Legal Questions and Answers for the Horse Community

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Rachel Kosmal McCart
Please note that the following information is not intended to be legal advice or to create an attorney client relationship. Before relying on any information, you should contact an attorney licensed to practice in your state. See also BAEN's legal disclaimer. To submit a question for this column, email your question to Please identify yourself as well as any other parties involved so that we can be sure to avoid conflicts in interest in answering your question. We will keep all parties? identities confidential. By submitting your inquiry to this column, you grant permission for your inquiry to be published and for your inquiry to be edited for length, grammar or clarity. Due to space limitations, we cannot publish an answer to every question we receive, but we do try to provide an unpublished answer by email or telephone. View previous Q&A's in the Legal Solutions Archives.

Liability Releases for Volunteers

Q: I want to mentor a student and use my horse for a 4-H horse project as part of the mentoring relationship. This is a volunteer activity. What kind of release do I need? I am a target because I am a medical student. Thank you very much for your advice.

A: Because you will be working with a novice horseperson, you will want to be particularly careful about how your liability release is drafted. Part of what makes a liability release enforceable in California is clear description of the risks that the student will be undertaking. The release should list the typical risks inherent in handling and riding horses (they can kick, bite, knock you down, buck you off, etc.). If the student will be participating in any activities that have special risks, such as horse shows, gymkhana events or jumping, your release should also describe the potential risks inherent in those events. Remember that a liability release is designed to protect you by listing all of the possible risks, not just what is likely to happen. Even if you think your horse would never bite or kick, your release should still include those risks. Most of the liability releases that ELS sees are not likely to be enforceable because they are not specific about what makes horses dangerous.

When working with students under 18 years of age, the student as well as all parents or guardians should sign the release. If only one parent or guardian signs the release, the other parents or guardians could still bring a claim against you. Having parents sign a release is yet another good reason why your release should be very specific in describing risks ?the student may be familiar with the risks inherent in handling and riding horses, but the parents may not be, so you want to make sure they understand those risks.

Because liability releases typically do not protect you in situations where you are found to be negligent or to have engaged in willful misconduct, ELS also highly recommends that individual horse owners consider obtaining a horse owner's liability policy. Typically, these policies are very reasonably priced and they can provide valuable protection against horse-related claims. See Insurance?on Equine Legal Solutions?website for more information on what individual horse owner policies typically cover and companies that offer these policies.

For more information about liability releases, see Liability Releases?on ELS' website or contact ELS for more information.

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.
Copyright ©2008 Equine Legal Solutions and the Bay Area Equestrian Network. All rights reserved. The above article is the property of the Author and may not be duplicated or redistributed in any way without permission.