The Liability of Leasing a Horse to a Kid
Q: I have a talented and kind 15-year-old dressage horse that is no longer physically able to train and compete at the sport’s upper levels. I’d like to share him with a committed and talented 11-year-old girl who rides with my trainer, preferably via a lease. He has a lot he could teach her, and I believe the pair would be a good fit. However, I’m concerned about the liability associated with having a child ride my horse. How can I best protect myself while also providing my horse with a second career and help this girl continue her dressage education?
A: Unfortunately, for all of us horse owners, liability will always be associated with our horses, regardless of what we do to protect ourselves. There are just some things that we cannot predict a horse will do (i.e., tripping and falling, spooking, etc.) even when we’ve known the animal for 15 years. So, when we lend or lease our horses to others, the key points to protect yourself are full disclosure, a written release of liability, and insurance coverage.
Full Disclosure. In other words, if you know that your horse has a tendency to spook, bite, kick, etc., you absolutely must tell the person you’re allowing to hand your horse. If you don’t and your horse injures that person, you could be on the hook legally for failure to inform them of the horse’s dangerous propensities. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to pull out your crystal ball each morning before you let someone handle your horse—as I said, there are just some things that we cannot predict—but if you know that your horse is a biter, you must warn other people handling your horse of that known danger. If you fail to warn of a known danger, you are essentially making an already dangerous activity (horseback riding) more dangerous for the oblivious party.
Written Release of Liability. It’s important for all horse owners to understand that when someone signs a release, he or she can still bring a lawsuit against you for injuries (to themselves or, in this case, the injuries to their child). But, a written release of liability serves as an excellent deterrent and, ultimately, an excellent legal defense. When someone signs a release, he is acknowledging the dangers of horse riding and handling, and representing that he is voluntarily assuming the risk of those dangers (or, in this case, assuming a risk on the behalf of their child). “Assumption of the risk” is your best defense in an equine legal
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