Disputes arise with an alarming frequency in the horse business. They can range from something relatively minor, such as a misunderstanding over a feed bill, to a problem serious enough to threaten the continued existence of your business, such as alleged liability for a career-ending injury to a valuable show horse in your care.

Hardly ever is it sound business practice simply to ignore a dispute, but how should you proceed?

The response from one party to a disagreement, or often from both parties, reflects the increasingly litigious nature of our society–a lawsuit. This might or might not be appropriate, however, depending upon the nature of the dispute, the relationship between the parties, and other factors.

There are options that might allow you to reach a mutually agreeable solution with the other party before going to court, and you do yourself a great disservice if your automatic response to every disagreement is to rush to the telephone and dial "1-800-will-sue."

Lumped together under the general description of "alternative dispute resolution," or "ADR," these out-of-court options include informal negotiation between the parties, mediation, and arbitration. Differences between the various forms of ADR generally involve whether a third party is involved, and if so, the scope of the third party’s role in the process.

You probably are familiar already with informal negotiation; this occurs every time the disputing parties attempt to work things out between themselves.

Face-to-face negotiations have inherent risks, however, and you should be aware that any statements you make