At Equine Legal Solutions, we are frequently asked about rights of first refusal in horse sales.

These inquiries typically come from former owners who are upset because they weren’t notified before a horse was resold or otherwise transferred to a new owner. They want to know if they can get the horse back, but the answer is almost always no.

There are two main reasons why:

  • The right of first refusal wasn’t in writing. Often, the original horse sale was conducted without anything in writing. Other times, the buyer received a simple bill of sale that doesn’t include a right of first refusal. Either way, a verbal agreement will be very hard to enforce, particularly if there were no emails or other evidence supporting the existence of a right of first refusal.
  • The horse is already sold before the former owner finds out. In most states, when the horse has been sold to a third party who is unaware of the right of first refusal, the former owner has no legal case against the horse’s new owner and, therefore, no way to obtain possession of the horse. Instead, the former owner has a legal case for damages against the person who granted the former owner the right of first refusal.

    However, damages are based solely on the monetary injury suffered by the former owner when the right of first refusal was breached. Emotional damages are generally not recoverable in such cases, so the basis for damages is the difference between what the former owner would have purchased the horse for under the right of first refusal versus what the horse’s market value was at the time the ri