Q: I purchased a horse about four weeks ago for my daughter (11 yrs. old with five years of riding experience), who rode the horse and compared it to several others we had seen. We had her trainer with us, and we all felt comfortable about the horse and decided to purchase him. The seller agreed to deliver him, and I paid her on delivery.
After just a few days we started having difficulty with the horse's behavior. He became stubborn and belligerent, and we felt he was not a safe choice for my daughter. We told the seller we would like to return him and get our money back.
When we purchased the horse we were not given any registration papers or Coggins. There was nothing noted by the vet who did the prepurchase exam regarding blood drawn for testing. We signed nothing and were not told up front that we would not get our money back if we were dissatisfied. I was not informed until afterwards that I could only do a trade out with the seller for a different horse. When the horse was delivered to us and I wrote her a $6,000 check.
Her husband picked up the horse a week ago and I have called her twice since then to find out if she had other horses I could look at. I had attempted several other times to call her but often found her phone message mailbox was full and I couldn't leave a message.
She has refused to return my money and has gotten very defensive when I've discussed it with her. I am afraid she's going to make herself completely unavailable to me and I'll never see my money again.
In the meantime, I've found another horse that I would like to purchase for my daughter, but my hands are tied. Is there a way to deal with this problem on a legal level so that I get my money back and move forward on this?
A: For better or worse, the convention in the horse industry is that unless you have an agreement to the contrary and/or the seller makes certain specific representations, all horse sales are "as is" and final the moment the buyer delivers payment. This is part of why I recommend a written purchase/sale agreement for every transaction - that way, no one is surprised. Most sellers will not take returns and actually, this seller is fairly generous for offering to allow you to make a trade. However, because the seller took your money AND the horse, she does owe you something, whether it is a refund or a trade.
As a horseperson, I'm not too surprised at the horse's behavior, as it is very typical for horses to "test" new riders, especially novice riders. If it is still possible, I'd recommend having your trainer work with your daughter and the horse, and if he's still totally unsuitable, enlist the trainer's help in reselling the horse and obtaining a more suitable mount for your daughter. I'm assuming that the horse isn't doing anything particularly dangerous (i.e., kicking, biting, bucking, rearing) and that he's just being ornery. Now, if he has truly dangerous habits, that's another story - the seller knew he was going to a child, albeit a child under a trainer's supervision, so she'd have the duty to disclose any known traits that would make him an unsuitable child's mount. Merely being "stubborn and belligerent" wouldn't make him unsuitable, though. Many children's ponies fit this description to a T! For more information on a seller's legal duties, see Selling a Horse?on Equine Legal Solutions.
Now, the paperwork. If the horse is registered (for example, with the Jockey Club, if he's a Thoroughbred) and was sold to you as a registered horse, the seller must transfer the registration papers to you when you buy the horse. I strongly advise my clients to examine the registration papers and obtain a signed copy of the transfer certificate at the time of delivery of the purchase price. Evidence of a negative Coggins test is typically required by state agriculture departments to bring a horse into the state, but California does not require sellers to provide one to the buyers at the time of sale. Bills of sale, while a good idea, are also not legally required. A prepurchase exam does not typically include blood work of any kind - it's limited to what the examining veterinarian can observe. Here's an excellent article on what to expect from a prepurchase exam.