Equine Architecture: is your barn safe?

Have you ever had an accident happen at the barn? Horses kick each other, a barn fire, wash rack injury?  
Being around horses is an inherently dangerous risk, and boarding barns should not be liable for injuries that occur as a natural byproduct of our equestrian sport.
However, boarding barns cannot waive gross negligence, and there may be times that such conduct or conditions around the barn result in avoidable injury.

Today we have a special feature from equine architect Joseph Martinolich.  Joe loves working with horsemen because horse people are so passionate about their sport!  However, Joe has also seen a number of errors made in equine architecture, errors that have led to injury.  He has been an expert witness in court cases revolving around these types of injuries.
I asked him a few questions about equine building and design to help serve you, my readers, as both boarders and barn owners (whether for private use or as a business).

1. How does your company intersect with equine law?

I have been a licensed architect for 30 years and over the last 15 years I have been specializing in equine design (stables, arenas, farm planning etc). This unique knowledge and experience has allowed me to assist  the legal community by serving as an expert witness on cases involving  injuries or damage involving horses, horsemen,  and/or the facilities in which they are they are used or stabled. My involvement has entailed reviewing and evaluating existing equine facilities for proper clearances, construction and overall design and how those physical conditions may or may not have  contributed to the injury or damages being claimed. 

2. What are the top two most common architectural issues you see arise in equine law?

While each case has been unique, I have seen one issue that appears to come up time and again. That being the unrealistic perception that some people have that the building or structure  should somehow be designed and constructed to safeguard them against every possible injury or damage, even when improperly used or maintained. One way to further describe this is to think of the building as a tool which needs to be operated and maintained properly in order to do the job for which it was constructed. Consider something as simple as a latch on a stall door - if not properly used or operated can result in a horse from getting loose and getting or causing an injury. The building (or latch) can only work and create a safe environment if its used properly by the people within it.

3. If someone is building or renovating a horse facility, what should they keep in mind to help them avoid liability?

Many issues will directly or indirectly affect the safe and functional use of  a farm and stable, just a few of these include:
  • Proper Planning: from the location of the building on the property, to the clearances and space requirements for for people, vehicles and horses, to the selection of proper materials. Sometimes trying to make use of less-than-ideal conditions or materials may save some time or money initially, but can come back to haunt the owner in the long run.
  • Proper maintenance: deteriorated wiring, splintering wood, exposed nails and screws, clogged drains, faulty door hardware etc are accidents waiting to happen. Regular maintenance  needs to be part of every stable owners operating plan. The facilities can  not simply be built and forgotten about.  
  • Proper electrical design & construction: Stables and arenas are unique environments due to the exposure to dust, birds, vermin, chewing horses, regular exposure to water (at wash stalls, etc). The lighting and power distribution in these facilities needs to be carefully planned to account for these conditions. Exposed and unprotected wiring is subject to being chewed  by vermin and horses, so protecting these components in conduit (plastic or metal tubing in which the wires are routed) adds a level of protection. Using GFCI (ground fault circuit interruption) protected outlets to reduce the risk of shock. The proper selection of UL listed damp/wet locations light fixtures, and to avoid the attracting insects and nesting birds, as well as other measures are all ways to minimize the chances of injury and fire. 

If you are a boarder I would encourage you to always examine the premises prior to your horse's arrival to ensure it is suitable for you.  And once you are a boarder, remain observant of how you can better ensure the safety of yourself, your horse, and others at the barn.  
As a barn owner, maintenance of safe conditions is paramount.  It should be part of your daily routine to be aware of broken or rotting boards, sharp objects, or dangerous conditions.  Your boarding agreement should also require prospective boarders sign that they have had the opportunity to examine the premises and find them suitable, and of course a provision waiving negligence.

Want some more barn eye-candy? Be sure to check out Joe's full gallery of projects.  He is based in Lexington, KY but available in any locale, or for consultation by phone or e-mail.

Have a question about whether your Boarding Agreement protects you as well as it should?  Contact me and I can help you find an attorney in your state.  As a word to the wise, I recently won a case because the Barn Owner did not use a Boarding Agreement at all and therefore could not meet her burden of proof to prevail in the dispute.  I'd recommend at least a brief agreement rather than no agreement at all- even for short-term boarders!

An Equine Assignment (nope, not homework!)

I've seen a number of legal issues pop up recently in regard to contract assignments, and wanted to help you know 1. What they are and 2. What you should do if you see one in your contract

A contractual assignment is the transfer by one party of the rights and obligations he has in the contract to a third-party.  That third-party person is the "assignee" and is said to "step into the shoes" of the "assignor."

Where do we see contractual assignments in the horse world?

Assignments in equestrian contracts are typically found in long-term or ongoing contractual agreements.
For example, take a look to see if your Boarding Agreement have an assignment provision.  Often the owner of the barn will reserve the right to assign the Boarding Agreement.  This means that if the barn owner sells the barn and assigns the boarding agreement to the new owner, then the new owner steps into the shoes of the barn owner and your board agreement is now with the new owner, typically without your prior consent, without you having to sign any new document, and without any say in the matter.
Two other examples: the Purchase and Sale Agreement of a horse that is being paid for by installment payments, or a Lease Agreement for a horse.  An assignment would allow either the buyer or the seller, or the Lessee or Lessor, to give to a third-party the rights and duties under the contract.  This could be the right to receive payment or the obligation to make payments, depending on which party is making the assignment.

Do you have an assignment provision in your contract?

The ability to make assignments can be great in some instances, bad in others, or of no truly material effect.  In the example of the Board Agreement, it might not matter if the barn owner assigns the Agreement to a new owner because the new owner will be bound by the terms of the existing Board Agreement, such as the services provided to the horses and the boarders.  But in an installment Purchase and Sale Agreement, if you are receiving payments and the person buying your horse assigns the contract, the contract may be assigned to someone you don't trust to make payments to you (or doesn't pass a credit check).  Or in a lease agreement, the contract may be assigned by the lessee to someone that you wouldn't want to ride or lease your horse.

When you see an assignment provision in your horse contract, consider whether all or only one party to the contract is allowed to assign, if there are parameters or limitations to the right to assign, and think through what the consequences might be to the ability (or inability) to make an assignment. 
 And of course, if you have any questions about the assignment provision and what it means for you and your equestrian activities, be sure to ask a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction for a consultation.

To Buy a Horse Business...or to Buy its Assets?

Have you seen certain websites (like Equestrian Life) or blogs (like Dappled Grey Equestrian Style) close up shop, but as they do so, pitch an offer to sell the business to an interested party?
Or perhaps your local hay seller or barn construction business has put up notice that they are "Under New Ownership."

If you work in the equine industry you may find it more efficient to buy a business rather than start one from scratch.

For example, you may buy a training stable rather than starting your own barn.  You may buy a tack shop rather than putting up a shingle on your own.  And as we have seen, this also applies in the digital world of buying an online site rather than building and growing one of your own.

Why would this be a good idea?  Wouldn't it be more economical just to save the cash you would spend to buy the business and put it into building your own business? It might be, but there are also many benefits to purchasing a horse business.

When purchasing a horse business you should evaluate whether you are purchasing the business, or whether you are just purchasing the assets of the business (a BIG difference!)
To illustrate:
Tacky Tack Shop has one store in California, one store in Florida, and a parent company in Germany.  You may buy the Tacky Tack Shop business, which would prevent the present owners from doing business under that business name, OR, you may buy just the United States assets of Tacky Tack Shop and not the business itself. 
 Assets of the business may include:
  • Ownership of the Tacky Tack Shop trademark (and other intellectual property rights)
  • Current inventory
  • Customer lists
  • Social Media accounts
  • Account Receivables (and may include the liability of Account Payables)

When you buy a business you can save an enormous amount of time, energy, money, and risk by buying into an existing customer base.  Sales are everything in business, and by taking the reins as the new owner of Tacky Tack Shop (in our example), you have access and rights to all the data of best selling items, top buying customers, wholesale and retail licenses and rights, and more.
The same applies to buying a training business- when you continue to operate under the existing name of the business there is a continuity of business flow that allows you to step into the shoes of a (hopefully profitable) business so that you can already know the estimated monthly cash flows of the business and avoid the time and cost building a business with unknown results.

Have you ever been at a barn that sold to a new owner?  This just happened at one of my previous barns, and by all accounts, my friends (the boarders) LOVE it!  There is a fresh perspective by the new owners, a little more money coming in to spruce up the facilities, and it appears to have all gone smoothly.  I imagine, however, there may be some horror stories out there as well (drama in boarding barns?! Impossible!)


Own a business, selling a business, buying a business? You may have seen the recent Equine Entrepreneur Mastermind post.  We're a group of equestrians that network to grow each other's businesses, provide a sounding board for questions, and support each other push for greater business growth.  We have decided to briefly open the doors to a few other motivated people in the equestrian business (online business, physical business, products or services!). There is a nominal fee to join, which is currently discounted for the next few weeks.
If it sounds like something you, or someone you know, would like to be a part of...check out the page linked at the top of this blog!