he's decided to come back to get her. What can I do about time and money invested? I live in Georgia.
A: Talk with a lawyer in your state about rights available to you under the Georgia Stablemen's Lien law. Most states have these laws, also called "agister' lien laws." I write about them in my first book, Equine Law & Horse Sense.
You may have certain rights to insist on continued possession of the mare until you are paid in full. The law might also allow you to sell off the mare -- under limitations and with requirements contained directly in the law. Make sure you follow the law to the letter.
This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 2003by Timon Inc
Equerry and Equerry.com and logos are Service/Trademarks of Timon, Inc.
[Equerry.com - Home] [Equerry - Ask the Experts] [Equerry - Submit Question]