Horse-Sitting 101: Legalities to Consider

Eliminate some of the anxiety of leaving your horse with a sitter by preparing for the trip in advance.
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Leaving your horse in the care of another person–even a trusted friend–can be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s possible to eliminate some of the anxiety, though, by preparing for the trip in advance.

Understand the legal implications. The relationship between the person who owns the horse (or any other personal property) and the person who has possession of the horse and has accepted responsibility for its care is a legal arrangement called a "bailment." This means the caretaker has the legal duty to return the horse to the owner unharmed. If the horse is injured or dies, there is a presumption of negligence by the caretaker, which will be very difficult to disprove if there is a lawsuit. The person to whom you entrust your horse should understand–and accept–this responsibility.

Keep in touch. Both the horse owner and the caretaker should have multiple ways to contact each other in the event of an emergency or any other unexpected circumstance. Contact information for veterinarians, farriers, insurance agents, and anyone else with an interest in the horse also should be shared before the owner departs. The communication network might include a land line, cell phone, e-mail, text messages, or some combination, but reliable communications are a must for both practical and legal reasons.

Get it in writing. Horse-sitting agreements often are informal affairs, but putting the basics of the arrangement in writing will establish obligations and expectations, and this will allow everyone to sleep easier. There should be an understanding of what the caretaker can do, or what he or she can authorize someone else (a veterinarian, for example) to do without contacting the horse owner. If the horse colics in the middle of the night and the owner cannot be contacted, for example, can the caretaker authorize surgery or other veterinary care? And if the horse is insured, the policy probably includes a requirement that the agent or carrier be notified in the event of illness or accident. The caretaker’s failure to make the required notification may void the policy. Ensure the caretaker fully understands what he or she needs to do in the event of an emergency

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Written by:

Milt Toby was an author and attorney who wrote about horses and legal issues affecting the equine industry for more than 40 years. Former Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association’s Equine Law Section, Toby wrote 10 nonfiction books, including national award winners Dancer’s Image and Noor. You can read more about him at TheHorse.com/1122392.

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