Few things are more fun than loading up your best equine friends and hitting the road for a horse show or a beautiful trail ride somewhere outside of your usual stomping grounds. Granted, the loading part may not always be fun for some of us, but hopefully you will have fun when you finally arrive at your destination and get tacked up. This article will give you a few things to keep in mind when traveling with your horse. We will call your horse Trigger for purposes of our discussion.
1. Is everybody healthy?
Make sure you have checked out Trigger physically for symptoms that he may not be feeling well. If he has runny eyes and is not eating well, you may not want to add stress to his life by taking him outside of his familiar surroundings or risk transmitting illness to other equines where you are headed. Why is this fact relevant from a legal perspective? Well, a sick horse (a) is more likely to not behave in the way he usually behaves; and (b) might get another horse sick. If you head out knowing that your horse is sick and then Trigger acts out and causes human or property damage or transmits his illness to another horse at the show or on the trail or in the horse motel, there is potential legal liability for you because you knowingly took him off the farm when you knew he was not feeling well.
2. Do you have the proper paperwork?
Every state requires some sort of paperwork demonstrating the health of the animals you are transporting within, to or through their jurisdiction. Some may only require a negative Coggins dated within the last six months, some may require more extensive documentation. Research the requirements of the states within which you will be traveling – even if you are just passing through – because every state line you cross gives rise to requirements about which you may or may not be familiar. And be sure to rely on an authoritative source, not just hearsay from friends. Do a Google search on equine transportation requirements. The following link is used by lots of folks to determine these requirements (but I am not endorsing any particular place to look, of course): https://www.usrider.org/EquestrianMotorPlan.html. Failure to have the proper paperwork can result in fines to you, some of which can be sizeable, depending on the state. It can also result in law enforcement requiring you to turn back and leave the jurisdiction – not something you want if you are eagerly anticipating a fun outing with Trigger.
3. Did you check out your trailer?
As with number 1 above, you need to check out your horse trailer before you load Trigger and embark, especially if it has been a while since you used it. Failing to check tire pressure and the security of latches, fasteners, dividers, windows and other key parts of your trailer can spell disaster if the wrong horse steps on the wrong spot or bumps into the wrong thing inside the trailer – or you hit a pothole in the road and things start flying open or apart. If the worst happens and you are in an accident and someone or something is damaged, there is a very good possibility that it will come out in the course of an investigation that you failed to do a safety check on your trailer before loading Trigger and departing the farm.
4. What’s the Weather Like?
While it seems common sense that folks would not load up Trigger in the middle of a thunderstorm or blizzard, I will state the obvious anyway. We are all aware of a horse’s sensitivity to the weather and the impact that bad weather can have on a horse’s behavior, not to mention the adverse effect it has on traffic on the very roads where you will be traveling. If you load up Trigger in the middle of a windstorm and head for the mountains thinking that you will eventually drive out of the storm and everything will be fine and you are wrong, things can go bad quickly. If your trailer is blown off the highway or debris is blown underneath the trailer and gives you a flat tire, your biggest problem is probably the safety of you and your own horse and the damage to your own trailer. But in the worst case scenario we lawyers like to worry about, the trailer breaks free or Trigger gets upset and kicks the door off the trailer and falls out, causing an accident. I have no doubt if that were the case and someone were injured or someone’s car was seriously damaged, law enforcement – as well as the lawyer for that person (or those people) – would be investigating what the weather was like when you loaded Trigger and will be asking you if you thought trailering in the middle of a storm was a good idea. And the answer is no, it is not a good idea to load a horse in a trailer for travel in the middle of inclement weather if it can possibly be avoided. There are always emergency situations where you have no choice, but where you do have a choice, try not to travel with Trigger when the weather is such that the safety of you, Trigger and others is compromised.
There are certainly other legal factors to consider when deciding whether and how to travel with Trigger, but these are some good basics for you to consider at the outset.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.