Selling or Giving Away a Horse With Issues
In today’s litigious environment, how can you sell or give away a horse with known issues and minimize your potential liability? How can you maximize the chances that your horse will go to a good home? Here are some tips.

Make Full Disclosure

When you are selling or giving away a horse with behavioral, soundness, and/or health issues, you will need to disclose the full details of those issues. For example, if the horse you’re selling has a nasty habit of spinning and bolting every time he spooks, merely saying he’s “sensitive” and “needs an experienced rider” isn’t sufficient to put prospective buyers on notice. You’ll want to tell prospective buyers exactly what the horse does, how often he does it, why he does it (if you know), and whether the behavior has caused anyone injury. Encourage the prospective buyer to have their professional trainer come out and try the horse and evaluate his suitability for the buyer.

If the horse you’re selling or giving away has a soundness or health issue, you should, of course, tell prospective buyers about the issue in detail. But it is also important to release all of your veterinary records prior to the sale so a prospective buyer can consult with his or her veterinarian and make an informed decision about the nature and severity of the issue, what care and management will be required, and how much that care and management will cost over time. Encourage prospective buyers to have their own veterinarian perform a prepurchase examination of the horse so they’re fully informed about the horse’s condition at the time of sale.

Put it Writing

However, simply informing a prospective buyer about a horse’s health or behavior problem isn’t enough. Sellers should put all sales terms in a written horse sale contract, including all known issues that they’ve disclosed to the buyer. In writing, the buyer should agree to accept the horse with all disclosed issues as part of the deal.

Trust Your Instincts

This advice applies to selling any horse but is especially important when selling or giving away a horse with problems. Listen to that little inner voice telling you whether the buyer is a good match for the horse. Is the buyer confident and experienced enough to handle the horse’s behavioral issues safely? Does the buyer seem to understand fully the nature and severity of the horse’s problems? Does the buyer have the financial means and desire to manage the horse’s health or soundness issues ethically and humanely? Does the buyer seem uncertain about the purchase? Do you suspect the buyer is primarily interested in the horse because it’s “free” or inexpensive? Does the buyer have a plan for what they will do with the horse if they aren’t able to manage his issues?

If your instincts are telling you “no,” that’s what you should tell the buyer; remember, you’re not obligated to sell your horse, even if a buyer is interested. A polite way to decline is, “I’m sorry, I just don’t think Trigger is a good match for you.”

One unfortunate fact about giving a horse away or selling it inexpensively is that you might attract buyers who plan to resell the horse at a profit without solving the problems or disclosing them to the next purchaser—they’re in it for a quick buck. Or, if the horse is free or very inexpensive, the prospective buyer might be planning to take it to auction, where it could end up being sold for meat. Most of the time, such buyers won’t be forthcoming about their intentions, so sellers must be vigilant.

Don’t sell or give away your horse sight unseen. Ask the buyer for references, including the buyer’s veterinarian and farrier, and then call those references to inquire about what kind of home your horse will be going to. Search online for the buyer’s name to see if there are any complaints from other horse sellers or any other adverse information. If you can’t visit the place where the buyer intends to keep the horse, ask for the address and check it out on Google Earth. If that place is a boarding stable, call them and make sure the buyer actually boards there.

Unfortunately, some individuals and groups who claim to be “rescues” are nothing more than dealers, scam artists, and hoarders. So, don’t take “rescue” at face value—do your homework just like you would for any prospective buyer, and carefully review any donation contract the individual or organization provides to make sure the terms are fair and reasonable. If the organization claims to be a “nonprofit,” search the IRS database to verify that claim.

Take-Home Message

When selling a horse with know health or behavioral issues, disclose them to the buyer and document them in writing as part of a sales contract. Additionally, take steps to ensure the buyer is a good fit for your horse and able to manage his or her challenges.