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Equerry Exclusive Interview with

Julie Fershtman

Julie was interviewed by Emily Covington in January, 2000.  Our questions and her answers are presented below.

There are various rites of passage that a horse enthusiast may experience; buying and selling a horse for the first time, purchasing a property on which to house a beloved backyard pony, perhaps the more ambitious goal of creating a boarding and training facility, breeding one's mare, even the simple act of signing up for one's first riding lesson. These are all events that could quite possibly require the expertise of an attorney. The field of Equine Law is still relatively new, but the as the horse industry continues to grow, there is a great demand for expert council. One of the best known and highly regarded Equine Lawyers in the United States is Julie Fershtman.

Background: Regarded as one of the foremost experts in the field of Equine Law, Ms. Fershtman has pioneered much of the work in this field. Her career has been distinguished with honors from United Professional Horsemen's Association, North American Horsemen's Association, an "Outstanding Achievement" Award by the American Riding Instructors Association and the prestigious "Partner In Safety" Award given by the Association for Horsemanship Safety & Education. A sought after speaker at many national equine related conferences and conventions, Ms. Fershtman has published numerous articles in national equestrian publications. She is the author of the acclaimed book Equine Law & Horse Sense and has since followed it up with MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense, due in April.

We are very pleased to present to Equerry's readers our interview with Julie Fershtman. Her expertise and insights are sure to enlighten all of us involved horses. Julie is also a participant on the Equerry Panel of Experts for Equerry's "Ask the Experts in the category of Equine Law.

 

Equerry: At what point did you begin to focus on Equine Law?

Julie Fershtman: I have been a lawyer since 1986. It was not until 1992 or so -- when I was 6 years out of law school -- that it occurred to me that a lawyer could practice Equine Law. Law schools do not teach equine law and, at the time, there were very few resources available to lawyers on the subject. Consequently, I had to work very hard to learn the law and the issues.

Equerry: What attracted you to this field?

Julie Fershtman: A life-long interest with horses and many years of horse ownership. For any lawyer, merging a law practice with a personal interest is a dream come true.

Equerry: Is your current practice centered around Equine Law?

Julie Fershtman: About 75% of it is, and my practice is very busy. I also handle business and employment law disputes that do not involve horses.

Equerry: What are some of the most common Equine Law related questions or issues that you encounter?

Julie Fershtman: Mainly, verbal contract disputes. For centuries, humans have bought, sold, and traded horses. Most folks still prefer to do business on a handshake. There may be numerous reasons for this, but when things fall apart my phone rings. Unfortunately, 99% of these callers learn that fighting out disputes in court -- especially when the disputes involve verbal contracts -- can be expensive. These folks are now believers in written contracts; they realize that the price to have a well-drafted contract prepared by a knowledgeable lawyer is a mere fraction of the cost of taking on a lawsuit! A large part of my practice involves drafting contracts.

I also do a great deal of work defending the equine industry in personal injury lawsuits. These cases involve injuries, and sometimes even deaths, that happen when someone is riding, driving, or near a horse.

Equerry: Is there a particular topic that you enjoy the most or perhaps feel most strongly about?

Julie Fershtman: I feel strongly that people, if they want to avoid legal disputes, need to have a general understanding of the law and how it affects them. This is what has prompted me to write a monthly equine law column since 1993 and to write two books on equine law (Equine Law & Horse Sense as well as my newest book, due out in April 2000, called MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense). I write to educate people.

Equerry: What, in your opinion, are some of the primary issues that the typical horse owner ought to be familiar with in regard to Equine Law?

Julie Fershtman: 1.Waivers/Releases of Liability. Most states DO enforce them -- as long as they are properly written and signed.
2. The Value of Getting it in Writing. Considering the fact that the average judge knows nothing about horses, people who do business together (whether boarding horses, training horses, selling horses, breeding horses, etc.) should put their assumptions in writing. Don't assume that the court can figure it out! My books cover these and several more issues, too.

Equerry: How can the professional or amateur horse owner be better prepared legally?

Julie Fershtman: I realize that this may come across as self-serving, but the fact is that folks really can involve lawyers in many of their matters. Check with the lawyer before buying a horse farm (you might be surprised that the zoning laws hamper your plans), selling or buying a horse, signing or presenting a contract, or buying insurance. The value of a good lawyer is that he or she can actually save you money in the long run.

Equerry: Are there any frequently overlooked legal aspects in the horse industry today?

Julie Fershtman: Many, which is why I have written 2 books. Let me give you one example: insurance. Too many people assume that they are insured for their equine activities, when they really are not! Professionals cannot rely on their homeowner's coverage; the average horse owner might assume that homeowner's insurance protects them in connection with their horse activities, when this is often not the case. What needs to be done? The professionals typically need Commercial General Liability Insurance, and the average horse owner might need to look into Personal Horse Owner's Liability Insurance.

Equerry: Under which circumstances might someone need to contact a professional such as yourself specializing in Equine Law?

Julie Fershtman: There are numerous things lawyers can do. The most obvious is when people want to bring a lawsuit or when they have been sued. But lawyers can avoid disputes by drafting contracts and by counseling clients. Also, there are many laws that affect what we in the industry do -- such as equine liability laws (now in 44 states) that can affect contracts and that require signs to be posted, stablemen's lien laws that affect collection of unpaid board, and zoning laws; a lawyer can assess how these laws affect you and help you comply with them. Lawyers can also advise whether a dispute can be handled by an alternative to the court system -- such as arbitration or mediation. There are several lawyers with tax expertise, too.

Equerry: Do you have any advice as to how one might locate an attorney specializing in Equine Law?

Julie Fershtman: There are several ways: word of mouth, referrals from friends or organizations, advertisements, or you can check the online Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, listed below, to find a lawyer in your area: http://martindale-hubbell.com/locator/home.html

Equerry: You have written the book Equine Law & Horse Sense. What made you decide to write this book?

Julie Fershtman: Pure and simple, the industry has a tremendous need for understandable and current resources on equine law.

Equerry: Would you share with our readers some of the key topics that are covered?

Julie Fershtman: Some of the topics in Equine Law & Horse Sense include:

  • The Law and Equine Facilities -- Back Yard to Commercial
  • Special Equine Business Issues (Independent Contractors and Collecting Debts)
  • Contracts and How to Make Them Easily and Inexpensively
  • Common Characteristics of Waivers/Releases That Work
  • Liabilities and Avoiding Them
  • Equine Insurance
  • Resolving Disputes on Your Own
  • Glossary of Legal Terms

My new book covers even more topics. Here are just a few of them: products liability, veterinary malpractice, the details of the equine liability laws, and even how to hire a lawyer.

Equerry: As equestrian sports become increasingly commercial, with corporate sponsorship, etc, how do you see the field of Equine Law involved in this process of change?

Julie Fershtman: Whether as a result of pressure from sponsors or from other pressures, I believe that there will be a greater emphasis on safety. This is not to say that we are not already aware of the importance of safety, but we are now seeing helmet laws slowly emerging. I see this as a trend for the foreseeable future.

Equerry: With your busy professional life, have you found the time to be involved with horses outside of your practice?

Julie Fershtman: That's a tough question, because I have done so much and have many future goals, too. I have been involved with horses since the late 60's, when I was a kid. I have owned several horses and have competed in both English and Western riding events. Eight years ago I competed extensively on a Quarter Horse, and won several championships. I live on a small horse property, with a barn. Thanks to Katie, my toddler daughter, and thanks to an overabundance of work and speaking engagements, I am temporarily horse-less. However, Katie likes horses and is already asking for her own pony. My barn will have another horse or pony in another year or so. My clients span all breeds and disciplines. My next horse might just be an eventer or a dressage horse.

Equerry: Thank you very much for your time and expertise!

 

Julie Fershtman is on the panel of Equerry's "Ask The Experts" where you can ask questions on the subject of "Equine Law" and view her public responses.  You can read our review of Julie's book, "Equine Law & Horse Sense" at the Equerry Bookstore and place your order online. Click here for pricing and ordering details.

 

Emily Covington was employed at Hilltop Farm, Inc. in Colora, MD from 1992 through 1997. Starting as a working student, she later served as assistant stable manager, and rode young horses, including her own. She has produced a variety of photography and artwork for the farm’s publications. She now lives in Redlands, CA where she continues to ride and does various freelance work for Hilltop.

 

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