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Farm insurance and talking to professionals

From: Crystal

Dear Jessica, you are so right to warn people of the need for insurance and the need for advice! If there are two things that everybody with a farm needs, those are them (okay, I don't know how to say it with good grammar, but you know what I mean). Before I opened my barn, which was my lifetime dream, my husband and I called an equine law expert, then talked with an insurance company that specializes in equine insurance, and got full coverage for everything we could think of and a whole lot of things we would never have thought of in a million years, only the lawyer and agent thought of them for us! Guess that's why you need to bring in the professionals, right? I'd just like to add some things to your advice, if you don't mind. One thing you didn't mention is that if you have several claims in a year, your insurance company may just up and drop you like a hot potato. That's what my best friend's insurance company did, after she had paid her insurance for fifteen years without any injuries at all, then she had three injuries at her farm in one year, and even though none of them was serious she got a HUGE jump in her insurance rates after the second one and then she just got cancelled after the third one. She was really upset about it. Now she insures with the same company as me, which is IMO way more professional and in business to do more than just suck money out of responsible people like her old company did (I feel like I can say that because I'm not going to tell the name of that company). Anyway it's real important for people with riding stables and lesson barns to check the reputation of the insurance company, because paying money to a bad one doesn't do much good. My husband (ex-Marine) says it's pounding sand down a rat-hole. Also, it's real important to know just what you're going to be insured FOR. My girlfriend had insurance for her own stuff and the horses she boarded but not for the instructors who came in to teach lessons at her barn. We have our own insurance, insurance for the boarders' horses, insurance for my teaching and for the other instructor who comes in, and we even have insurance for our clinician who comes in every three months to work with us. We get one discount on our insurance because all of the people who teach are certified instructors, and we get another discount because we follow all of the insurance company's suggestions about electricity and fencing and hay storage and signs and so on. But it's still expensive anyway, but it is just so much more expensive if you don't have the insurance! My farm is my life, and I just don't know what I would do without it. Please tell all your HORSE-SENSE readers to take this insurance stuff seriously. Two of the injuries that happened over at my girlfriend's farm happened to friends of hers, and just like you said, they didn't sue her, they just said "Hey, s**t happens, that's why we have insurance!" But the way it worked out was that their hospital wanted to get the money from my girlfriend's insurance company, and I guess they paid it okay, but then they jacked up her rates sky-high and then after one more injury they just cancelled her policy totally. It seems really unfair to me that you can pay and pay for years and then when something happens and it's the insurance company's turn to pay, they pull stuff like this. But I know it happens because I've seen it happen, so please tell everyone to be careful. Thank you so much for HORSE-SENSE. I'm going to donate this week, even with Christmas just about to get here, because this is my favorite place for good information. I used to write a little newsletter every other month for my bridge club, and it was an incredible pain in the you know what, so I kind of know how much work you must put in, and the stuff you write about is way more important than bridge. Boy, I hope none of my club members are reading this! Thanks again. Crystal


Hi Crystal! I don't usually do this, but your letter is so "to the point" that I'm going to go ahead and tackle the same subject two weeks in a row. Your experiences, and your girlfriend's, aren't all that unusual. You are right: Bring in the professionals, discuss everything that you think might happen and everything that the professionals KNOW might happen, then get your insurance. You're also right about the possibility of getting discounted rates for maintaining high safety standards at your facility - and using certified instructors is a good start. Other things to consider would be keeping hay and shavings in a separate building, well away from the horses, and maintaining up-to-date wiring in the barn. There are many other things to consider, of course. I don't know which insurance company you use, but I've seen the forms provided by Markel (a well-known insurer), and they go into great detail about what farmowners can and should do with their facilities and policies to promote safety for horses, riders, staff, and visitors. Other companies may have similar forms. They are VERY helpful whether you are planning to insure right now, or whether you are just beginning to think about boarding horses or giving lessons at your barn, and wondering what sort of insurance you need.

If you want to do your very best to maintain a safe facility or to make your already safe facility even more safe, your insurance company can help you make a plan and act on it. But do, by all means, be sure to find a company that knows the ins and outs of horse facilities, horse management, riding lessons, etc. It really does make sense to get the best possible, most experienced help, and it really does make sense to get your advice from the most well-informed professionals you can find.

Oh, and one more thing - I hope that, like Crystal, other readers are also wise and intend to talk to their lawyer and insurance agent before opening their facility. But it can be even MORE useful to talk to those people when you are starting to PLAN your facility - it may affect your choice of materials and farm design, at the very least. It's much easier to budget for a particular layout or fence type than it is to try to figure out how to find money to change the layout or fence later on. Farm design is like anything else: Planning ahead really does pay. The money you'll spend on an extra hour or two with a good lawyer is an investment in your facility and its future.

One interesting result of publishing last week's letter: Many people have written to me saying that they're going to check the terms of their own insurance policies, because they have no idea what those terms are. Good thinking! Others have written to say that they are, for the first time, thinking about getting insurance coverage. Again, good thinking! And I've had several notes from farm-owners who were very surprised to hear that their state equine activities act didn't provide blanket protection for any and all eventualities - and who say they're going to make it their business to find out more. (Hint: Ask about the difference between 'inherent risk' and 'negligence'.)

Thank you, all of you. This is exactly the kind of response I hope that HORSE-SENSE can continue to bring out. I don't believe in, or want to provide, one-size-fits-all formula answers to questions like these, and I wouldn't be qualified to provide them anyway, whether they were medical or legal. I am VERY interested in providing people with information that may help them think more clearly, take more factors into account, and have better discussions with their own farriers, vets, insurance agents and lawyers. I don't have all the answers, and I don't believe that any single individual does. But I've always said "I'm not a vet - but I know where to find the good ones; I'm not a farrier - but I know where to find the good ones; I'm not a lawyer - but I know where to find the good ones; I'm not an insurance agent - but I know where to find the good ones." I should also say "I know how to talk to all of them." This is a skill that ALL of you need to develop. Know how to talk to your professionals - establish a common ground, and for heaven's sake ASK QUESTIONS. No good professional will ever ridicule you for asking to have something explained or clarified. ASK QUESTIONS. What I can do for you, with HORSE-SENSE, is give you information that may help you ask better questions and feel more comfortable with the answers, and that's what I want to be able to share with you. Take what you read here and discuss it with the professionals on your "team". Informed discussions lead to informed choices, which are likely to be infinitely better than uninformed choices.

Jessica

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