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.

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When Selling a Horse, Think Full Disclosure!

25 03 2014

We have all seen it before with friends, family and maybe even ourselves:

Stage One: Seller decides to sell a horse. Buyer wants a horse, comes and tries Seller’s horse and likes it. Buyer has pre-purchase veterinary examination done on the horse (or maybe does not have one done if the horse has low purchase price that keeps it from being cost effective to have a pre-purchase examination). The pre-purchase examination, if done, does not show anything significant. Seller says he or she knows of no problems with the horse and Buyer then buys the horse from the Seller.

Stage Two: Buyer gets the horse to his home stable or boarding barn and within the first few days or weeks Buyer notices health or behavioral issues with the horse. Buyer is unhappy and contacts Seller about returning the horse for a refund. Or Buyer asks Seller to reimburse Buyer for expenses which Buyer has incurred in his or her efforts to correct the health and/or behavioral issues with the horse. Seller saw no problems with the horse before Buyer took the horse away and, in fact, may believe that something about the Buyer’s boarding situation or treatment of the horse is giving rise to this health or behavioral issue and so declines to give Buyer a refund or to reimburse Buyer for expenses. So here we are – at an impasse. What next?

Stage Three: this stage is where things usually get sticky. If the Seller has provided veterinary records to the Buyer and given the Buyer an opportunity for a pre-purchase examination and either one was not done – or the one which was done showed no issues- then as long as the Seller has disclosed anything which might be reasonably relevant to a Buyer (injuries, illnesses, bad habits, bad behaviors, rider injuries and the like), than the Seller needs to decide whether he or she wants to take the horse back. Sometimes Sellers love the horse, can afford to and would rather take it back and give the Buyer a full or partial refund than have the horse with someone who does not want the horse. But if that is not the case and a Seller makes full disclosure and gives adequate opportunity for the Buyer to have the horse checked out, then a Seller is certainly within his or her rights to refuse to (a) unwind the sale transaction or (b) reimburse the Buyer.

That being said, if the Seller has not been totally forthcoming about all issues with the horse about which the Seller is aware, then the Seller may want to refund the Buyer and take the horse back or face some difficult questions in court if the Buyer pursues the Seller in that venue. Seller’s reputation could also be at stake if Buyer chooses to share his unpleasant story with third parties. Sometimes it is more important to a Seller to maintain a stellar reputation in the horse community than it is to prove he or she is right in a particular sales transaction with a particular horse. That being the case, sometimes a Seller will refund money and take a horse back even when he or she really has done nothing wrong from a legal perspective. Lots of different factors come into play in these situations. Is the Buyer well known as a good, honest person? Is the Buyer known to be difficult? Is the Buyer a family member or family friend? Is the horse widely known for being chronically lame or is the horse widely known to be tough as nails? Is the veterinarian who did the pre-purchase examination a friend of Seller who will be sued for a faulty pre-purchase examination if the Seller refuses to unwind the sale? Can the horse’s issue be rehabilitated by the Seller? There are lots of questions the Seller needs to ask him or herself. Depending on the answers to these types of questions, the Seller may decide to refund the Buyer – or not refund the Buyer.

If a Buyer requests a trial period with the horse before finalizing the sale, I advise Sellers to check out the location where the Buyer is taking the horse to be sure the Seller is comfortable with the personnel on duty at that location and the overall safety of that location for the horse. Absent some reason not to, Sellers with horses out on trial should require that the horse on trial be on individual turnout (alone with no other horses) during the trial period so that the risk of the horse being injured is minimized as much as possible. There are two schools of thought on trial periods. Some Sellers feel like it weeds out earlier the people who will end up wanting to send the horse back and it’s a good idea which saves time in the long run. Other Sellers feel that their horse is placed at risk when it leaves their farm and they do not want to risk injury to the horse (or liability for the horse should it injure someone or something) by allowing a trial period so they do not allow them. Both schools of thought are valid, so it again is up to the individual Seller to determine what makes the most sense to him or her on this issue.

How to minimize the number of these sticky situations for Sellers?

While we cannot guarantee a Seller will never have a disgruntled buyer even if every precaution in the world is taken, there are things Sellers can do to help prevent these situations. If the Seller can afford it and it makes financial sense (i.e., the more valuable the horse, the more sense it makes), I recommend having the horse examined by a veterinarian before listing it for sale so that you can produce a vet report to potential buyers when they approach you and advertise the horse “as is, where is, with all faults,” while offering potential buyers the opportunity to have the horse examined for themselves as well. Also good protection for Sellers is an excellent sales contract drafted by an equine lawyer in the Seller’s state which sets out in detail the terms of the sales transaction, provides that Buyer has had the opportunity to have the horse examined by a veterinarian and also has a place in the contract for the Buyer to initial a statement which says: (a) the horse is being sold “as is, where is, with all faults;” (b) if the Buyer declines to have an examination done, Seller is not responsible for any issues that arise after the sale; and (b) Seller has disclosed all issues with the horse which are known to him or her, but that Seller is not making any guarantees with regard to the health or behavioral issues of the horse. Such language in a sales contract will help to protect Sellers somewhat and will hopefully remind Buyers of the importance of a pre-purchase veterinary examination of a purchase prospect.

Next month’s article will be about what to think about when you are buying a horse!

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.





Only YOU can Prevent Forest Fires! Before Hiring a Hauler, Insure Your Horse!

17 02 2014

Be Vigilant When Using a Professional Hauler for your Horse!

Some of us are lucky enough to have our own horse trailers and the driver’s license required to pull them. Our rig is insured and while our horse may or may not be insured, we know we will be careful with our very own precious cargo aboard. Even if we are the ones doing the hauling, it is a good idea to have full major medical and mortality insurance coverage for your horse if the horse’s value reasonably exceeds the cost of the insurance premium so that it makes financial sense to insure the horse.

However, some of us are not so lucky and are in the position of having to rely on third party haulers to get our horses from point A to point B. For some folks it’s a rare occurrence to hire a hauler and for others it’s common. The more often you use third party commercial horse haulers, the more closely you may want to read this blog entry.

First of all, remember that your personal automobile or homeowner’s or farm owner’s insurance policies do NOT cover the value of your horse if it is injured or killed in transit – whether you are hauling the horse or someone else is hauling. These types of personal policies do not typically cover the value of anything in a transport trailer, whether it is a horse or other property. There may be exceptions for certain types of personal property, but horses are typically not a covered property under these policies.

While many of us realize our personal insurance policies do not cover the value of our horse, many of us do not realize that commercial haulers are not required to have any specific amount of insurance to cover the value of the animals they are hauling. Many haulers do have insurance coverages for this purpose, but many of them do not. And of the ones who do carry the type of coverage which would pay an owner for the value of a horse which is injured or killed transit, most have very low coverages, as low as $1,000-$3,000 per head with a maximum per vehicle amount as well. If you are shipping a world champion cutting horse and it is killed in a collision, odds are that it was worth more than $3,000. Alternatively, if your world champion dressage horse is badly injured but not killed, odds are that the veterinary treatment costs will far exceed $3,000. There may be a few well insured haulers out there but, unfortunately, they are rarer than we would like, probably because good insurance coverage is cost prohibitive for them. The cheaper the cost of hauling, the less likely the hauler will have generous insurance coverage and the more likely they will have no coverage at all for your horse.

Even if your hauler has insurance which covers the loss of or injury to your horse, getting the insurance company to pay you for that loss or cost is not easy. You are then in the position of having to prove that the damage to or death of your horse was proximately caused by the covered person’s negligent actions or omissions. Proving this causation is easier said than done, especially when you are virtually never present when the injury or death occurs because the horse is usually alone with the hauler when it happens. I am reminded of a case where a client’s beautiful warmblood hunter filly prospect was being hauled from the west coast and the hauler cruelly left the filly on the trailer the first three days of the trip. He finally stopped at an equine layover facility on the east coast which happened to be owned by a veterinarian and, not surprisingly, the filly was three-legged lame when she came off the trailer. The veterinarian signed an affidavit attesting to the filly’s poor condition upon removal from the trailer and my client filed a claim with the hauler’s insurance company. The insurance company denied the claim because we could not prove to the company’s satisfaction that the injuries to the filly were caused by its insured hauler. Instead of going through the arduous process of filing a lawsuit and introducing evidence of the horse’s condition when it stepped on the trailer versus its condition when it stepped off, the client opted to drop the case when it discovered that even if it were successful in the lawsuit, the hauler had no personal or company assets (the truck and trailer both had large liens on them) and the limit of the hauler’s insurance coverage was only $3,000 per horse. After spending thousands on veterinary treatments, the client could not afford to pay lawyers to chase such a small sum of money and did not feel comfortable handling a small claims court action alone. In retrospect, of course they wish they had thought to insure the filly with major medical and mortality before she stepped foot on the trailer. If they had done so they would have been reimbursed for much of their expense.

What have we learned? If at all possible, to insure your horse with major medical and mortality for its full value before letting it step onto a trailer, whether your trailer or a third party’s trailer. If insurance is not an option for you for some reason, at least try to haul your horse yourself when you can (assuming you are an experienced, safe horse hauler) so that you have more control over the situation or be prepared to bear the loss of the horse’s value or the cost of the veterinary treatment in the event the horse is injured and survives. Make the choice today about what coverages you do or do not want so that you know what to expect in the event tragedy strikes.

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.





WANT YOUR EQUINE INSURANCE CLAIM PAID? BE SURE TO GIVE PROMPT NOTICE TO THE INSURANCE COMPANY OR YOUR CLAIM MAY BE DENIED!

19 11 2013

A recent federal court case in the Midwest strongly upheld an insurance company’s complete denial of an equine mortality insurance claim because the owner of the horse failed to give the company prompt notice of an injury to the horse – an injury that ultimately resulted in the horse’s death. The company successfully argued that if it had received notice of the claim in a timely fashion, it could have secured better veterinary treatment of the very valuable horse – treatment which would have likely resulted in the animal’s full recovery and thus avoided the owner’s devastating decision to euthanize the animal. This case reminds us all of the critical need for us to carefully comply with the terms of our equine health and mortality policies or the result can be that we receive no claims proceeds at all – even when we end up losing our beloved animal.

An insurance policy is a contract. Virtually all insurance contracts require that, as a condition to coverage, the company be given immediate or prompt notice of any potential claim. Such a requirement makes sense. The insurance company wants the opportunity to proactively participate in the resolution of the claim so as to hopefully help reduce the loss for you, especially when you are facing an equine lameness or health issue. Prompt notice can further aid insurance companies with conducting a thorough, timely investigation into an equine death, a critical factor for mortality companies because of the rampant insurance fraud which riddles many sectors of the equine industry.

Many people are afraid to contact the insurance company because they fear an increase in premium in the future. We all know the feeling of deciding whether to allow our automobile insurance company to pay for a small claim or whether to pay for it ourselves after we consider our deductible and the possible impact the claim might have on our insurance rates in the future. And as a result, most of us end up paying small claims ourselves. Claims on our homeowner’s policy are similar. If someone breaks into our home and steals a $500 television, we weigh the advisability of filing a claim with our homeowner’s insurance company and what it might cost us in increased premiums in the future.

The critical difference here is that horses are not automobiles nor are they homes. We need to stop thinking of them that way when it comes to insurance claims. They are more like people, frankly, at least in this context, and we need to consider whether we would let our health insurance company know if we ourselves had a serious injury or not. What if the health insurance company could refuse to pay our medical bills if we did not notify them of our injury quickly enough? They probably could deny the claim, truth be told, but our health system is structured so that we often cannot obtain medical treatment at the doctor or hospital without telling them our insurance information first. Then they notify the company of our injury or illness for us. We do not really have a lot of choice in the matter. If equine veterinarians required us to share equine insurance information up front, this article might not be as timely because the veterinarians would likely be notifying the insurance companies for us and we would not have the decision to make about when and whether to notify them. But typically, at least where I live, equine veterinarians do not ask for insurance information before they treat the animal. I cannot remember ever having a veterinarian (or their staff) ask me for insurance information. I am sure it probably happens more and more as more people insure their animals and/or veterinarians become increasingly concerned about getting paid, but it is not the norm around where I live at this point in time. And may not be where you live either.

Moral of the story – if your horse turns up lame or is injured or sick, advise your equine health or mortality insurance company as soon as possible because they may have a national network of contacts which could help your horse receive more or better treatment sooner – treatment which may end up saving his or her life and perhaps his or her soundness as well. The equine insurance carriers are your partners, not your adversary. Use them as such! Get your money’s worth and utilize all the loss prevention tools they have available for you. And it would be a terrific idea for you to right now, while you hopefully do not have a claim, to call to speak with your company’s “loss prevention” or “risk management” department to see what resources they may have for you in the event you do have a claim. You might be surprised how much they can help you and your horse!

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 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 You are Dealing With Horses Across State Lines, Be More Cautious Than Usual

16 10 2013

Oftentimes the horse you are considering buying or leasing is in another state. Or perhaps you need to send your horse for treatment or training in another state. Or you regularly show your horse in another state. What is the legal impact of crossing state lines in those situations? The various issues that can be impacted are many more than this article could cover in the allotted space, but hopefully we have highlighted some common concerns for you. Examples always seem to help illustrate these types of issues best, so we will use a few here.
Imagine that you live in North Carolina and you are looking for the perfect reining horse. You find an amazing two year old gelding prospect with a stellar lineage in Wyoming. His price is high, $75,000, but the Seller is a well-known and successful trainer who is willing to keep him for 6 months and put him into her intensive training program for you before sending him to North Carolina. Thrilled with your find and the proposed terms of the transaction, you hire a reputable, local Wyoming veterinarian to conduct a thorough prepurchase examination on him, including radiographs of all four legs and feet and he checks out beautifully. You make arrangements with the Seller to pay for him and for her to start him in her training program. Then you line up a shipper from Colorado to pick him up and bring him to North Carolina in six months on one of his regularly scheduled routes to the east coast.
What can go wrong?
Example #1: When the gelding arrives in North Carolina, he is fine at first and then goes lame on the left front. Your North Carolina vet checks him out, takes radiographs and advises you that he has significant navicular concerns and that there is no way that the Wyoming vet could have missed these concerns if he had truly conducted a thorough prepurchase examination with the radiographs you requested.
So it appears here you were the victim of veterinary malpractice.
Example #2: When the gelding arrives in North Carolina he is sound, but based upon his physical condition and his lack of education, he does not appear to have been in a training program for the last six months. The Seller claims he was in training and that you simply do not understand how to ask him to do what he has been taught to do.
So it appears that the Seller has failed to provide the training promised and thus has breached your agreement with her.
Example #3: You get a call when the shipper picks up the gelding after his six months of training and he confirms the horse is in great condition when the Seller puts him on the shipper’s trailer. The Seller contacts you and also lets you know the horse is in perfect condition when he gets on the trailer and even takes pictures on her iPhone and texts them to you so you can see how beautiful he is when he is boarding the trailer. The shipper advises you that it will be at least 3 days before he can get the gelding to North Carolina because of the distance and the need to stop and stable the horse overnight along the way. You try to contact the shipper every few hours to check on the horse and after the first day the shipper stops returning your calls or providing you with updates. You become concerned and the next telephone call you get is from a veterinarian in Lexington, Kentucky who owns an equine layover facility. Apparently your gelding was delivered to the facility for an overnight stay and when he was taken off the trailer he was three-legged lame with multiple lacerations all over his face and legs. The veterinarian asked the shipper what happened and he claims that the horse would not climb off the trailer for the last 36 hours so he just left him on and the horse apparently became agitated and thrashed around inside the trailer, hurting himself. In short, your gelding ends up spending a week in Lexington at an equine specialty hospital being treated for multiple injuries caused by the excessive time on the trailer before he can come home to North Carolina – and even then he may never be sound again. And because of the trailer trauma, the gelding understandably now has an intense fear of trailering and will have to be tranquilized in order to get him on any trailer in the future.
So this time the Seller is not at fault, but a shipper from Colorado has been negligent in shipping him and has caused harm to your horse.
The Common Thread
The common thread here is that you have a real, valid legal claim against another person or company who resides in (or is based in) another state. Can you sue someone in another state? Absolutely! You can certainly sue where he or she is located and maybe where you are located, depending on his or her relationship with your state (whether they do business there or have other types of connections there). And since the amount of your damages is arguably over $75,000, you may be able to sue in federal court as well if you and the potential defendant reside/are headquartered in different states.
So what is the problem? The problem is that is incredibly expensive to sue someone, period. And especially so in another state or in federal court. But when you add thousands of miles to the picture (or the complexity of federal litigation), the dollar signs keep increasing. Definitely in Example #1 (and perhaps all the examples) you will need to hire an expert to testify on your behalf about what was the proper thing for the defendant to do in your situation. Experts are typically very expensive (several hundred dollars an hour).
Also, in lawsuits you engage in something called “discovery” which involves, among other things, taking depositions of key individuals in the case. To take someone’s deposition, you are generally required to go where that person resides. That could mean traveling with your lawyer (who is also expensive) to Colorado or Wyoming (and perhaps Kentucky in Example #3). Out of state depositions typically cost anywhere from $2,000-$5,000 per person by the time you factor in all related expenses.
The bottom line is that pursuing someone in another state is extremely expensive, so you should take as many precautions up front as possible to make sure you minimize the chance of a legal claim (e.g., have two different veterinarians do pre-purchase examinations if the horse is expensive; buy health and mortality insurance on the horse before shipping; carefully research shippers and check several of shipper references; and buy travel insurance for the trip from Wyoming to North Carolina). In short, be very, very careful when entering into transactions over state lines so you can avoid the stress and heavy expense of an interstate legal dispute.

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 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 advertisements for legal services.





NC Liens for the Care of Horses

19 06 2013

The two most common calls I seem to be receiving these days in my equine practice are from people who (a) have had horses left in their care for which they are not being paid board or (b) have allowed someone else to keep their horses only to find out later that the person has given away or sold or euthanized their horse without their knowledge or permission.

This article addresses the former situation. You have a horse on your property and the owner or other possessor of the horse (lessee, family member, etc.) is not paying the agreed upon boarding fees. What can you do? Well, assuming you have an agreement for how much they are supposed to pay you for board (written agreements are obviously best, but an oral agreement, especially if made in front of a witness, can be okay too), you may be able to successfully assert a boarding lien, also known as an agister’s lien or a stablemen’s lien, on the horse in your possession.

The statutes that you need to read are N.C. Gen. Stat. Section 44A-2 through 44A-6. You can find them at http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/Statutes/Statutes.asp. Just put “44A” in the top search box. These statutes explain how to go about asserting a lien on a horse in your care when you aren’t being paid proper board for the animal. Basically they provide, in summary, that if you board animals for people for pay and you don’t get paid, you have a preferential lien on that animal so long as you don’t voluntarily give up possession of the animal and so long as you follow the requirements of those statutes. The statutes provide that once you have not been paid for a period of 30 days you may begin the process to assert your lien on the animal. After 30 days of not being paid you can serve a notice on the owner of the animal (or person with whom you dealt regarding the animal) that contains very specific factual information set out in the statute and giving them ten days from the day that they receive the notice to respond via certified mail and, if they disagree with your assertion of the lien, to request a hearing before the court to determine whether you have a lien. If they do not request such a hearing and you have met all statutory requirements, then you will be entitled to sell the animal at a public or private sale, depending on the situation. Typically a public sale is better because you are permitted to buy at that type of sale whereas you cannot buy the horse yourself at a private sale.

Once you’ve reached the point where you are permitted to sell the animal, you have to give notice of the sale to the owner (or person with whom you dealt regarding the animal) and that notice has to contain very specific information as well. If you follow the letter of the statute properly with regard to all the notices and the sale itself, the buyer at the sale will take title to the horse free and clear of any liens and the proceeds of the sale will pay, first, your reasonable expenses in pursuing the debt (the statute does not include attorney’s fees specifically, but you may have an argument that you are entitled to them), second, the past due boarding obligation owed for the animal’s board and care; and last, any surplus must be paid to the owner (or person with whom you dealt regarding the animal) or, if you cannot find him or her, into the clerk of court for the county in which you have been boarding the horse.

This is of course a very simplified summary of the law regarding liens on boarded animals, but hopefully it has given you a flavor of how the lien process works. And we are of course assuming here that you can actually find buyers to come to your sale if you have one. Right now there is a surplus of horses and in many situations, even where the statutory procedure is followed perfectly, there will be no buyers present at the sale to bid on the horses being sold. If that is the case then you’re still unfortunately out of luck when it comes to that horse. If you’re having a public sale, you can bid in at the amount of your damages and the horse becomes yours. That may be good or that may be bad, depending on your perspective (and the horse!). Then you have a choice to make about whether you keep the horse for yourself or donate the horse to USERL or similar organization. In some cases, I have had clients who asserted a lien on a horse which was left at their property without payment, sold the horse at a public sale, had to buy the horse themselves for the amount of their lien (basically just forgiving the debt to themselves) and ended up selling the horse to a buyer in another state whom they strategically located and contacted about the horse because of that animal’s specific attributes. That is a rarity, of course, but can actually happen and it is truly wonderful when it does!

My recommendation is to hire a good equine lawyer at least for the first time you decide to assert a boarding lien on a horse in your care. Once you’ve been guided through the process once by a legal professional and developed an internal procedure for asserting such a lien, the next time you just might be able to handle it all by yourself!

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 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 advertisements for legal services. I have to tell you that in bold, says the State Bar.





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!