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

8 04 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at dburch@rl-law.com. I often will answer a short and simple question for free if I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! If you don’t hear back from me quickly, it’s not because I don’t love you or think you have a great question or because I don’t know the answer (usually), I’m probably just really busy and haven’t had a chance to email back. And you can always buy the first hour of my time for $250 (my usual hourly rate for 2014 is $350). Lots of folks will save up all their equine (and some corporate or real estate) legal questions and short documents and sit with me for an hour and we will do as much as we can during that hour and it’s only $250. You can check out my Twitter feed @nchorselawyer as well as our firm’s Equine Law Group web page at http://www.rl-law.com/equine if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories, this blog and the Twitter feed referenced above are also (in one way or another, I guess) an advertisement for legal services.

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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!





NOT a Good Practice to Have a Seller Veterinarian do Your Prepurchase Exam

30 05 2012

I would think this principle goes without saying but, based upon my experience recently, it may not, so I will say it:

If you are purchasing a horse from a vet, do not rely on him or her for your prepurchase examination of that horse. 

While most vets are wonderful, honest folks, there are a few who are not and you can avoid worrying about which is which if you have an independent, neutral veterinarian conduct your prepurchase examination on any horse you are considering for purchase from a veterinarian.  Frankly, most of the good veterinarians I know would refuse to do the prepurchase examination for you if they were selling you a horse for fear of having it even LOOK like a conflict of interest – and wanting to avoid that concern altogether by having a neutral vet come in to conduct the prepurchase exam.

The less savory seller vets will tell you that they will do the prepurchase for you at a discount to lure you into thinking that’s the way to go.  And before folks yell at me for that statement, I will say that I am certain there are perfectly fine, nice, honest vets who sell horses and offer a discounted prepurchase examination if you use them.  But my point is that you will not know which are the good folks who are genuinely trying to help you by doing the exam themselves and which are the vets who are trying to get you to let them conduct the prepurchase examination for their own selfish reasons.  So, in my professional opinion, the best practice is to avoid the scenario altogether and get a vet who has no connection whatsoever to the seller of the horse.  For example, they didn’t go to vet school together, they weren’t in each other’s weddings, their kids don’t play little league together….you get the point.  Just like when hiring a lawyer, you want a vet doing your prepurchase examination who ONLY has YOUR interests at heart and does not have any vested interest – financial, social or emotional – in the seller vet or in whether you purchase the horse or not.

Good luck out there!

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 2012 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 www.rl-law.com 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.

Happy Riding!





Drug Test That Horse Anyway!

7 03 2012

Recently have discovered a new trend with unsavory sellers in the equine world.  They can be very creative, I’m afraid.

Here’s the newest trick.  You go to try a horse and it is delightful.  You decide to buy it so you very responsibly have a licensed equine veterinarian come out to conduct a pre-purchase examination.  When you get to the point where your vet is going to draw blood, the seller pipes up “Oh, we had to tranq him yesterday to (shoe him, clip him, load him, etc) and so there’s no point in drug testing him because he will have Ace in his system from that.”

Of course you have no prior notice they are going to say this or that they had tranquilized the horse for any reason, but it sounds reasonable and drug testing is expensive, and your daughter is standing there with tears in her eyes at the idea of NOT being able to take this horse home with you today so you relent and “trust” the seller.  Never, ever trust the seller blindly.  Even if you have dealt with this seller for years and he’s related to you or whatever, you are still responsible for protecting yourself, even from people you know and love.  A good, trustworthy seller will understand completely where you are coming from and that it’s not a personal attack on the seller if you want a drug test on the horse he or she is selling.  That’s just plain smart and a good, honest seller will tell you that it’s a good idea.  If you feel bad about pushing for the drug test, feel free to blame it on that lawyer Dottie Burch who says buyers should always conduct their own independent investigations into the health and well being of any equine he or she is purchasing.  Unless of course you are prepared to lose all the money you have invested in the animal and are okay with that.  Most of us don’t have money to throw away, but if it’s a $50 horse, maybe you take a chance?  Well, even then the horse could be carrying Equine Infectious Anemia or something just as bad and you would still want to know that before you put that horse with your other horses or at a barn with other folks’ horses.

Everything about keeping and caring for horses is so expensive that even if the purchase price isn’t high, you still want to protect yourself with a pre-purchase examination by an independent equine veterinarian (no, it’s not okay to use the seller as your pre-purchase exam vet if the seller just happens to be an equine vet – which is not that unusual around here – lots of equine vets have horses and buy and sell horses) coupled with a drug test if you can possibly afford it.  If you can’t, just be prepared that you are taking a risk and that risk could have dire, or at least expensive, consequences.

So what to do in this case?  Go ahead and drug test the horse anyway or wait and come back to test later.  If you go ahead and test, be sure to inform your independent equine veterinarian about exactly what the seller told you they gave the horse and when.  And then let your vet speak with the seller to get confirmation of that information. The vet may suggest waiting, leaving the horse where it is for a while and coming back to draw blood and ride the horse when the tranquilizers are supposedly out of its system.  If so, wait and test later so you will know for sure.  Otherwise, it’s a crap shoot which you might just lose.

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 2012 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 www.rl-law.com 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.

Happy Riding!





What if my horse dies away from home?

17 02 2012

To continue in our theme of equine insurance related matters, let’s talk about the scenario where your horse passes away while boarding somewhere other than your home stable.

I was recently asked if equine mortality insurance would pay an otherwise valid death claim where a horse died while stabled somewhere away from home, such as at a horse show or at a lessee’s facility (if you’ve leased out the horse).  That was a very good question.  According to Lucinda Human, owner of Star H Equine Insurance of Advance, North Carolina, most all equine mortality policies provide mortality coverage if the animal dies anywhere in the continental United States.  For additional premium, you can obtain shipping and overseas coverage as well.  However, Lucinda and I both suggest that if you plan to send your horse anywhere away from home, you take a close look at your policy (or have a professional review it for you) just to double check to see if the horse is covered where it will be stabled and whether you have any obligation to notify the company in the event you relocate the animal.

If you have further equine insurance related questions or needs, checkout Star H’s website at www.starhinsurance.com.  Lucinda Human would be happy to speak with you as well and help you determine what coverages you need based upon your personal situation.

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 2012 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 www.rl-law.com 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.

Happy Riding!





Read Read Read those Equine Insurance Policies!

29 12 2011

Interesting question just arose recently and I thought I would share some thoughts on it….

There are many different types of insurance someone involved with horses might obtain.  Equine Mortality, Equine Liability, Equine Instructor and on and on.  If you can think of it, it probably exists somewhere already OR can be created by what we call a “surplus lines” insurance carrier (Lloyd’s of London is the surplus lines carrier which most folks have heard of – they basically “create” all sorts of unique policies for unique situations – for example, these “hole in one” contests you see at golf courses are frequently insured so that if someone makes a hole in one the charity or golf course doesn’t have to fork out the prize money – and surplus lines carriers like Lloyd’s of London usually write these kinds of unique, unconventional policies).

So, now that we’ve established you can buy insurance for virtually any risk you can conceive, you need to be sure that what you’ve bought covers the risk you’re concerned about and if it doesn’t, you need to either (a) expand your coverage and request an endorsement or additional policy to cover that risk or (b) don’t engage in activities that would give rise to the uncovered risk.

What does all that mean in plain old American English?  Well, let me give you an example.  A while ago I had a client who was a riding instructor.  Let’s call her Stephanie.  Stephanie, very responsibly, purchased an “Instructor’s Liability” insurance policy.  She thought she was good to go.  Time goes on, Stephanie pays the premiums on the policy and feels good about her coverage.  She has a student, we’ll call her Annie, who owns a horse.  We’ll call the horse Chief.  Annie doesn’t have enough time to ride Chief so she asks Stephanie about whether Stephanie knows anyone who might like to half-lease Chief and ride him 3 days a week.  Stephanie has several other students who don’t own horses and usually just ride lesson horses owned by the stable.  After Stephanie mentions Annie’s situation to them, one of her other students, Jane, decides she would like to try Chief to see if she might like to half-lease him from Annie.  Stephanie tells Annie that Jane might be interested and Annie gets very excited and asks Stephanie when Jane might be able to come sit on Chief and try him out.  Stephanie talks with Jane and the three of them agree to come out to the stable on a Saturday so that Jane can try Chief and Stephanie can watch Jane ride Chief and see if she thinks they are a good match and then advise Annie of her thoughts on the issue.

Well, you probably already guessed that the trial ride didn’t go well.  When Jane tried to climb on Chief (even with the aid of a mounting block), she somehow managed to pull Chief down on top of her, crushing her ankle.  Stephanie and Annie were in shock, having never seen such a thing occur in all their many years of riding (nor have I, for that matter).  Of course they immediately ran to Jane’s aid and helped get Chief up and off of her and called 911.  Jane went to the hospital and had her ankle set and put in a cast.  Now she’s suing Stephanie, Annie and the owner of the stable where she tried Chief for the medical bills, lost wages from having to be out of work as well as for pain and suffering.

Stephanie originally wasn’t overly concerned because she knew she had insurance and so she called her insurance company to report the lawsuit.  They hired a lawyer to advise Stephanie (us) and we thought things were okay.  Then, after their initial analysis of the situation the insurance company called and told Stephanie that they were sorry but this incident was not covered by Stephanie’s insurance policy because it did not occur in the course of Stephanie acting as an instructor.  In other words, if Jane had scheduled a riding lesson with Stephanie and this had happened when Jane went to get on Chief for her lesson, it would be covered.  But because Stephanie was just there to watch Jane ride Chief to assess their compatibility as horse and rider, and not as Jane’s instructor, it wasn’t covered.  A very technical distinction, but the different was night and day to Stephanie.

Needless to say, this denial of coverage has been financially devastating for Stephanie, who has had to pay a lawyer out of her own pocket to defend the lawsuit.  Like most riding instructors, Stephanie does not make a huge salary.  Her only other choice was not to fight the lawsuit and then end up with a default judgment against her for the full amount of the damages claimed by Jane.  That judgment could potentially follow Stephanie around for the next 20 years, so she felt like she had no choice but to fight the lawsuit.

Moral of the story:  Read your insurance policies carefully.  Make sure they cover all the situations you’re worried about and if they don’t, talk with your insurance agent about getting more coverage for the things you are concerned about.  And, if you can’t afford the additional coverage, you may have to decide not to participate in certain activities because they are not covered by your insurance policy.  Stephanie now wishes she had not agreed to watch Jane ride Chief because just the simple act of her being present has resulted in Stephanie now having to defend herself in a lawsuit in which she should not be involved at all.  READ YOUR POLICIES!

If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some general questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at dburch@rl-law.com.  I used to answer quick questions for free if I could, but I am getting so many calls for free legal advice that I am having to start charging a little something for an initial chat! A good problem to have, I guess 🙂 Starting January 1, 2019, I’m going to be charging $99 for a 30 minute general question session. You won’t be engaging me as your lawyer and we won’t talk specific names because that requires conflicts checks, etc., but frequently I can help folks a lot in 30 minutes. Can’t guarantee it, but usually I can at least give you some direction or general thoughts about a general type of situation. 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.  You can check out our firm’s Equine Law Group at www.rl-law.com if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories and information, this blog is also an advertisement for legal services.  I have to tell you that in bold, says the State Bar.

Happy Riding!