The Tangled Web of Potential Liability at Horse Shows

16 02 2015

Many of us are familiar with the scenario of a local lesson stable which teaches group riding lessons and occasionally takes a group of kids to a local horse show. Some of the kids bring their own horses, some bring horses they have leased from the stable and some kids bring horses leased from elsewhere. All the horses pile on stable-owned or parent-owned or rider-owned trailers and the kids pile in cars (or perhaps the cab of the truck trailering the horses) and everyone heads for the showgrounds.

These are the types of scenarios which make for the most fun, camaraderie and learning for the kids and their trainers and give the riders a chance to finally demonstrate in a public way all the riding skills which they have (hopefully) mastered. Shows are very exciting for everyone involved. Everyone may not get a ribbon, but everyone will learn and work hard and usually have at least a little bit of fun if not a lot of fun. Unfortunately, these typically wonderful scenarios are also the scenarios which can turn scary very quickly and can make for the most complex liability determinations in the equine legal world.

Why is a show scenario complicated from a legal perspective? Well, because so many different people are at the show in so many different roles and most of those people have valuable property with them at the show, whether it is a horse or expensive saddle, nice trailer or other items of value. Every person at the showgrounds (and some not at the showgrounds) has a “duty of care” to which the law expects them to adhere and each person might owe different duties to different people. Which duties are owed to whom by whom is determined by what role he or she is playing in the show environment. Is the person an exhibitor/participant? Is the person a show manager? A groom? Parents of exhibitors? Spectators? Trainers? Stable owners? Trailer drivers? Janitorial or cafeteria staff? Siblings of exhibitors? The list goes on and on.

Why all this fuss and focus on all these individuals? Why do we care? We care because when something happens at a horse show which causes damage to a person or property and that person or owner of that property wants to be compensated for that loss, the law gives us rules about how to determine who is responsible for that loss. And when you have a scenario such as a horse show where so many different people are present for so many different reasons, the legal rules often overlap or conflict and can get extremely confusing.

For example, let’s say that there is a 3 year old boy Jimmy sitting on a lead line pony named Misty waiting to show. Show management did not anticipate the high number of exhibitors who showed up and so the classes are crowded and moving slowly. The lead line class is the last class of the day. Jimmy’s parents put yawning Jimmy on Misty about 10pm and he is then standing in line with other exhibitors before his class enters the ring. A little girl Sally on a leased quarter horse named Red is waiting to go into the class ahead of Jimmy and realizes she has forgotten her gloves. Sally asks one of her friends Kim to hold Red while Sally runs into the barn to get her gloves. Unbeknownst to Kim, Red is an escape artist. Sensing a golden opportunity for freedom, Red yanks his reins out of Kim’s hand and takes off, bumping into Misty, who becomes annoyed and bucks. Jimmy falls off and breaks his arm. Red is happy as a lark running free and eventually ends up on neighboring property owned by private landowners Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Mr. Smith sees Red calmly grazing in his front yard and goes outside to try to catch him, despite the fact that Mr. Smith is not a horse person and does not know anything about handling horses. He just loves animals and does not want Red to get hurt because he can see that he is loose in an unfenced area. Although well-intentioned, Mr. Smith lunges at Red in an effort to grab his reins and in doing so startles Red, who takes off again and drags Mr. Smith a few feet, causing injuries. Red keeps going and runs into the road in front of the neighbor’s house and gets hit by a man on a motorcycle. Red and the motorcyclist are both injured and the motorcycle is totaled.

What a mess! But this type of scenario is not at all unusual, believe it or not. It would take me ten pages to go through all the potential liabilities for the various people who are involved here, so I will spare you the in-depth analysis. But here are a few things to think about:

The broadest interpretation of liability might say that the show management is responsible for everything because they were not adequately prepared for the number of folks who showed up for the show. Some would say they should have had a registration deadline a few days before the show started so that they could line up adequate personnel to keep the show moving. And maybe capped the number of exhibitors to an amount they could comfortably manage. Should they have moved the lead line class to earlier in the day given the young age of those participants? Because if the show hadn’t run late, then Sally would not have been standing around so long and Red and Misty would not have been so grouchy and willing to misbehave and Jimmy wouldn’t have gotten hurt and Red would not have run away. But is tracing all that back to show management an unreasonably long stretch in order to assign fault?

Perhaps Mr. Smith should be liable for Red’s and the motorcyclist’s injuries and motorcycle damage because he lunged at the peacefully grazing Red, spooking him and causing him to run into the road? If he had not lunged at Red, perhaps he could have peacefully collected Red’s reins and led him back to the showgrounds?
Is Sally liable for not telling Kim that Red was an escape artist so Kim would know to hang on to Red extra tight? Or is Red’s owner liable for leasing a horse who likes to escape?

Are Jimmy’s parents liable for his injuries because they used using poor judgment in allowing him to stay up so late for a lead line class and thus surrounding a tired and cranky little boy with lots of tired and cranky horses?
Was Sally’s trainer liable for not being on site with Sally to hold Red while Sally went for her gloves?

You see how these speculations can go on and on. It is very difficult sometimes to parce out where the liability should rest for any given harm which occurred.
So what is the lesson to be learned from this example? First, be sure you have good health, liability and property insurance (on you, your kids, your horse, your trailer and other property) in place and paid up in case something bad happens at a show – TO you, your horse, your child or your student or BY you, your horse, your child or your student. Second, make sure you only work with reputable, insured trainers and attend shows managed by reputable show managers in safe, well-maintained locations owned by trustworthy people, companies or governmental entities. Third, while at the show keep an eye on your horses, your children, your trainer and yourself for signs of stress and fatigue and when you see it, respect it and remove yourself, your child, your horse and your property from situations where they may endanger themselves or others as a result of this stress and fatigue. Use common sense to be careful and remember that the health and safety of humans and horses is paramount to and more important than any ribbon or trophy. Good luck at the shows and be safe!

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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 2015 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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Before You Gallop Down the Aisle…

15 12 2014

There are so many things to consider when deciding whether to marry your beloved.  So many really, really important things like compatibility, having and rearing children, religious beliefs, political leanings, family background, cultural issues, household chores, whether you like the toilet paper over or under – and the list goes on and on.

For horse owners, you have one more thing to consider – what happens with my horse when I marry?  Or you may not currently own a horse, but plan to purchase one after you are married. Who owns it if that is the case? What happens to the horse if you get divorced? Whose responsibility is the horse?

In North Carolina (and many other states), the rule is that if you own something before you marry (in other words, you have a bill of sale for a horse in your name before the date of your marriage), the horse is considered your “separate property” unless you take some action after you are married which transfers the ownership of that horse into your spouse’s name or into your and your spouse’s names together.  If you transfer ownership of your horse to your spouse or to yourself and your spouse after you are married, then the horse becomes “marital property” unless the documents state that the horse is not intended to be marital property but is intended to be either (a) the separate property of your spouse or (b) property held by the two of you as tenants in common, with each spouse’s interest being considered separate property (this latter scenario is somewhat unusual).

Likewise, if you or your spouse purchases a horse after you marry, the horse is considered by law to be “marital property” unless there is something in writing signed by you and your spouse which indicates that you two intend for the horse to be your or your spouse’s separate property.

What is the difference between separate and marital property? In North Carolina, in order to obtain a judgment of absolute divorce, you must be separated from your spouse (i.e., not living under the same roof, generally speaking) for a period of one year (other states may have different time requirements for separation).  When you are undergoing the process of obtaining a divorce, each spouse is entitled to have the jointly owned “marital” property divided through a process called “equitable distribution” wherein marital assets are divvied up between the spouses (typically in equal shares absent some legal reason requiring an unequal division). In order to accomplish this division of assets, the assets have to be valued as of a particular point in time.  North Carolina has defined that point in time for valuation as the date of separation.  So, in summary, generally speaking, when you are getting divorced in North Carolina and dividing up marital property between the spouses, the law requires us to value the marital property for purposes of this equitable distribution/division as of the date you separated from your spouse (and stayed separated for at least a year without ever reconciling).

What does all this information mean?  Well, if your horse is your separate property, then that horse is not treated as a marital asset and its value would not be included in the total value assigned to the marital assets, which value has to be shared with your soon to be ex-spouse.  In other words, if the horse is your separate property, you get to keep the horse, you have all say so on what happens with and to the horse and you don’t have to pay your spouse anything for the horse in order for you to keep it.

On the contrary, if you acquire the horse after you marry, even if the horse is registered and titled in your name alone, the horse is marital property unless your spouse signs something indicating he or she agrees that the horse will be your separate property.  In the event the horse is marital property, the value of that horse will need to be calculated as of the date of separation and that value included in the total value of assets which will need to be divided between the spouses.

The value of a horse which is considered marital property is determined by agreement of the parties (if you can agree) or by an appraisal of the horse, whether formal or informal. For example, the parties might not agree on a value for the horse, but agree that they will permit the horse’s trainer to set a value. Or they may agree to have a professional appraisal done to value the horse and agree to honor whatever value the appraiser sets for the horse.  Ultimately, if the parties cannot agree on a value or on a qualified appraiser, the court can take over and choose the appraiser who will set the value for the horse. Once the value is agreed to or set, then that value is used when considering how best to allocate the assets to the divorcing parties.  If only one spouse wants the horse then it is usually not a big deal because the horse will be “allocated” to that spouse. However, if both spouses want the horse, then the court, in its discretion, may end up making the determination of who gets the horse in the division of property. In rare instances the court may permit the parties to co-own the horse after the divorce if neither side wants to give up their interest and the court deems it to be appropriate to permit co-ownership going forward. It is also possible that the court may order the horse to be sold and the proceeds divided between the parties if the parties continue to dispute the value or allocation of the horse.

So, moral of the story here is that if you are getting married, that is wonderful and exciting!  But be sure that you and your spouse add to the list of things you discuss – prior to walking down the aisle – the issue of horse ownership and whether and how you both envision the situation arising in your marriage so that all parties are on the same page from the beginning. And although it seems somewhat “doomsday” to consider, if you are a planner and like to plan for all contingencies, go ahead and decide who will get the horse if, God forbid, you ever were to divorce. If the worst happens and you do end up separating, it is true that this agreement may disintegrate or be “forgotten” by one of you, but if not, it might prove to help make a very unpleasant process somewhat easier if you both know what is going to happen with your horses.

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.





Boarding Horses is Not for the Faint of Heart

11 11 2014

Whether you are considering building a barn on your property or already have a barn on your property and are considering allowing boarders to come board horses on your property, you should think very carefully before embarking on such an adventure. Boarding horses is definitely, as the title says, not for the faint of heart. There are a myriad of issues that arise, legal and non-legal, from issues related to adequacy and safety of your facilities to temperament and safety of the animals being boarded.

The obvious concerns about personal or equine injuries which might take place on your property are probably the issue most people think of first and with good reason. Horses and ponies are large animals and it does not take much in the way of a wrong, even accidental, movement to do a lot of damage to a human being or another animal. We all know of situations where a horse kicks a dog or another horse, and that can certainly get expensive to remedy, but what is more often a concern to us is injury to people. Under certain circumstances injuries to people, especially young people, can cost a stable owner a fortune even if the stable is insured.

What do I mean? Well, children are the humans we as a society consider most precious. They have their entire lives ahead of them with what often seems like unlimited potential. It is that potential that, once squelched with death or a debilitating injury, can cost a stable owner and its insurance company (assuming the stable has liability insurance) a great deal of money to remedy. A claim for injury to a 50 year old person will in all likelihood not yield the monetary compensation that a claim for injury to a 5 year old will yield. And where there are horses and ponies, there are often children. And if you add to the mix the possibility that you are going to permit children’s group riding lessons, you have magnified the potential for injury and, at the same time, magnified your potential liability for those injuries.

In addition to the risk of human injury on site for which you could be potentially held liable, there is the risk of a horse escaping your facility and causing injury in the process, whether the animal runs into traffic and causes an accident or tramples someone off site during its escape, among other things.

Another risk relates the boarders themselves for what they may perceive as damage to their horse for which they blame you, the stable owner. Many times a disgruntled boarder has believed that the stable owner was negligent in permitting an unqualified worker to handle the boarded horses and claim that this worker did something which resulted in injury to that boarder’s horse. Maybe the barn manager read the turnout chart incorrectly and put two horses who do not get along in the same paddock by accident and one or both of them is injured. Perhaps it will not be a huge financial hit if it is a $500 retired pasture horse, but it could be a sizeable problem if the injury is to a $50,000 show horse.

Being hypervigilant at all times about the condition of your fencing and the vegetation growing in the fields and paddocks is not an easy job. If someone’s horse dies from ingesting a poisonous plant that should not have been growing in the fields, you may have a problem. If someone’s horse steps in a rabbit hole and breaks its leg, someone may claim you should have inspected the fields better for these hazards. Are they correct? Maybe or maybe not. But oftentimes it does not matter if they are correct or not because the claim will probably be made – because when a person, his child or his horse is injured, that person wants someone to blame. And if you are the stable owner, you will probably be on the list of people they would like to bear some of the blame.

However, if money is no object and you really enjoy the environment of a boarding facility and are comfortable with the risks it presents, then it may make sense for you to get into the boarding business or continue the one you have. Or if you know the risk and are of average means, but you feel you are compelled to get into or continue the business because of your love for it and you are willing to assume the risks, then it may be fine for you. Or if you live in a key location where people will pay substantial amounts for boarding services at your farm, it may make financial sense for you to enter or continue a boarding operation. But if you are an average person of average means with an average farm in an average location, you have a lot to think about. Lots of insurance coverage is an obvious necessity if you ever board even one horse and a good equine insurance agent should be the first person you call before opening your barn doors to boarders. And then a good equine lawyer so that he or she can explain to you the risks of your undertaking a boarding operation. Information is always empowering, so gather as much information on the risks of housing a horse boarding operation before you undertake it so that you are making the best decision that you can make for you and your family.

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.





Common Misconceptions and Quick Facts about Equine Mortality and Major Medical Insurance

19 10 2014

Last month I wrote about common misconceptions with farm property and liability insurance coverages. This month I am addressing equine mortality and major medical insurance in the hopes of highlighting useful information for everyone. Lisa Steller of Star H Equine Insurance Agency has been a fantastic resource for information and was a major resource for this article as North Carolina’s resident “expert” on all things equine major medical/mortality insurance related. Whereas I typically see issues on the back end after something has gone wrong, Lisa is able to help you on the front end to ensure you have the coverages you need and that you understand what losses your insurance covers and what losses it does not cover.

Let’s start with mortality insurance. Here are some points to remember:

1. While all insurance companies and all individual horse circumstances are a little different, mortality insurance on a horse usually costs about 3-4% of a horse’s value up until the horse reaches 15 years of age. For horses between 15 and 20 years of age, the premium usually runs about 5% of the horse’s value for 15 year olds to about14% of the value for 19 year olds. Finally, equine mortality insurance is typically not available for horses which are 20 years of age or older absent a very expensive, customized policy for a very specific situation.

2. Depending on the circumstances of your situation, there may be conditions or scenarios which are excluded completely from your mortality coverage. Read your policy so you are not surprised if that happens!

3. If you attempt to purchase mortality insurance on a horse for the very first time when the horse is 19 years of age, most insurance companies’ will refuse to insure that horse’s mortality. Insurance companies are understandably much more comfortable continuing to insure a 19 year old horse when they have insured that horse’s mortality for several years (and they have of course had time to collect premium from you over those years as well) than they are taking on a brand new, unknown risk at age 19.

4. Always remember that if your horse gets sick or is injured, you need to call your mortality insurance company ASAP. If you do not notify the company in a timely fashion and the horse dies, the company may be able to deny your mortality claim.

5. Mortality premiums are not usually affected by whether you have previously notified the company of your horse’s illnesses, so agents will tell us that we should not worry that advising the company of our horses’ illnesses will cause the mortality premium to go up if the horse survives the illness. Except in unusual circumstances, mortality premiums are almost always solely based upon age, use and value of the horse, not its health history.

6. One common and difficult situation: your veterinarian says the life of your horse can be preserved – but not its usefulness for your purposes. For example, you have a $20,000 champion reining horse which develops issues with his hooves. Your vet says that a certain treatment is necessary or the horse will founder and die, but the treatment the vet is recommending costs $5,000 and afterwards the horse will no longer be able to participate in reining. You may not have $5,000 or you may prefer instead to spend that $5,000 on a young, green horse which you can develop into a new reiner. If you refuse the treatment which your vet is recommending for your horse and, as a result, your horse founders and dies, your insurance company may be able to deny your mortality insurance claim because you did not elect to have the $5,000 treatment.

7. A necropsy (an autopsy performed on an animal) to determine the cause of a horse’s death is required for all equine mortality claims. This requirement stems in part from the fact that insurance companies do not want to give people an incentive to cause the death of their unwanted horses in order to collect the mortality insurance proceeds.

With regard to equine major medical insurance claims, here are some quick points to remember about this type of coverage and claims:

A. You can sometimes lower the premium cost for your equine major medical coverage by reducing the mortality value of your horse.

B. Major medical coverage premiums are roughly the same for a horse of any age or value, so whether it is 6 months old or 16 years old, worth $500 or $50,000, the premium cost is about the same. Sometimes certain of your horse’s health issues may be excluded from the policy, however. Again, read your policy.

C. Routine health maintenance costs (such as vaccinations) are typically not covered by major medical coverage, nor are veterinarians’ trip charges to your home or your boarding facility, even if your horse is sick or injured.

D. Elective surgery is typically not covered by a major medical policy – for example, complications arising from the gelding of a male horse would not be covered because that surgery is elective. You can usually, however, by paying some extra premium dollars, purchase an endorsement (i.e., additional insurance coverage) to cover elective surgeries if you so desire.

E. As with mortality coverage, major medical coverage requires that the company receive prompt notice of any injury to or illness of your horse. Leave instructions and have the company contact information posted on your horse’s stall door so that someone else at the barn can call the company in case you are not present when the illness or injury occurs.

Last but not least are a few quick facts which pertain to BOTH equine mortality and major medical insurance:

I. Your agent needs a completed and signed application for insurance in order to bind mortality or major medical coverage for you. These coverages cannot be bound over the telephone, so please do not wait to call your agent until you are in the car on the way to pick up your new horse.

II. Equine mortality and major medical coverages are for a specific animal and cannot be switched to another animal. A horse can be added to an existing policy or removed from an existing policy, however. But a new, signed application for that specific animal is required when adding a horse to an existing policy.

III. If you sell your horse, the agent or company will not revise the policy to change it to the new owner’s name. The new owner will need to complete and sign an application for coverage and pay the premium. The prior owner can then cancel the old policy and receive a pro-rated refund of the annual mortality premium and, in some limited cases, of the major medical premium as well.

IV. If a neurectomy has been performed on your horse, it is often no longer insurable for mortality or major medical.

V. Insurance is limited to the value which you paid for the horse, so if you get a $10,000 horse for $5,000, the maximum value the insurance company can place on your horse is $5,000.

Hopefully these quick tips will prove useful to you if you purchase mortality or major medical insurance coverage for any of your equines. The bottom line, as always, is to be sure to read your policy so you know what it does and does not cover.

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.





Some Common Misconceptions About Farm Insurance Coverages

24 08 2014

Occasionally I will receive a call from a horse farm owner who wants me to represent them in connection with a complaint to the North Carolina Department of Insurance because their insurance company has not paid them for a claim they believe should be covered by their insurance. Sometimes it is a claim for damage to property. Sometimes it is a claim related to teaching riding lessons. Sometimes it involves other types of claims. What I often find is that people believe that they have coverage only to find out when it is too late that they do not. How do we prevent this situation? By using a reputable insurance agent who is familiar with the type of insurance you need, by disclosing everything you plan to do at your farm to that agent in writing, by asking good questions of the agent to make sure you understand the coverages and by keeping notes on what is and is not covered under your insurance policy so you can decide with your agent’s help whether there might be different, additional insurance policies you may want to purchase.

When discussing these sorts of issues I frequently call on my friends and experts in the equine insurance area, Lucinda and Butch Human of Star H Equine Insurance in Advance, North Carolina. Lucinda and Butch have been selling equine insurance to horse and farm owners/lessees in the Southeast for decades and have a vast amount of knowledge on the subject. After discussing these matters with them in preparation for this article, I have the following thoughts to offer anyone who carries any type of equine-related insurance, whether it is farm insurance, instructor insurance, mortality insurance or another coverage.

Once you have found a reputable agent experienced with equine insurance, tell them everything you plan to do at your farm (e.g., pasture horses, grow hay, breed horses, board horses, teach lessons, etc.). And do it in an email if possible so that it is in writing so there will be no confusion about what you remembered to tell the agent. Also, you both will have that email to reference in the future if you want to be sure you have addressed everything which needs to be covered. If there are particular concerns about which you are worried, ask questions of your agent. The agent would much rather you ask questions in the beginning when placing the insurance coverage than find out the hard way when you have a claim that something is not a covered risk. Take notes on the agent’s answers to your questions or hang on to the email if the agent responds via email.

This month’s article will focus on misconceptions which are common on the property insurance side of things. Next month we will address misconceptions about other types of equine-related coverages (e.g., instructor coverage, mortality coverage and others).
What kinds of coverage might you be surprised to know you do NOT have with a typical farmowner’s or homeowner’s policy? Well, that is hard to say because folks have differing ideas of what they think is covered under these policies. Generally speaking, though, here a few examples of things which some people believe are covered under their policies but may not be:

1. Fencing – if your fencing around your pastures is damaged, your basic farmowners/homeowners’ policies do not pay to repair that damage. You can purchase separate fence insurance, but it is not something which is automatically covered by the common farmowners/homeowners’ policy.

2. Certain Downed Trees – If a storm blows a tree down on your farm, unless it lands on a covered structure, none of the cost to cut it up and haul it away is covered by your basic farmowners/homeowners’ insurance policy. Even if it is partially on a covered structure, the insurance company may only be required to remove that portion of the tree (limb, etc) which is actually touching the structure.

3. Barns and other Outbuildings Not Scheduled – Be sure to schedule all the structures on your property, from the barn to the run in out in the pasture to the tool shed by the pond. If a structure is not specifically scheduled (listed) on your policy so that it is clear it is expressly covered, you run the risk of it not being covered, so be sure to tell your agent about all your outbuildings!
Hopefully this information has been useful and will help us remember some of the things which are and are not covered by a standard farmowners/homeowners insurance policy. We can also strive to: (a) remember to find a knowledgeable agent when buying any insurance, especially equine-related insurance; (b) advise your agent in writing of all the structures on your property and all the activities you plan to pursue (or allow other to pursue) on your property; (c) ask any questions about coverage before buying the insurance; (d) confirm you understand the answers from your agent; and (e) request the agent respond via email with the answers so you have a written account of what you told them and what they told you. These simple steps will serve to make everyone’s lives easier rather than trying to recollect conversations from months ago during a claims situation.

Insurance exists for virtually any risk you would like covered, you just have to ask. Certain custom coverages may be very expensive and cost-prohibitive, but creative agents can find almost any coverage you would like to have given a few days. So think about your biggest concerns on your farm and/or about your horse and talk with your agent to be sure you are as covered as you can comfortably afford to be!

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.





Halters, Collars and a Quarter Ton

15 07 2014

It comes as no surprise to most horse people when I say horses are not like dogs. Beyond the fact one wears a halter and one wears a collar, there is often a quarter ton difference between the weight of a dog and the weight of a horse. That is quite a large weight disparity. And that is just where the differences begin – with the obvious physical differences we can see with the naked eye.
I know “horses are not like dogs” seems like a statement of the obvious, but I have had several cases where folks are deliberately or innocently or deliriously or naively, depending on the person and the situation, trying to equate the responsibilities of horse owners to protect themselves and others against the many risks inherent with owning, possessing or using a horse with the responsibilities of dog owners to protect themselves and others from the risks inherent with owning, possessing or using dogs. Can both horses and dogs be dangerous? Absolutely. Can they both seriously injure or kill humans? Absolutely. Generally speaking, on average, setting aside the specific temperament of a particularly gentle and slow moving horse and a particularly nasty, aggressive dog, is the risk of serious injury or death higher when we are in the company of horses than it is when we are in the company of dogs? Absolutely. There is just no getting around the fact that there is more risk of physical harm to people and things when they are interacting with the average horse than there is when they are interacting with the average dog.
While horse owners and dog owners can be equally protective and defensive about their beloved animals, it is much more troubling to me when a horse owner openly refuses to acknowledge that there are risks inherent in equine activities, risks that are present primarily because of the sheer size of the animals and the inherent nature of horses as prey animals with a herd mentality. There are hundreds of books written on the subject, from the esteemed natural horsemanship experts’ materials to Cherry Hill’s well known book “How to Think Like a Horse” which eloquently explains typical horse behaviors and the evolutionary reasons behind them. Much of what these writings say teaches us that we, as horse lovers, have to be respectful and patient with the fact that for thousands of years horses have evolved in a way so as to avoid being eaten by a predator. Hyper-vigilant senses of sight, hearing and smell are just some of the adaptations which enable horses to better survive in the wild. When we domesticate horses, these traits do not disappear. And these tendencies can be frustrating and scary to experience first hand, as most of us who have been with a horse when it becomes frightened can attest. While dogs certainly can act out when they are frightened, (a) we are as a society more accustomed to dealing with fearful dogs; (b) dogs are usually smaller than we are; and (c) it is easier to defend yourself against a dog should that become necessary. When a horse is frightened, you can quickly have over 1000 pounds hurtling towards (or away from) you at 25 miles per hour within a matter of seconds.
You get the point. Why do I bring up this issue? Because we horse folks need to always remember that there are many, many, many more dog people/cat people/bird people and other non-horse people than there are horse people in the world. Many people equate horses with other pets in their mind without really thinking about it and do not understand fully or appreciate fully the dangers of being around horses. So, it is incumbent upon us – the relatively few folks who understand these risks – to protect the uneducated and unaware public from harm when we reasonably can. For their benefit, but for our own benefit as well. And we have to do more than dog/cat/bird/guinea pig people have to do in order to protect and educate others about the risks of their animals. Why? Because the potential for disaster is so much greater with an animal of the size and mindset of a horse. I am not suggesting we horse folks need launch an educational campaign to educate non-horsey folks about all things horse-related, just that we think about providing, at a minimum, basic education to those who will share space with our horses in order to raise awareness of the risks inherent with being in the company of horses. Ideally, we also give people who are unfamiliar with horses some suggestions for cautions to follow and risky behaviors to avoid. In fact, if you read your equine liability insurance policy (which you should have if you own, lease or use horses in any way), chances are it requires you to take some basic precautions and provide some basic education and notice of certain risks to the general public who comes into contact with your horses.
Just as the owner of a vicious guard dog posts a “Beware of the Dog” sign as a reasonable precaution to protect the unwary, we too need to take precautions to protect the unwary from the risks associated with our horses, the vast majority of whom are the opposite of vicious. Although most horses are loving and gentle animals, they are hardwired to react quickly to ensure self-preservation and any time something that weighs 1,000 pounds (or 500 pounds or 1,500 pounds) moves quickly, it can cause significant damage to people and property and that is the crux of how horses really are not “just like dogs.”

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.





When Buying a Horse, Think Google, Vet Exam and Trial Period

5 06 2014

While I understand that common wisdom in some areas is (and maybe history bears out) that there are lots of horse sellers who are less than honest when selling a horse, I contend that (a) nowdays there are more honest horse sellers than there are dishonest ones; and (b) times have changed for the bad guys because buyers are becoming more educated and have instant access to a vast amount of information about Sellers and horses through technology (Google, Facebook, online registries, etc.) than ever before. The bottom line – and good news – is that it is much more difficult to lie about a horse you are selling – and correspondingly buyers are entering equine transactions better informed than they have ever been. Of course, buyers must take advantage of the great well of information that is now available to them and research the seller and the horse and even prior owners of the horse if possible. Remember that information is power and nowhere else is that more true than when negotiating equine sales transactions.

First, Buyer decides to buy a horse. Usually potential buyers look first to people they know in the horse world, often their trainer or stable owner/manager, to find out about potential horses for sale. And usually that is a great place to start. But do not assume that is always true. Think about your trainer or stable owner/manager. Has he/she been in your area or discipline for many years with a great reputation? I would suggest before assuming anything, you “google” anyone you are considering asking about a horse. Frankly, I always “google” a person’s name and the word “mugshot” just in case. And search their name on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Sounds awfully nosey, I know, but you would be stunned at the number of times I have discovered extremely relevant and important information on a potential horse seller, prior owner, broker or trainer by doing these searches.

Second, I search USEF, AQHA, Jockey Club or other applicable registry to obtain the horse’s history and verify its registration and make sure other facts match up as told to me by the Seller (horse’s show record, lineage, age, height, markings) and to make sure that the records I am reviewing are for the same horse as the one being sold. Many clients have come to me thinking they were buying one horse whose show record was stellar only to discover later that the horse they purchased was not the same horse whose show record had been provided to them. And when that realization comes, of course the seller and/or broker are nowhere to be found. Also, be sure to speak with the horse’s current and historical veterinarian and get a release from the Seller allowing you to see all the horse’s vet records. And look at them and share them with your own veterinarian BEFORE your vet conducts the prepurchase examination on the horse – whether it is a basic, moderate or extensive examination. As I have mentioned before, if it does not make sense to pay for blood testing (usually it does, however), at least pay to have the blood drawn ($50-$75 usually) and professionally stored in case you get the horse home and in a month something goes terribly wrong and you want to run some blood tests at that point to check for prior drugging, disease, etc.

Third, study how the horse is currently worked and stabled. Does he have ten hours of turnout per day on ten acres with one other horse and never works? Is he worked every day and turned out in a paddock for an hour a day? What does he eat? Does he have allergies? Does he crib or have other bad habits? Is he accustomed to dogs running loose in the barn? And on and on. Find out everything you can about this horse from anyone whom you can find who knows something. Even though the information you receive may not all be 100% accurate, remember that information is power. That does not mean you believe everything you hear, just that you collect as much as you can and then filter through it yourself and draw your own conclusions about the horse. And, if you have access, always seek advice from professionals in the industry to see what they have to say and give their views whatever amount of weight you deem appropriate.

One last thing I will mention is that one of the best protections you can have is a trial period during which you have the horse at your stable but do not own him yet and have not yet paid for him (although some sellers will require a deposit be paid up front in order to take a horse on trial). Different disciplines are known for not permitting or for permitting or for encouraging trial periods. Regardless of what is typical in your discipline, do your best to convince the seller to give you a trial period of at least a couple of weeks (preferably a month or two) to see how the horse does with your rider and your barn and your other horses, if applicable. Even if the Seller requires a nonrefundable deposit payment, if you discover during the trial period that the horse will not adapt well to your environment or is not suited for your rider, you will be ever grateful that you negotiated a trial period and can send the horse back to his owner.

Moral of the story: Be careful! Be your own detective BEFORE YOU PAY ANY MONEY to verify the horse’s identity and habits, current environment and health history. And if you can, negotiate a trial period during which you can assess the horse’s suitability for your stable and rider so that if it is not a good match, you can return him to his owner and move on to greener pastures!

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 you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. 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.