Horses Don’t Sleep in the Bed with You, Right?

8 04 2014

Okay, so I know I promised this month’s post would be about buying a horse, but I am pushing that one until May because this issue has been gnawing at me intellectually….so this post is kind of a philosophical one…sorry to get all “woo woo” on you, but I just need to get this stuff out there…the musings of a lawyer? I know, B-O-R-I-N-G – just indulge me this once please…

As chair of the American Bar Association’s Equine Law Subcommittee, I often note how different our subcommittee is from the others within the Animal Law Committee – the Committee of which we are a part. Most members of the Animal Law Committee are devoted and accomplished companion animal (cat/dog, etc.) or wildlife proponents. Some would say they are “animal rights lawyers,” which is wonderful, but the issues which arise in equine law are not typically the same sorts of issues which arise with regard to companion animals – or even with regard to wild animals. There is some overlap, of course, such as anti-cruelty laws and wildlife protection of certain equine species like the wild mustangs of the American West, but there are more issues that are different for equines and dogs/cats/wildlife than those which are the same.

Most horse people are dog and cat people too, I find. Heck, most of us just love animals generally. Except for spiders and snakes, of course. Yes, I know they are God’s creatures and all and are a necessary part of our ecosystem, but hardly anyone loves them, whether a horse lover or not. But I digress. In reality, many of us horse folks find being around animals preferable to being around some people we know! Animals are always honest and with them you know where you stand. They may not always be “nice,” but they are not typically “fake” either. What you see is mostly what you get – aside from the seemingly sweet pony who turns and bites the fire out of you when you are tightening that girth. Or cat who purrs and rubs against your hand only to stop suddenly and give you a little “love” bite. But dogs and cats and maybe the occasional pot-bellied pig or ferret might sleep in the bed with you. Horses do not generally sleep in the bed with their owners. So while many of us love all types of animals, us horse folks know horses are, well, different.

Equine laws straddle lots of areas outside of what the public thinks of as “animal law.” For example, Agricultural Law sounds like it might include some equine law, does it not? After all, horses typically live on a farm. Just like cows and goats. But just as horses are different from dogs and cats and wild animals, horses are also different from other agricultural livestock as well. We do not usually train and ride our cows and goats. We do not usually have our cows’ and goats’ hooves trimmed every six weeks or clip their fur so that they have a cute little heart of fur on their rumps. We do not usually have as close a personal relationship with our cows and goats as we do with our horses – although I am sure there are those of us out there who may. So when we speak with the North Carolina Farm Bureau, for example, a huge and beloved horse industry proponent and friend, they hear different concerns from us than when they speak with the cow industry people or the sheep industry people. Some would say equines are the most unique of the farm livestock in terms of the variety of laws which affect them. So it can make it hard to build alliances with the other livestock people because our primary legal concerns as horse people are often not the same as theirs.

For what purpose do most of us use our equines? Some of us use them as farm equipment to genuinely help contribute to the production at that particular farm. But far more of us use equines for a sport – whether it is racing, reining, showing, trail riding, vaulting, jumping, hunting, eventing, dressage, harness racing, polo or other sport. What does that fact tell us? That another area of law equine law straddles is Sports & Entertainment Law. In fact, the most complex regulations affecting equines probably exist in this context. The same type of performance-enhancing drug scandals which permeate baseball and other sports are just as present in the equine world. That fact gives rise to scores of regulations and oversight required by government and industry watchdog groups. Some of the biggest court battles in equine history have been in the context of Sports & Entertainment Law. And again, horses are different from any other piece of sports equipment. After all, they are alive. Aside from dog sled racing and a few other exceptions, animals are not generally considered to be sports equipment and the laws surrounding sports do not contemplate the equipment being a living being. So there has developed a special, narrow type of Sports & Entertainment law which deals specifically with equine issues and the regulation of the treatment and use of the equines in those sports or entertainment venues.

So what does all this mean? The fact that horses are special, are unique, have to be given specific consideration in a variety of legal contexts, just a few of which we have discussed here? Well, it means that we have to remember that there are lots of places we have to go to find all the laws that govern our care, use and ownership of equines. And it means that we equine lovers are incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to interact and, for some of us, live with some amazingly beautiful and complex animals whose uses are so varied and whose characteristics are so unique that they must be addressed in many different legal contexts. Keep that in mind as you acquire, care for or transfer your or others’ amazing equine assets.

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 2014 is $350). 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 our firm’s Equine Law Group web page at http://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 (in one way or another, I guess) an advertisement for legal services.

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