Keep 'em Safe on your Horse and Don't Lose $300 grand

A recent equine law Florida case provides valuable insights into ways YOU can avoid liability when allowing anyone to ride your horse.
It is such a shame that fear of liability has caused so many of us to become hyperaware and fearful of accidents and lawsuits with our horses.  It makes me supremely cautious to ever allow a friend to ride one of our horses, help lead a calm horse into the barn, or even feed carrots at the risk of a chomped finger!  

First, I'll share a few facts of the Florida case, then Randi Thompson, of Horse and Rider Awareness, shares tips to help reduce risk of injury when guests ride your horse.
 Whether you are a horse business or a private horse owner, and whether you are allowing someone to ride to try the horse prior to purchase, to take a lesson, or as a fun experience, both the Flordia case and Randi's tips will help ensure you can enjoy your horse experience to the fullest while limiting the risk of liability.

Randi Thompson coaching.  Image source Horse and Rider Awareness

The Equine Law Case
A woman owned a horse named Buster.  As part of Buster's diet she fed him a calming supplement from Smartpak, and subsequently wrote a review of the supplement that was published by Smartpak, stating that Buster "can be a little difficult at times, what a difference [the supplement] made in him.  Since he's been on it we've had nothing but great rides."
Buster's owner permitted another woman to ride Buster.  This other woman said that Buster's owner told her that Buster was well-trained.  When the woman applied her legs to Buster to ask him to move forward the horse allegedly reared, she fell and broke two vertebrae.
Apparently someone anonymously sent the injured woman's lawyer the Smartpak review written by Buster's owner.  After four years of legal wrangling and appeals Buster's owner agreed to pay to the woman $300,000 as part of their settlement.

Yikes. My first thought is that just because a horse can be a little difficult at times, doesn't mean he isn't well-trained.  And it was the owner who had nothing but great rides, which says nothing to the riding ability of the other woman.  However, I imagine there are a lot more details to both sides of the story, so here are a few things we can learn from the case:
  • If anyone gets on your horse, have them sign a Release of Liability first.
  • If you allow anyone on or near your horses, err on the side of disclosing that your horse may have MORE quirks to be cautious about, rather than less.
  • As an equestrian, make sure you have the right umbrella insurance policy or rider to your applicable insurance.

Practical Tips
“The Secrets to Teaching a Guest or Rider the Basics"
By Randi Thompson © 2014 Horse and Rider Awareness

What do you do when you have a guest who wants to ride your horse? Would you like a safe process that will let them have fun as they discover how to control a horse?
Your main goal will be to protect your rider. Try to make everything fun, but keep in mind that safety has to come first. Begin by making sure to have a safe, quiet horse. Next, choose a safe location. A fenced in area with level footing is always the best choice.
  • Take special care when the rider is Mounting and Dismounting
  • Let’s ride! To be safe, keep the lead line on so that you have control.  If the rider cannot stop the horse on their own, you cannot let go of the lead line at any time.
  •  Take your time and make sure the rider knows that the horse is moving forward because of what they are doing with their legs.
  • Check that the rider can go in both directions while starting and stopping. As their steering improves you can choose other points of focus and ask them to ride the horse to that spot and stop.
  • Test their controls again. When you are sure the rider is in control, and not before, you can remove the lead line and repeat the process. Stay close to the horse until you are certain that control has been established, and finally, step away. 
  • Some people think it is fun for a new rider to trot or canter. This is where most accidents happen. These gaits are not comfortable to new riders and they will also not be able to control the horse.
Now you have the tools that will give you the confidence to put a rider on your horse. Your goal is simple. Keep them safe first, and keep them having as much fun as you can.


I know that the fear of liability has caused the decline of casual horse back riding.  But when you take steps to alert a rider of the inherent risks to riding (such as verbal warnings, a signed liability release, and posted signs) AND you take reasonable steps is assessing the rider's ability on the horse before you let the rider independently, then you are far ahead in protecting yourself.  Most states have Equine Activity Liability Acts, but do not rely on these alone because each state's act has exceptions to the liability protection.

I have been riding my entire life, but when I go to try a horse or ride a horse at another barn, most trainers usually hold the horse by the reins while I mount, tell me that the horse may spook in the far corner, and alert me to any other possible risks.  And of course I have always signed a Liability Release before I get on when at a horse business.  Even though I am an experienced rider, I appreciate that the owners or agents of horses take steps to make sure we all have a successful ride.  When these cautionary steps become a part of the everyday make-up of how you conduct your horse business or horse life, it feels natural and not like you are taking the steps out of fear of liability.

I know that lawyers can ruin a lot of things about our great horse sport (by being willing to take some ridiculous horse cases!), but equine law is so great because it provides a vehicle for us to all learn how to conduct our horse lives in a way that ensures everyone, and all the horses, have a better time.  This is what will help our sport grow!

Special thanks to Rate my Horse Pro for sending me this Florida case on Twitter.  You can read the full article at their site by following this link.

You can experience Randi's simple, yet amazing Horse and Rider Awareness techniques that have been tested and proven to work on 1000s of riding instructors, horse trainers, students and horses and can learn more by following this link to Horse and Rider Awareness.

Euthanize Moody Mares! And other thoughts on a crazy Court Decision

Over on Twitter (come and follow me!) we've been having various discussions about the recent Connecticut court ruling.  If you haven't been brought up to speed- please make yourself aware of the case and its potential ramifications as part of your duty as an equestrian representative in your community.
 As a brief backstory, a toddler went to pet a horse in a paddock at a local market.  The horse bit the boy in the neck causing injury.  A lawsuit commenced.  The ruling in relevant part:

The owner or keeper of a domestic animal “has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the animal from causing injuries that are foreseeable because the animal belongs to a class of animals that is naturally inclined to cause such injuries,” the court ruled. Owners may be held liable for negligence if they fail to take reasonable steps and an injury results, the justices said.

It's one of those rulings that is frustrating, aggravating, leaves more questions than answers, and in my opinion, doesn't result in any productive solutions.

Here are two PIVOTAL phrases the court uses that I want you to consider with this case...

Marketing your Horse Business (a guest post!)

Are you a member of enough social media sites?  It certainly overwhelms me with how many sites I am told by various gurus that I should join.  Some of them really work for networking and promoting content!  But there is one old tool that many of us are forgetting to use, and today we have a guest post from Peg Cannell of $table In₵ome to offer us a bit more insight.  Peg consults with horse businesses to help create a stable income stream in the often volatile financial world of boarding, training, and showing.  If you're interested in increasing your overall profitability in your horse business, you can contact Peg through her LinkedIn profile.

During financially difficult times it is most important to offer students and their families value for their money or they will cut out lessons and shows as an unnecessary expense. This does not mean giving away your services, but offering options while waiting for economic recovery. Service is what we give in the horse business and we should never forget it.

First Impressions

First impressions are important to attract the clientele you desire. The first exposure anyone has to your business is usually the telephone. Sadly, most small barn owners do not consider this a priority and hope that future customers will wait for the proverbial ‘hay to be put up’ before being called back. Unless they really want to come to your business for a personal reason, they will call the next barn. We have become a national of impatient consumers and it is best not to forget that. Obviously, your physical site is important too as some potential clients will drive up to see the horses. If the paint is peeling, horse manure litters the site, or things are held together with baling twine and duct tape, you may not attract the customers you desire. The best advice I can give is to take someone you don’t know well on a tour of your facility. You will see it through that person’s eyes rather than your own.

Your Speciality

There are differences between disciplines for sure and it is a good idea to choose what you are
passionate about. If you are passionate, it is infectious. Regardless of your specialty, it is a good idea to pick one. Within broad categories are subsets - do you train young riders only, ponies, jumpers, adults, equitation, hunters, dressage riders, reiners? Gaining a niche as being known for a subset is a long term profitable move. You will become the local expert and people will come to you. Many of us wish to be a mover-shaker in our equine world and if that is your goal and you don’t have the credentials to back it up, go work for someone who does and keep your barn closed until you are ready. The truth is, few of us make it to the very top but many of us have businesses that support us financially and emotionally. And that is what it is all about in my view. Regardless of your category or subset, regardless of your size and recognition, we all strive to have our riders and horses compete to the best of their abilities. 

Excellent horse management and care and a club atmosphere make clients happy. Who wouldn't want to belong? Who wouldn't want to do their best?
Make that happen from the first contact on. Get someone to answer the phone!

I like that Peg mentioned "from the first contact on."  Remember that attaining a new customer is part of the journey, and retaining satisfied customers that will then refer more business to you is the destination.  Treat the very first contact with a prospect to your business, whether that is a business card, phone call, or facility tour, as a crucial part of that journey.  NOW is a great time to look at your horse business- your facility or website and its corresponding speciality (which corresponds with your unique selling proposition)- with fresh eyes and make needed changes to help improve someone's first and last experience with your horse business.  This will help you establish not only stable, but even growing, income in your horse business.

Have you ever had a great first impression with a horse business that caused you to convert from just a shopper to a customer?  Such as a barn that swayed you to board at that facility?

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