Legal Questions and Answers for the Horse Community

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Rachel Kosmal McCart
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The Difference Between Registration Papers and a Bill of Sale

Q: I am new to horses and was wondering if registration papers were the same as ownership papers? If not, what is the difference?

A: That is a very good question! For horses such as registered Quarter Horses, Arabians and Thoroughbreds, registration papers serve as the official record of ownership with the breed registry as well as proof of the horse's purebred pedigree. For most breed shows, you must be the registered owner of the horse to exhibit it in amateur or youth classes, and you must have a copy of the original registration papers to exhibit the horse in open classes. The same is true for racing. You must also be the registered owner of a stallion or mare to register his or her foals with the breed registry. Most breed registries require a transfer form to be signed by the registered owner of the horse in order to transfer the horse's ownership into a new name, although some breed registries will accept a bill of sale in lieu of a signed transfer form.

Clarification: There is an exception to the general requirement that you must be the registered owner of a mare or stallion to register their foals with a breed registry. If you have a valid lease agreement signed by the registered owner of the horse and you file a copy of the lease agreement with the breed registry, you may register a mare's foals or file a stallion breeding report for a stallion, as applicable.

If you buy a registered horse and the person listed as the owner on the registration papers is not the person selling the horse, you will need a transfer form signed by the registered owner . If the seller does not have a signed transfer form, it will be very difficult to get the horse registered in your own name without a court order. If you have to obtain a court order, any papers that you have showing transfer of ownership, e.g., a bill of sale, will be helpful in proving the horse's identity and your legal ownership of the horse.

There are innocent explanations for the seller not being the registered owner. For example, the registered owner may have consigned the horse to the seller for sale. The seller may have bought the horse for resale and figured that it was not worth the transfer fee to put the horse in his name. The seller may have also forgotten to fill out and send in the transfer form.

There are also some more problematic explanations for the seller's name not being on the registration papers. For example, it is not uncommon for people to buy a horse in installments and then not complete paying for the horse before trying to sell it to someone else. In these cases, you may have to pay the original owner to obtain a signed transfer form so that you can register the horse in your name. The horse could also be stolen from the registered owner (it is not unheard of for horse thieves to steal registration papers along with the horse!). The seller could be suspended from the breed association membership because of rule violations. When in doubt, call the breed registry to ensure that there are no issues with the horse's registration and that the horse has not been reported stolen.

About the Author: Rachel Kosmal McCart, the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, is a lifelong horsewoman and experienced lawyer. Equine Legal Solutions, the Legal Counsel with Horse Sense TM , offers a full range of legal services for the horse community, including dispute resolution, customized contracts and risk management assessment.
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