Do You Really, Really KNOW Your Trainer? Part One

18 01 2013

I’ve gotten several calls lately with a theme and it worries me a little…or a lot, depending on how I think about it.

The casual and relatively close-knit nature of the horse world lulls us into feeling like if we really like someone, or if someone we know and respect really likes someone, they are fine.  And that’s usually the case.  But the calls I’ve been getting lately point out to me that such is not always the case.  So, my next two posts will address this issue and offer some suggestions:

Case No. 1 – North Carolina gentleman we will call Sid entrusts his young but very well bred dressage horse Wellington to a seemingly well known trainer we will call Herman in another state.  Herman had a nice website and did a good job with some of Sid’s friends’ horses.  What Sid didn’t realize was that Herman had also done a really poor job with several horses and had been sued several times by his clients as a result, but Herman had moved around from state to state hoping his reputation didn’t catch up with him.  Over a period of a couple of years Sid paid Herman upwards of $30,000 in board and training fees, thinking that Wellington was going to come home a superstar.  That didn’t happen.  Instead what came home was a horse that was 2 years older and still barely green broke with injuries which were consistent with being quite overworked, especially for a horse Wellington’s age.  Wellington’s injuries have likely caused permanent damage in some of his joints.  So now what could have been a $75,000-$100,000 horse is now, at best, a $10,000 horse and that’s only IF Wellington is able to stay sound while being trained by a truly good trainer.

Moral of the Story?

Having a trainer in another state can be problematic because (a) it’s incredibly expensive to move your horse there and back, not to mention the cost of getting yourself there and back (which you should do relatively often so you can keep up with the progress and condition of your horse); (b) it’s frustrating to conduct litigation from afar if you have to sue the trainer at some point; (c) you usually have to hire a lawyer licensed in the state where the trainer is located if you have to sue him or her because you will probably have to sue him in state court where he is located (unless your damages exceed $75,000 and then you can sue in federal court if you are residents of different states); and (d) the odds of you hearing any horror stories about an out of state trainer are much lower than if you were using a local trainer in your own state (even if a few hours away).  Also, there are a lot of horse trainers who train horses for the love of the animal or because that’s all they know and not for the money.  As a result, lots of horse trainers are not flush with cash or property which they could use to pay a judgment which you might get against them if you sue them and win.  Can’t get blood out of a turnip and all.

Sometimes there are circumstances which make sending your horse to an out of state trainer a necessity.  If that’s the case, PLEASE do some solid research on the trainer BEFORE sending your horse out to him/her, research on the facility (is it owned by the trainer? Leased?  If leased, leases end and your horse could end up somewhere not as nice) and be very thorough.  Google the trainer, run a background check on him/her, talk to lots of folks whose horses he/she has trained over the years, be sure he/she has a lot of experience (preferably several years) and good results (ask for show records), ask to see his or her trainer/instructor liability insurance policy and get the name and number of his or her insurance agent and look at the litigation records in the states where you know he/she has lived to see if he/she has been sued a lot (or at all).  And, if you can afford it, get major medical and mortality insurance on your horse before you send him or her away (and make sure your horse is covered while outside your state – they usually are (see my former post on this issue), but double check with your agent.  And go to visit your horse while he or she is in training to ensure that progress is being made and that you can SEE that progress with your own eyes and/or feel it with your own backside (if you’re a rider too).  Sending your horse off without going to physically check in on him or her is a dangerous proposition.  I would probably make it a surprise visit if you can so that you will get a real feel for how and where your horse is being kept.  A good, honest trainer will not mind if you show up anytime.  If they require lots of notice before you can come, I would be wary.

All of the concerns and suggestions stated in this post are magnified and multiplied 100 times if you are considering sending your horse out of the country for training.  Do even more to investigate the trainer and facility BEFORE agreeing to send the horse and be more picky about what you require.  It’s very, very difficult and very, very expensive to engage in litigation across borders of countries.

That’s part one of “Do You Really, Really KNOW Your Trainer” and part Two will come soon!

If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at dburch@rl-law.com. I often will answer a short and simple question for free if I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! If you don’t hear back from me quickly, it’s not because I don’t love you or think you have a great question or because I don’t know the answer (usually), I’m probably just really busy and haven’t had a chance to email back.  And you can always buy the first hour of my time for $250 (my usual hourly rate for 2013 is $325).  Lots of folks will save up all their equine (and some corporate or real estate) legal questions and short documents and sit with me for an hour and we will do as much as we can during that hour and it’s only $250.  You can check out my Twitter feed @nchorselawyer as well as my web page at www.rl-law.com/professionals/dorothy-bass-burch/ or our firm’s Equine Law Group web page at www.rl-law.com/equine if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories, this blog and the Twitter feed referenced above are also advertisements for legal services.  I have to tell you that in bold, says the State Bar.

Be careful out there and Happy New Year!

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