Horses and riders have a propensity for getting hurt at competitions and at home. Event sponsors and boarding farm owners cannot prevent all injuries, but there are steps that can be taken to minimize liability. Several speakers addressed the topic of effective risk management at the 25th Annual Equine Law Conference, held in Lexington, Ky., on April 27-28. Sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Law, the conference attracts many of the country’s leading practitioners of equine law.

Sonja Keating, senior vice-president and general counsel for the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), explained that the organization's risk management strategy includes a "comprehensive and standard" set of rules that are enforced at all sanctioned competitions, the required use of liability waivers for all participants at USEF events, and a hearing process to resolve disputes in an equitable way.

USEF rules include standards for officials, medical personnel (including a safety coordinator), and site preparation. The USEF drugs and medication program "protects the welfare of the equine athletes," Keating added, and the licensing requirements for officials, including continuing education and peer review, help ensure that events are conducted in a safe manner.

Liability is not limited to physical injuries suffered by horses and riders, Keating said. The hearing process under which protests, charges, and grievances are adjudicated by volunteer USEF members establishes a level playing field for everyone, reducing the possibility of a lawsuit by a disgruntled competitor.

Michigan attorney Julie Fershtman is a prolific write