Legal Questions and Answers for the Horse Community

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Rachel Kosmal McCart
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Q: I'm in a tough situation. I'm 17 and I'm going to be buying a horse soon. I had planned to do it a year from now, after my first year of college and after I had figured out a situation and saved some money. However I've been informed that either I buy him now or he gets sold to somebody else. As I'm very attached to him, I'm attempting to buy him now. So, since I'm not quite prepared to take him until next year, I'm looking for someone to lease him out fully for this next year.

I've never bought a horse before and I don't know the issues involved. I'm wondering what kind of insurance I will need (particularly for leasing him) and how to best limit my liability should something happen to the lessee. I also want to make sure he's going to be in the best situation possible while I'm gone, so I can feel comfortable about his well being. Basically I want to know, if you were in my shoes, what things would you want to make sure were taken care of, legally? Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

A: To purchase the horse, you would want to follow the steps outlined on the Equine Legal Solutions website under "Buying a Horse," particularly obtaining a vet check and entering into a well-drafted purchase contract with the seller. I'd ask your vet's advice about whether you should obtain X-rays as part of your vet check, as you wouldn't want to go to all the trouble of buying the horse and leasing him out, only to find out that he has navicular, ringbone or another chronic condition that would make him unsound.

As you're probably aware, there are significant risks involved in leasing out a horse - see "Leasing a Horse" on the Equine Legal Solutions website. To help manage these risks, I'd recommend entering into a well-written lease agreement that clearly outlines who is responsible if anything happens to your horse, to the lessee or to someone else or their property. Because you will want the horse back in a year, you'll want to make sure your agreement is crystal clear on when you can take the horse back. Some horse owners find that their lessee likes the horse so much that they have trouble getting the horse back, while other horse owners have lessees who change their mind in the middle of the lease and want the owner to come and pick up the horse on very short notice.

Screen potential lessees carefully, and don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. After all, this is your baby that you're leasing! What kind of experience do potential lessees have? Do they have the financial means to care for your horse properly? Can they offer trainer and/or veterinarian references? What kind of environment will your horse be living in? If the horse won't be nearby, consider whether you'll be able to check in on him personally every so often to make sure he stays happy and in good condition. I highly recommend having your lease agreement specify in detail what kind of care you expect the lessee to provide for your horse. Your lease should also specify that you have the right to come and check on the horse (or have a friend do so, if you can't) and that you can take the horse back if he's not in good condition or the lessee is breaching other terms of the lease regarding his care and handling.

Many leasing situations require that the horse be insured, either by the seller or by the buyer. I not only recommend insuring the horse, I also recommend maintaining the insurance yourself, so that you can make sure you have the appropriate coverage and make sure it doesn't lapse during the lease term. You can build the cost of the insurance into the lease cost. In this situation, I would recommend obtaining an equine mortality policy with coverage for major medical and loss of use. You may also wish to consider obtaining a horse owner's liability policy. For more information on types of equine insurance and how to shop for an equine insurance policy, see "Insurance" on the Equine Legal Solutions website.

Best of luck in buying the horse of your dreams and finding a lessee who will care for him as much as you do!

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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