There are a batch of liability risks associated with operating any equestrian business, whether a boarding farm, a lesson barn, a training facility, or a trail riding concession. Most are of the equine variety: a rider is thrown or a horse falls; someone gets kicked, or bitten, or stepped on; tack breaks; an employee is negligent.

Nearly every state (all except California, Maryland, Nevada, and New York) has some sort of equine activity liability law on the books that can provide significant protection for equine professionals in many situations. Sometimes, though, liability arises because of another four-legged creature, a dog.

If you have clients on your property and they bring their dogsÑlikely because horses and dogs seem to go togetherÑyou may be inviting a lawsuit if the animal bites someone. In many states, laws dealing with liability for harm caused by dogs are much less forgiving than equine activity liability statutes.

Some states impose “strict liability” on the owner of a dog that injures someone. This means that the individual who was bitten can win a personal injury lawsuit without having to prove that the owner of the dog was at fault. Strict liability can be a powerful weapon in court for an injured person.

This doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook if a dog belonging to another person bites someone while the dog is on your property, however. It all depends on how state law defines “owner,” and that definition may be broader than you expect. A recent decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court is a good illustration.

Who “Owns” This Dog?