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Legalities,liabilities and insurance

From: Lauren

I have recently moved my horses to a new home where I will be able to resume some limited lesson and training activities. I will also be kepping several horses for other owners. The place I moved to is not owned by me but will be under my supervision. I am a small business owner and considering my limited time and my knowledge and first hand experience with legal liabilities, you would think that I would have more sense than to do this. Unfortunately my horse brain does not work as well as my business brain.

Well enough sarcasm and on to the question. I have ordered several equine law and contract books but have not been satisfied with any of them. Could you reccomend where I could get the contracts and hold harmless agreements that I need and would you have any suggestions on ways to limit my risk and possibly some ideas on insurance. I need a balance between risk and cost as I will only be doing this very part-time (just enough to cover my personal horse and showing expenses) but need to protect the landowner and my business assets if possible for a reasonable cost. Have really enjoyed this group and looking forward to your response.

Hi Lauren! Congratulations on the new place -- and you're right, you are definitely going to have to think about legal matters if you're going to run a horse business, even if it's small, and even if it's part-time, and even if you don't own the land or the facility.

Riding release forms and signs are the easiest part of this -- all you have to do is contact your state Horsemen's Council and buy copies of the signs with the wording for your particular state. Don't use anyone else's, because the wording varies state by state, and you MUST use PRECISELY the wording specified).

You may be able to limit your risk to SOME extent by not allowing unsupervised rides, by requiring that all riders wear ASTM/SEI approved headgear and safe footgear at all times, and by POSTING these and other rules, together with "no smoking" signs, and a sign for boarder's tack and equipment. Having all teaching done by certified instructors can help too, as can documenting your compliance with all safety measures in terms of fencing, stable equipment and construction, and fire hazards, but you're never entirely safe from accident -- or from litigation, even frivolous litigation -- and that's where the insurance comes in.

You and the landowner will have to get together with a good insurance agent and discuss what the needs and requirements will be, and who will cover which expenses. Offhand -- and I am NOT an insurance agent! -- I would say that you would need a fair amount of both commercial and personal coverage. This would mean, at the least, a "custody, care, and control" policy to cover the horses in your care, a personal liability policy for yourself (and probably another one for the landowner), and a general farm-and-ranch policy (the landowner may already have one, but it doesn't cover boarding or lessons).

Any suit involving the landowner (horse gets hurt on his property?) would probably involve you as well; any suit involving you (horse or human gets hurt while in your care?) would probably involve the landowner as well. You'll have to be very clear about who is LEGALLY responsible for what, and who is potentially liable for what!

If your horses are insured, or if you already carry a personal liability policy, you should talk to your current agent. If all of this is new, you should contact an agency that deals with horse-related insurance (go for a firm that's rated A- at least, and a firm that's an admitted carrier and is licensed in YOUR state). It's a specialty area, and you'll need a knowledgeable agent. I've been very happy with mine -- Scott Haines of the Haines Agency. And there are many other firms out there, so you'll have a lot of options.

For an annual fee, you can join the North American Horseman's Association, which gives you general insurance information, information about new laws and statutes, and gives you access to horse industry studies, insurance-related articles, and a litigation consultant. You might ask your agent about this organization -- membership could be a useful addition to your other precautions, including your coverage.

Call a few agencies specializing in equine insurance, tell them what you'll be doing, and ask for their application forms. They are usually happy to fax you the forms, and if you fill them out and fax them back (it's a good system, because that way you have copies of everything!) you can usually get an estimate within a few days. You may find that the cost of the insurance you need will outweigh the profits that you would expect to get from running a small commercial operation (boarding a horse or two, teaching a few lessons). And the questions on the forms will give you good ideas about what's involved, what can happen, and what you need to do. It's definitely something to look into, closely and carefully, BEFORE you make a committment.

Good luck!


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