Friday, January 9, 2015

What is equine law?

One of the most frequent questions people ask is, “What is equine law?” The quick answer is that equine law is law dealing with horses, but that isn’t a very helpful response.

Equine law deals with a variety of issues that can arise. To begin, contract law governs the interactions of buyers and sellers, barn owners and boarders, judges and show organizers, and so on. One of the most important contracts any person signs is a liability release, sometimes called a “Release and Hold Harmless.” This might be a paragraph at the end of a boarding contract that looks something like this.

Boarding and sales contracts can be found online, but sometimes need an attorney’s help to decipher. In some cases, a properly drafted liability release can protect a facility from very expensive liability. To know what your contract really says – and if it adequately protects you – you should consult an attorney.

John Grisham wrote a book, “The King of Torts,” which spent over 20 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers Top 15 list and introduced millions of Americans to “torts” (not to be confused with “torte”). Personal injury is the most widely known tort.  Horse owners might worry about personal injury suits if their horse bites or kicks another person.

Horse owners might also face nuisance suits. As Attorney Jennifer McCabe wrote, this is basically being sued for smelling like a horse. Right to Farm laws can protect stables and ranches from nuisance suits, but not everyone will qualify under a Right to Farm statute. A lawyer specializing in equine or agriculture law can help you understand what these laws mean for you.

As the world expands, horse people have less and less space to ride and keep their horses. Organizations like the Equine Land Conservation Resource are dedicated to protecting and conserving land for horses and horse-related activities. The legal issues that can arise in this area include equine access to public and private land, planning and zoning rules and regulations, and making businesses environmentally sustainable.

Wills & Trusts
While not fun to think about, ask yourself: what will happen to my horse if I die? For many equestrians, their horses are their children. A growing part of will drafting is including a “pet trust” to provide for a person’s animals in case of death. Similarly, business owners should consider what will happen to their equine business. Will it pass to family? A dedicated employee? These are questions that your attorney can help you address in writing your will.

This is by no means an exclusive list of the legal issues that can arise when dealing with horses. Keep checking back for more detailed discussions of the topics above, and other horse-related legal issues!

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