It's the most INSPIRING time of the Year!

Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year, but I find New Years to be the most inspiring time of the year!  The New Year is like spring cleaning during dead winter- out with the old and in with the new!

If you are an equestrian or have an equine business, the New Year is the perfect time to create goals and resolutions in preparation for the spring and summer riding seasons, such as revamping lesson programs (taking lessons or giving them) and updating your equine facilities- tack room organization, repairing paddocks, or refurbishing arenas.  

And these winter months are the perfect time to review your liability policies: updating your liability releases to current law, reassessing your insurance plans, and reviewing or creating your other legal contracts.  
Resolve to enact best practices and policies for your equine life to ensure better protection, save money, and have greater peace of mind.

Of course many of my New Year's Resolutions revolve around horses, such as taking more lessons, showing more, and updating some of my riding gear.  I will also be rolling out more streamlined and specialized equine legal services to clients and their equine businesses in the year ahead.

Are your 2013 Resolutions about horses and riding?!

Happy New Year!

Cats! Barn Cats! Hemingway's Cats! Your cats!

My sister, Dr. Knopf (on right), volunteering to neuter and spay barn cats at a Dressage barn
Ernest Hemingway's home, and now a museum in his honor, is in Key West, Florida.  He had a six-toet cat named Snowball that became the subject of a recent lawsuit.  A visitor to the museum wanted more stringent welfare conditions imposed on the care of the cats (though they reportedly already have inside beds, free roam a lush property, are fawned on by visitors, and fed twice a day).  
A federal court held last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a federal government agency, has jurisdiction and control over the care of the cats!


The Federal Government, funded by our tax dollars, is responsible for and has the right to govern the care of descendants of Hemingway's cats.  Cats! (Currently at a count of 50, but we know how quickly that number can multiply!)

I really like cats.  I'm sure many of you have barn cats, cats that get along with your horses, cats that sleep with you at night.  Cats can be a special part of our animal families.
But I disagree with the court's far-reaching conclusions.
The court said that because visitors cross state lines to go to the Ernest Hemingway museum, and that the cats are an important part of the museum's commercial purpose (so visitors can experience the cats the way Ernest did), therefore the cats are part of interstate commerce and can be regulated via the Commerce Clause.

So what about descendants of famous horses? Seattle Slew, Man O' War, Seabiscuit, Gemtwist, Hickstead?  Those descendants are governed by business law (economics largely) and registry rules.  The state racing boards are government agencies, so in a sense I suppose the registry of famous racehorses is managed by government bodies. 

Alternatively, if your horses are an integral part of your equine commercial business, and that business has an affect on interstate commerce (showing, breeding, trailering across state lines), is the door opening for the government to have jurisdiction to regulate your horses (beyond your requirements to comply with state/ federal welfare laws)? 

Something interesting for you to think about as you care for your horses and cats today, especially since it's rainin' cats outside!

Have you been to the Ernest Hemingway museum?
Do you think the federal government should have more control over famous animal lineages (or those animals affecting interstate commerce)?

Great Sadness during the Holidays

I've been so deeply saddened with the Connecticut elementary school shooting.  I like to think that we are a (sufficiently) well-functioning society based on sound law and order.  But tragedies such as this show the weakness in our perceived ability to prevent illegal activity or to provide justice for victims.  This depraved gunman took his own life, evading the legal process of conviction and punishment.  Not only did he deprive the parents this justice, of permitting the system to question his motivation, but he deprived the parents of so, so much more.  He deprived them of watching their children take delight this Christmas morning, of growing and learning, of providing an ever continuing joyful presence to their families and friends.

I'm so sorry for the families and the mourning community.   I have a family member who works in one of the hospitals where victims were taken; where staff was ready to help, but children were brought in already dead.  One teacher is there in critical condition.

I believe that a society founded in respect for the law is vitally necessary, but we need to fix the gaps in not only our legal system, but also our moral and ethical structure, that have not been preventing this gross disrespect for justice and violation of order.

Man with Nine Children Ordered Not to Procreate: Would it work with Horses?

Source: American Herds, from Bureau of Land Management

The Supreme Court ruled a long time ago that humans have a liberty interest in procreation.  The ruling occurred because jails were performing forced sterilization on female prisoners in the belief that being a criminal was genetically passed onto offspring.

That ruling has stood, but without any clarified parameters.  Recently a judge in Wisconsin ordered a man who fathered nine children with six different women, and was $50,000 behind in child support, to NOT procreate as a condition of his probation.
The judge reportedly began the hearing by saying he was disappointed that he wasn't allowed to order that the man be sterilized.  The condition to probation can be lifted when the man shows an ability to pay child support.

There are of course an enormous number of opinions on the case, from Constitutional issues to welfare reform to the mothers of these children to how the judge can enforce this ruling.  A funny comment to the article is a rather sarcastic retort: "I'm sure a guy who ignores court orders to do stuff [pay child support] will totally obey a court order not to do stuff [procreate]."

So how we can apply this to the equine world?!

What about the breeders who breed large quantities of foals (trying to find the next Triple Crown winning Thoroughbred), but then doesn't have the means to support all the horses? A large part of the unwanted horse issue is too many horses that aren't trained and prepared to be suitable for a happy home.

I'm not a proponent of undermining breeders' due process rights, such as laws that propose taking extreme measures to restrict the right to breed, the right to privacy, or the right to earn a living.  However, I find it interesting food for thought to consider whether the more egregious breeders could be ordered- perhaps in the name of welfare laws or by the breed association or Jockey Club- to not cause his mares to procreate so many foals per year.

What do you think of that?  
A bad solution because it would be unfair/ unlawful - or - the kind of solution that cuts through the status quo to affect a difference? (Feel free to respond to the restrictions on procreation for either the man or the horse!)

The horse with the White Tail: a Veterinarian's Tale

Dr. Knopf with a miniature horse foal

Over the Thanksgiving weekend Dr. Knopf showed me a text message that she received from a colleague, which (loosely quoted) said: 
"I performed a PPE [editor's note, pre-purchase exam] on two horses for buyer in TX.  I texted the buyer when complete.  Buyer asked about results of horse with white tail. [Insert mild expletive here], I never did a PPE on a horse with a white tail!"

The Backstory
The vet arrived at the barn and asked for the two horses being sold to the particular out-of-state buyer.  She was given two horses for the pre-purchase, though as was unfortunately discovered later, the vet was given only one correct horse and had not been given the "horse with the white tail."

Who will pay the vet for the PPE on the wrong horse? 
The buyer will understandably say she is only going to pay for the PPE for the horses she is buying. 
Whether it was the barn owner, a trainer, or a groom that got the horses out for the vet, that party will likely claim it wasn't his/ her fault, s/he wasn't given sufficiently clear information on the horse, or that s/he didn't have any responsibility to get the horses out, and most importantly, s/he will not be stuck with the vet bill. 
Without more facts it is difficult to know who is at fault, or at what percentage; perhaps the barn was responsible to provide the right horses, or the vet needed to get more information from the buyer ahead of time.

What if the wrong horse was sent to Texas?
This is surprisingly not uncommon- when the wrong horse is sent to a buyer's barn.  This is sometimes done deliberately, such as fraudulent buyers who intentionally misrepresent the horse being sold.  But more often this is done accidentally or negligently.  In general, the person who committed the wrong would pay for the transport of the horse to return it to the barn and would bear the risk of loss of the horse while it is in transport.  
Many international horse sale disputes have arisen when the buyer claims the wrong horse was sent, but the seller asserts that it sent the correct horse.  This issue has become increasingly common with Internet sales.

Preventative Steps: Oral and Written Communication!
Your Purchase and Sale Agreement must fully and adequately describe the horse to be sold (tattoos, brands, chips, distinctive markings).  This Agreement can be given to the vet for his/ her records prior to performing the PPE.  An added benefit is that the vet will understand from the Agreement the intended purpose of the horse or what guarantees have or have not been made.
At the very least, the buyer should clearly specify to the vet when ordering the PPE which horses are to be examined.  Finally, sending photos to your vet of the right horse can always be helpful, though be sure to capture in the photo a unique detail.... such as a white tail.

You know you're a horse person when....

In addition to horses and riding, my list of gratitude includes my family, my health, and the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness (clearly, I am also grateful for our U.S. Constitution!)

Happy Thanksgiving!

500 Bucks: Selling a Horse without Documentation

On an amazingly warm Fall day, Bella in a sun halo pretending she is saintly

An estate planning lawyer in my building stopped into my office yesterday evening and asked, "can someone legally sell a horse without a contract or papers? Because that's what my client just did today."

Because horses are for the most part considered property, you can legally sell a horse without written documentation.  However, if the horse is registered then the registration papers should be transferred. Furthermore, certain equine organizations like USEF require written documentation to transfer show points a horse has accrued and to transfer ownership of the horse under the horse's registration number.

The lawyer further said, "oh, the owner of the horse died and his kids don't know anything about horses so they sold it today for 500 bucks to some place where it will live with chickens and goats and such.  They said the horse isn't worth anything and it took them over an hour to get it into the trailer."

If the horse wasn't being knowingly sold for an illegal purpose (such as abusive uses), then selling that horse for "500 bucks" without papers is legal.  But not recommended.

What would you do if you find out the horse you sold is not being used for the intended purpose?  Like this case: the seller thought her horse was just going to a happy permanent home, unfortunately that oral understanding was breached, but without written documentation there is virtually no recourse. (Case sent to me by Stacey over at the Jumping Percheron).

Or what happens if someone is injured or killed on the horse and the injured person wants to sue the owner? You claim the horse had already been sold, but the buyers say that the sale was not yet complete.  This happened in a case with a green-broke horse named Mary Mae.  "The court held that the sale had occurred prior to the injury, despite the obligation to train, and despite the fact that the registration papers were not executed and transferred until a later date."
A common clause in a purchase and sale contract is a specification of when transfer of ownership, and who bears the risk of loss, occurs.

There are so many issues that can arise when a horse is sold without documentation that you owe it to yourself as a seller or buyer, and you owe it to the horse being sold, to memorialize the sale in writing, signed by the parties.  Even if the horse is only worth "500 bucks."

Bella Brand Bran Brew: Compounding a (legal) Problem

Cooking is not high on my list of things I like to do.  Generally I would rather be cleaning tack or mucking stalls than standing over a stove or hovering near an oven.

However, I have one recipe that always receives rave reviews - my speciality bran mash - the horses love it.  Bella's teeth are of course regularly checked and floated, but she has a tendency to quid and spit her grain and supplements out on the ground, so bran mash works best for her.

Disclaimer: There are health concerns and evaluations that must be made with any feeding or graining program, and brans can have their own evils, so be sure to check what is best for your horse.

Bella generally receives a flaky wheat bran mixed with a 'senior horse' pelleted feed, her supplements, and garlic powder (an herb that serves as a fly-biting deterrent).  Other mashes I make may consist of rice bran or beet pulp, though the latter requires longer soaking times.  I mix it all together with warm water, let it soak for a couple minutes, serve, and am met with a happy customer....

But did you know that I could not offer for sale "Bella Brand Bran Brew" to other equestrians without first complying with all necessary licenses and regulations?
I knew an equestrian trainer who mixed together different feeds and grains and offered them for sale to her students and riding friends as a stable mix geared for horses with different nutritional needs, such as the performance horse, the retired horse, the "insert here type of" horse, etc.

This is in breach of US Department of Agriculture laws which require the seller acquire a license to be a "pet food manufacturer."  After that license is obtained through your state's Department of Agriculture, approval with the FDA must be met to establish that it is labeled correctly and meets other requirements.

This is a good site for those of you who harbor dreams of concocting and distributing (which can include giving free handouts or selling) your personal brand of horse feed or cookies.

In addition to my equine bran mashes I have also tried my hand at molasses oat horse cookies (though with less success because they require an oven).

Do you have a favorite horse recipe you make at home?  Would you ever consider distributing it?

The EqWine Relationship: Zoning for your Horses


We harvested our Cabernet grapes this past week!
Bella was as spooky as a black Halloween cat with the numerous white grape bins and workers' heads bobbing up and down amidst the vines, but she calmed down to get to work and help us harvest...


A great amount of equine law revolves around land use planning and zoning issues.  For example, zoning regulations can restrict the number of horses you can have on a particular acreage or parcel size.

Recently I have been working with an agricultural zoning case for a property with planned equestrian use. 
 In the particular county, a parcel zoned for agriculture allowed keeping your own horses, but a Zoning Permit was required to board other peoples horses.  And even if you didn't board other peoples horses but wanted to hold horse shows or equestrian events on the ag property, then a Use Permit would need to be obtained. 

Other permits we were dealing with:
Septic permit approval, building permits for barns and covered arenas, and approval of our manure management plan.

Another interesting property that I am working with is a horse property, but twenty percent of the property is reserved for "open space."  We've determined that the open space zoning would still permit some horse paddocks or a cross-country course, provided those uses would not interfere with the "natural condition of the property."

In general, horse boarding and training is not considered agricultural use of a property, but there are various permits and requests for zoning changes that might allow greater horse use.

Is your county strict with zoning? Or do they charge a horse ownership tax? (That's a real thing!)

{And speaking of EqWine, I was asked recently for some suggestions of horse related wines or wine labels.  Would you have any favorites to pass along to me? Thanks! }

Featured Equine Legal Panelist: Free Advice!

Photo by Charlton Equine Law September 2012

This evening I was the featured equine attorney on the national Horse Business Hotline hosted by the great
In addition to my offered insight there were also three other panelists: two for marketing and one for financial/tax/ accounting issues, all geared towards making your equine business more profitable.

Here are the nine topics we covered:
1. Employee or Independent Contractor: a classic question about how to classify those who work or provide services for your equine activities. provides a large list of factors that they balance in determining the classification, apart from you have called the worker.  Control over a worker's schedule, provision of materials, and others factors are certainly important, but I have found that insurance coverage is one of the elements of primary importance to the IRS (if worker's compensation isn't provided, is the worker self-insured?)

2. What does the horse breeding business look like from a profitability standpoint?
 Not great right now because of the sluggish economy, and you should realize that if you are just beginning a breeding business, you could be 2-3 years from having your first foal on the ground.
Also, keep an eye on what types of horses are selling, yearlings/ young stock vs. trained/ proven stock, etc. and plan accordingly

3. Boarder doesn't pay the board bill, what are the steps that the barn owner can take?
Should have an excellent Boarding Agreement that provides for this, either waiver of rights under lien laws, provisions for additional liens (such as against tack and equipment).  If not, Stablekeeper's/ Agister's Lien is likely automatic, but is very state-specific; can be a timely, confusing, expensive process, so it would definitely be better to avoid the conflict than to go through the lien perfection process.  Avoid allowing board bills to build up.

4. Tax Laws for equine businesses: discussed from a perspective of which entity formation you have chosen for your equine business, such as LLC, Inc., S Corp., etc.

5. Selling a horse on terms
Regardless of the terms of the sale, whether they are financial (e.g., down payment now, the remainder in full within 30 days), or terms based on a vet check or trial period, it is always crucial to have a written document signed by the buyer and seller, and list the things you are both agreeing on (e.g., the risk of loss of the horse shifts to the buyer at the time the buyer picks of the horse, or who insures the horse).  And then take one further step: what do you both agree you will do if one person doesn't fulfill the required term? (e.g., lose all deposit money for the horse and the horse has to be returned).

6. What are some tips for "no budget marketing" (i.e., free?!)
Be a part of your local horse community before you need their help, use social media, tap into your current relationship, get the local paper involves.  Also, can offer a referral program with kickbacks to your present clients for their help, you can get local food sponsors, and more.

7. Whether you must declare Commissions in a horse sale
This deserves an entire blog post in and of itself! If you have a fiduciary relationship with a party, you do need to disclose a commission.  In California (and most states), if you are acting as a dual agent then you must declare that in writing and it must be approved by the parties.

8. Non-traditional funding for starting your equine business (i.e., not a bank loan)
Look into grants that might be available, such as conservation grants, from agricultural departments, perhaps financing from an energy grant for installing solar panels at your new business.  In Kentucky there is a tobacco company funded program for providing infrastructure grants, such as installing new fencing at a loan rate of just 1-2%.

9. What are the features to add to a facility that will yield the greatest ROI? (for example, to bring in a higher net-worth client?)
First, be sure to identify the target client and be sure those clients are in your area, otherwise any improvements are for naught.  You should also do a cost analysis and projection to determine what the improvements will cost, whether you will have to raise fees to cover them, and what financial return is anticipated from the improvements.
Certain low-cost but high-effect improvements are: adding a nice seating area by the barn or overlooking the arena, refacing the stall doors so they look new, repainting the inside of stalls, and perhaps some landscaping.

It was a pleasure to participate in the Hotline, and I hope there was some info in this review that was helpful to you!  Anything particularly interesting to you?

Padlocking your Rights

I've only boarded in one barn in which I saw a padlock on a stall door.  Perhaps at other barns boarders weren't delinquent, or perhaps the barn owner just didn't have a flair for the dramatic statement.

Barn owners put padlocks on stall doors when the horse owner hasn't paid for the horse's care and upkeep.  This provision is typically included in the boarding agreement so that the horse owner has notice.  

I have always hated padlocks because I just think: what if there was flood, fire, earthquake, tornado, or other freak occurrence in which the horse needs to be removed immediately from the stall, but the person at the stable doesn't know where the padlock key is kept, or the barn owner has gone out to the grocery store.

Interestingly enough, the padlock is considered to be a "peaceful means" of keeping the legal owner of the horse from removing the horse.
While I don't necessarily think it is a good idea to keep a non-paying horse on the property (it may be better to have the horse removed, then sue for the balance owing), in some situations it might be.
When a horse owner fails to pay past due board the barn owner has an automatic general lien on the horse.

In addition to any other rights and remedies provided by law, a lienholder may:
(a)Retain possession of the livestock and charge the owner for the reasonable value of providing livestock services to the livestock until the owner's obligations secured by the lien have been satisfied.
So if the horse owner shows up to take the horse away, and you as the barn owner have an automatic lien, then you can peacefully prevent the horse from being removed (such as by locking gates, or asking the horse owner to leave); you as the barn owner have the right to call law enforcement to prevent removal of the horse.

In my opinion, it is always better to keep contentious situations from escalating- do this by ensuring that boarders understand and have signed the terms of the boarding agreement, communicate clearly and often with your boarders, and prevent board bills from growing too large to pay off easily.
As always, you must continue to care for the horse while it is in your stable even if you are not being paid, otherwise you would be subject to criminal animal welfare prosecution.
If you choose to use a means of "locking" the horse onto the property I would recommend getting a Notice of Lien from the courts and posting it to the stall door so if the horse owner calls law enforcement to help take the horse you can provide the notice to the officer.

Have you ever seen a padlock on a stall door?
Or seen an alternative method used?

Let Freedom Ring!

I'm grateful to see such honor and respect given in memory of 9/11 every anniversary.

Each year I am filled with even more gratitude for the United States, and for the countries who reached out to support us in our most disastrous terrorist attack, now eleven years ago.

Thank you to those who have given their lives in support of freedom around the world,
and my thoughts are with those who lost family members and friends in the 9/11 attacks.

And in an attempt to bring horses into this post, lyrics from American country artist Toby Keith for you:

Justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys
You got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we'll sing a victory tune
We'll all meet back at the local saloon
We'll raise up our glasses against evil forces
Singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses

What impact does 9/11 still have for you today, on this 11th anniversary?

The September Issue: publication for Polo Immigration Law

My article on polo immigration law is featured in the September issue for the premiere publication on polo in the U.S.

Immigration for the Polo Community
       During a break between chukkers recently, I played a guessing game with myself: how many non-U.S. citizens are involved in an average U.S. polo game? I counted the grooms, some of the field and club staff, a veterinarian traveling with team horses, and of course the pros; needless to say, I found that this one day at the field was representative of the significant number of foreign nationals involved in U.S. polo each year.
       Immigration law is a pivotal subject in state governments, in the United States' presidential race, and is also an integral aspect of our polo community. Polo is one of the most foreigner-concentrated areas of equestrian sport in the U.S.; we depend upon, and welcome, the polo skills and services brought by nationals of other countries, such as from South and Central America and parts of Europe.

       While the state of U.S. immigration law and policy is in flux and often hotly contested, there are a number of nonimmigrant visas that are particularly appropriate for those in the polo world. These visas are considered 'nonimmigrant' because the visa applicant intends to return to his or her home country by the expiration of the visa.

To read the rest of the article, pick up the latest issue of the magazine!

Update: You can read the entire article online here

Do you have any insight on immigration in the horse world? Or on how the next President should handle the issue?

A $10 Million Indoor Dressage Arena used for Polo: Dressage Queens everywhere gasp

My heart is still doing flip flops over the incredible indoor arena and barn I saw this weekend.

Yes, a reported $10 Million to build this barn beauty.

Here is the back story, with an interesting legal dimension (the following is based on what I was told by a third party, so I always leave room for some misstatement of facts).

Most of you know of the enormous and disastrous Exxon Valdez Mobile oil spill in Alaska in 1989; 11 MILLION gallons of oil spilled into the ocean, or approximately the volume equivalent of 17 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  You can read more about it here.

Exxon was sued for the travesty, and settled in 1991 with the U.S. Government and the state of Alaska for $150 Million (criminal plea) + $100 Million (criminal restitution) + $100 Million (civil settlement) + $92 Million (lingering cleanup) + undisclosed costs of cleanup (animals, water, plants, etc.).
So, a lot of money.

And who were some of the bright, hard working, and smart brains behind the structure of the settlement?

One of the particular lawyers, Fred Furth, was reportedly entitled to lumber/ trees damaged by the oil spill.  According to my source, he took the damaged Alaskan cedar, had it stripped, refurbished, and built into an equestrian estate for his (now ex) wife Peggy at an approximate cost of $10 million.

Up close with the beautiful refurbished Alaskan wood

The equestrian facilities are located at Chalk Hill Winery.  I care only to share the history of this arena, but if you wish to read more interesting details about the attorney or Chalk Hill, you can start here.

I was at Chalk Hill Winery and saw the beautiful, stunning, phenomenal dressage arena for an exhibition polo game in which my brother played.
Polo: the roughest sport of them all, in a deluxe dressage arena.
Dressage mirrors were draped in netting to protect them from flying arena balls, and beautiful cedar corners were tacked over with particle board to create rounded polo walls. I think I heard gasping from the ghosts of the original dressage users of that arena.

My brother Collin warming-up

Chalk Hill now has a new owner, who fortunately is happy to continue equestrian use of the property.

The polo ponies had a nice view; looking down on the arena's roof and over surrounding Sonoma County.

You can find more photos of the arena and barns in my facebook album.

What's your Name, What's your (registration) Number?

There are those who think the horse world would be better off without lawyers; I've been told that equine lawyers "just complicate" things, or that "this release has been used for 10 years and we've never had a problem with it."

In large part, I agree!  The equine world would be so great if no one sued anyone, if everyone accepted personal responsibility for injuries sustained, or responsibility when one has wrongfully caused injury. It would be wonderful if horses were always represented fairly in a sale, and that a person's handshake was a guarantee of complete honesty and integrity.
What an equine community it would be if we never had to anticipate the worst-case-scenario to a deal, or have to clean up the remains from a deal gone wrong.

But we all know that the horse world doesn't work this way.  I do believe there are groups of riders that operate on friendship and within those groups lawsuits are rare (see my post on polo), but history unfortunately is not a guarantee of legal immunity.
The increase of money in equine competitions, such as the prices to show, the cost of training, and the expense of a top-level horse inevitably leads to more greed (such as the equine embezzlement cases), more conflict, and more desperation to win (such as all the drug issues in racing and showing).

(This horse can be a Thoroughbred or Warmblood, depending on what you would like to buy!)

I read a story this morning that was (almost) more unbelievable than any horse fraud I've heard, in
pertinent part from "Rate My Horse Pro:"

[A rider] found herself the proud owner of a beautiful 16.3 h. Dutch Warmblood mare. The previous owner had bought her through an internet ad, and the leggy, elegant, and slightly flat-crouped bay mare was picture perfect as “Princess Wynston,” with a KWPN registration number and pedigree, and official papers on the way. She had no brand, but that was no surprise, considering branding had been banned in Holland. Imagine her new owner’s surprise when the vet came to float her new mare’s teeth, only to find a Thoroughbred Jockey Club tattoo on her upper lip!

Turns out the California horse dealer who sold Wynston under the business name Horses and Ponies had picked up a Thoroughbred mare who looked the part, then faked a Dutch registration number and pedigree."

Can you imagine? It is always smart to lean on the side of reasonable suspicion when buying a horse, and we should always go over a new horse with a fine-tooth comb (i.e., look a gift horse in the mouth!), but the idea that a seller would commit such fraud against a fellow equestrian is just sad.

By the way, the seller's (un)happy ending:
[The Seller from] Wrightwood, California was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for mail fraud, with victims in 23 states and Canada. 

Some may think equine lawyers are unnecessary, but given the evidence of wrongdoing in the horse world, I frankly think that's naive.

See Rate My Horse Pro for more on this story and others.

Photo Credit: Matt Wooley of

The Golf Cart: Friend or Foe at a show?

Golf carts: an equine competitor's best friend
{Photo from Sonoma Charity show: view the rest of my photos here}

Horse shows are typically held on very large facilities, and many competitors and trainers bring bicycles, vespas, and golf carts to make it easier to get from arena to arena to schooling ring to barn to show office to bathrooms to car to trailer to RV and back to the arena over the course of 2 days to 2 weeks of showing.

A not-so fun fact: there are a growing number of lawsuits filed against golf cart owners for injuries sustained at a horse show!

One suit in particular resulted because a minor driver took the cart and was goofing around, struck another minor who was on foot, and seriously injured him.  The parents of the injured child brought suit.

Another example is when a horse backed into a golf cart and the horse owner alleged the golf cart driver was to blame for the horse's injuries.

Golf carts and vespas do at times perilously weave around horses, can get too close, get in the way, or cause a spook.  And while it should not be permitted, at times minors and un-licensed drivers get behind the golf cart wheel.  Just because you are on private property you are not relieved of vehicle owner or driver responsibility.  If you loan your golf cart to someone who then causes injury, you could be liable for negligent entrustment of your cart, and for the damages arising from the injury.

One horse show mom that I know purchased liability insurance on her golf cart as a part of her other insurance policy.  It costs her just $75 per year and provides protection in case her minor daughter takes the cart without permission and causes damage, or if a horse owner alleges the cart caused injury to his or her horse.  Even if you follow a strict policy of responsible golf cart ownership, the low cost of insurance seems it would be well worth the peace of mind just in case your cart wheels into the center of legal controversy.

Can you spot them all? One, two, three, four, five, six!
Without even intending, I captured the dominating presence of golf carts at a show!
{Photo from Menlo Charity show: view the rest of my photos here}

my word, this is post #100!

Fair Market Value: 70 is the new 50

"The pony class line-up"
A photo I took at the Menlo Charity show.  How much is each little one worth?

I was talking with someone the other day about how amorphous equine sale values can be.  I had overheard a conversation in which one trainer selling a horse to another trainer said: "Well, she (the horse) was stopping at the jumps at the last show, so you know, I'd be happy to get $70 [thousand]."

Would you pay $70 thousand for a horse with a history of refusing?

It used to be that the standard price for a show-savvy, in the ribbons, well-trained, pretty high-level horse was at a justified price of $50,000, but in the past five years it seems that $70,000 is the new standard price for the same quality of horse.

It is likely that the most tangible elements of a horse's sale price are bloodlines and its proven show performance record, but it can be difficult to pin down what would cause a $1,000 price difference in a horse, or at times even a $20,000 price deviation in a horse.

So what really separates a $50,000 horse from a $70,000 horse?
Five more show championship blue ribbons?  Ten more horse shows?  Two years of age difference?  The barn where the horse has been boarded?  The success record of the trainer who is working with the horse?
It isn't unheard of for a horse listed at $75,000 to end up selling for a counter-offer of $60,000 within a few months or so.  That's a $15,000 price difference!  In comparison,  I have seen houses listed for half a million or more drop just $10,000 in price every couple months.

In general, fair market value (FMV) of a horse or of a house is based on what a willing and able buyer is willing to pay.  Therefore, one of the best methods in determining the initial listing price of a horse is to compare the horse's credentials to horses with similar credentials that have been recently sold.

FMV in the equine world is an important discussion because of its legal ramifications.
First, if a horse is wrongfully killed, typically only the FMV is available for recovery.  In a civil suit, a plaintiff has to request this amount as part of his or her damages; how does the plaintiff determine this amount, and how can a (non-equine savvy) court determine whether the amount is truly a fair representation of the horse's value?
Some horses are insured at FMV, but often that value is a mere presumption and not substantiated with tangible evidence.

Secondly, I work with riders and barns on their purchase and sale agreements; this can include the failure of the agreement, or an attack as to its enforceability (such as by a party declaring fraud in the inducement or fraud in the factum).  Factual misrepresentation of a horse to inflate its value would be fraudulent.  If you are buying or selling a horse it is important to consider the elements that create the horse's value, and to be honest in your representations.

Do you think horse sale prices have suffered from inflation, rightfully or not?  How do you calculate what your horse's sale value should be, or whether a prospective horse is worth its price?
How much below the asking price do you feel comfortable making an offer?

An august day in August

august (adjective): respected and impressive : "she was in august company"

It seems fitting that on the first day of August we wish the very best to equine legal blogger Milt Toby in his next endeavors.  His blog fulfills the august definition: respected and impressive.
  You likely have seen the link to his blog in my left-hand column, and now after three years of legal blogging at the he has decided to pursue longer articles and books instead.

Despite the huge body of legal issues inherent in the equine world, there really aren't many blogs that focus on these issues.  If you keep a blog I encourage you to post from time to time about the legal questions that arise in your equine life to keep the conversation going, because after all: 
The more educated we are on legalities, the better we can avoid liabilities.

Thanks Milt and for contributing to our equine legal education- we really have been in your august company!

I am horse-showing this week in the evenings after work; it is my first show in two years (I can't believe it has been that long!), and my mom's first show on her new horse Sebastian.  We're having a great time.  I'm showing an enormous (18 hands!) Hanoverian gelding with a heart of gold- that's him in the photo!

Outbreak! Legal Ramifications for EVA at the Stable

As Dr. Knopf discussed in our previous postEVA (Equine Arteritis Virus) can cause mares to abort their foals.  Foals can be highly valuable from the moment of conception, not only from the costs that go into their breeding, such as the purchase of semen or the costs of live cover and veterinary bills for the mare, but foals are also highly valuable for their sale or competition value (their potential) based on their bloodlines.

This isn't a veterinary blog, so why are we discussing EVA?
 In order to understand the legalities of a potential suit, or to avoid legal liability, it is important to understand the underlying facts of a case; for example, with EVA we need to understand how the disease is transferred and what reasonable steps can be taken to prevent its outbreak.
Failure to take reasonable, prudent steps as a barn, stallion, or mare owner can give rise to legal liability.

Horses are personal property, and the negligent or wanton destruction of another's personal property can give rise to a cause of action.

As discussed in a previous post, a tort is a cause of action for injury or harm.  A common method of establishing a tort is to show that a person or entity was negligent, failed in a duty of care, and was the cause of the injury that occurred.
In the case of EVA, boarding barns typically owe a duty to the horses in their care to act reasonably like other similar boarding barns in the area.  Failure to fulfill this duty can result in damages, such as the fair market value of the foal, and other consequential losses suffered as a result of the breach of the duty.

Liability Prevention
If a boarding barn permits stallions to board at the facility, the barn should make efforts to determine that the stallion is healthy and free of transmissible diseases.

Incoming mares to the barn who have been bred recently should also be determined to be healthy and free of infectious diseases.

The owner of a stallion used for breeding should regularly test him for disease.
A mare's owner should carefully evaluate the health of a stallion prior to breeding her mare.

If EVA is suspected in any mare or stallion on the property a barn owner or the horse owner should take immediate precautions to isolate the horse and have it examined by a veterinarian.

Did your boarding agreement require any health exam or Coggins prior to bringing your horse to the property?
Do you think that equine facilities are generally pretty good at preventing disease outbreak on the property?

Precautions for Promiscuity: Sex Ed for Mr. Ed, a Guest Post

 Imagine your top competition mare is successfully bred to an expensive stallion, but towards the end of her gestation, her foal dies in utero.  It would be devastating.  What legal recourse would you have if the veterinarian's autopsy determined the foals death was caused by EVA?
As a barn owner, what precautions must you legally take to prevent an outbreak of EVA among boarded horses?

In this guest post, Dr. Knopf examines the transmission and necessary precautions of EVA: Equine Arteritis Virus.

A little larger than a horse! Dr. Knopf examining local species in Rwanda.

Sex Ed for Mr. Ed*
By Dr. Knopf
Written for exclusive use by Ribbons and Red Tape Blog

Many horse owners would be horrified to know that the sweet mare or ornery stallion in the stall next door could be naively harboring a sexually transmitted disease. Not unlike what we learned in our middle school health class, horses can harbor and spread a variety of STDs, many of them with potentially devastating consequences for the equine community and economy.

One sexually transmitted disease is Equine Arteritis Virus (EAV or EVA). EVA is seen throughout the world and research has shown that many horses are exposed to the virus without showing any symptoms of illness. While EVA can have reproductive consequences such as late-term abortion, death in foals and persistent infection in stallions, it can also cause acute flu-like symptoms in any horse. Often the first symptom is a fever - this makes it difficult to distinguish from other flu like viruses. EVA is an interesting virus because it is spread both through respiratory secretions of newly infected mares and is spread through sexual relations with chronically infected stallions. It is thought that as many as 50% of stallions in certain populations are infected with this virus and these stallions may carry the virus for years. Yes, the stallion at your barn could very well have this virus, completely unbeknown to all its caregivers. EVA is a tricky disease to prevent and diagnose as the flu-like symptoms are common to many diseases and many horses carry the virus (and are spreading the virus!) with no outward sign of disease. The increasingly common practice of shipping semen around the world is contributing to the continued spread of this disease. Health education has the same principles across species – promiscuity equals increased risk of disease!

Many horse owners have heard of the equine herpes virus, especially in the wake of the recent outbreaks in our country. There are several different forms of the equine herpes virus, the neurological disease being the type most recently seen and covered by the media. However, there is a form of the equine herpes virus that is a sexually transmitted disease. Not unlike the herpes virus in people, equine herpes virus type 3 (aka equine coital exanthema) causes unsightly sores and lesions on the genitalia of the horse. These ulcers can sometimes be found on the lips and noses of affected horses. One interesting difference in this form of herpes versus the herpes in people is that horses don’t appear to shed the virus once the lesions have healed.

While Mr. Ed may not be interested in a lecture on sexual education, it is prudent as a horse owner to be aware of potential exposure to disease and the prevalence of many sexually transmitted viruses. Of course, abstinence goes a long way in preventing many of these diseases but, your surprise trivia for the day, equine condoms do really exist!

Two Updated Clarifications from Dr. Knopf:

1. Equine condoms can be used for semen collection in stallions that are not trained/not amendable to collection using a phantom.  The condom can be placed, the stallion is allowed to breed in a natural herd setting, the semen is collected and then can be used for shipment for artificial insemination purposes. Obviously this won’t be used in the TB industry, but AI is the standard for pretty much all other breeds.

2. EVA is not the same as EHV-1.  There have been quite a few recent outbreaks of equine herpes virus (type 1) but they are the neurologic form (which is much scarier and more deadly than any of the other forms of herpes).  EHV-3 is the ‘sexual’ herpes. EVA is a completely different virus, it is not a herpes virus, though symptoms can be similar across viruses.

Discussion of legal ramifications of an EVA outbreak to follow soon!

See Dr. Knopf's other blog posts here:

* Mr. Ed was a talking horse on a now discontinued American television show by the same name.  For my blog post on Mr. Ed, click here.

ADA Compliance at the Stable

The other week I was meeting with some horse friends who are in the business of wine making and have opened a small tasting room.  They told me that it has been quite a bit of work making sure the tasting room is ADA compliant, and they pointed out the changes they had made, such as ramps and automatic doors, and appropriately marked signs that include the use of braille.

It made me wonder about whether riding stables: 1. must comply with ADA requirements and 2. if so, what stables can do to ensure compliance.

Allira approves of the stable's entrance ramp (though ADA compliance isn't typically required at private, non-commercial facilities) 

Who is required to comply?
It depends on the use of the facility and the date of construction.
Most buildings oeprating for commercial purposes (providing goods or services to the public) are required to comply.  This may include stables that offer lesson or training services to the public.
The ADA went into effect in 1992, so buildings constructed before 1993 are subject to some exceptions to compliance.  However, according to the California Building code (check your state!) remodels in excess of $130,000 must meet current compliance standards; remodels of a value less than $130,000 must dedicate 20% of the remodel costs to improving ADA accessibility.
You are only required to comply with the requirements as of the date of your construction; you are not retroactively charged with noncompliance of new rules (subject to the remodeling and some feasibility exceptions).

Ensuring Compliance = Lawsuit Prevention
You can hire a Certified Access Specialist (CAS) to conduct an inspection of your building; the CAS will issue you a report to note any areas that need to be improved.  Improvements are typically limited to those that are "readily achievable."
You can also check the ADA guidelines from its website; the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design list the requirements for each aspect of a building- you can search for your particular question or concern (i.e., ramps, signs, bathrooms, etc.).

Because public stables are likely within the category of "recreational use" commercial facilities, there are distinctions in compliance from other commercial facilities (like a winery tasting room).  Your architect should be able to assist you in these issues, or you can call the ADA's governing body (the Department of Justice) with any questions (800-514-0301).  

But it's expensive!
Lawsuits are the primary method of ADA enforcement in California, and lawsuits can be even more expensive than compliance; in fact, there are minimum statutory penalties for ADA violations (in California it is $4,000) that can be compounded for each accessibility violation.
  Fortunately, tax credits and deductions are often available to offset the costs of compliance (Internal Revenue Code Section 44).

Have you ever been fined for an ADA violation, or have you taken preemptive steps to ensure compliance? 

In another vein, do you have a therapeutic riding facility in your town?  Or have you ever donated a trusted horse to such a facility?  In August our barn is showing at the Sonoma Horse Park charity show benefiting Giant Steps Therapeutic Riding Center.

Would you Warrant that your Warranties are Warranted?

When warranties come with our kitchen appliances sometimes we have to pay for them, sometimes we have to send in paperwork to secure them, and more often than not, the rules of the universe dictate that the appliance will break the day after the warranty expires.

Warranties in horse transactions usually don't involve a "won't go lame in 6 months or your money back" guaranty, but do revolve around assertions made by the seller to the owner in regard to the suitability and use of the horse.

Photo Source: HorseandMan.Com

In the law there are two main types of warranties: implied and express
An example of express warranties in horse sales is in the following case:

On Rate Your Horse Pro I read a pleading by a California horse buyer who sued the seller for negligence, fraud, breach of contract, and other grounds- the dispute revolved in large part around the seller's alleged warranties about the horse's suitability for the buyer's use.
According to the pleading, the seller told the buyer that this particular horse was very safe for beginners; that he was great on trails, safe around water and motorcycles, was perfect for children, and preferred to stand still rather than move at all.  
(I believe most of us would classify such a horse as "bomb-proof.")

But after purchase, the buyer fell off the horse when the horse "violently bucked and threw a tantrum and broke gait into a canter" (quote is paraphrased, keep in mind this was written by the buyer's attorney!); the buyer claimed that the warranties the seller had made about the horse being safe and slow, etc. were false.
And the court held that the buyer won.
The horse had been purchased for $6,800, and the court gave the following monetary judgment:

Special damages, including actual medical expenses totaling $22,676.42;
Breach of contract damages totaling $8200;
Emotional distress damages totaling $50,000;
Future medical expenses totaling $7,500;
Pain and suffering totaling $200,000.
The total judgment amount awarded is $288,376.42

The lesson to be learned from this case is two-fold;
First, your purchase of sale agreement needs to specify whether any warranties are made about the horse or not, and who bears the risk of any breaches of those warranties.
Secondly, apart from what your sale agreement dictates, in the effort to close a sale the seller must take great care that what is said about the horse is true, and the seller most likely should not make a verbal or implied warranty that the horse would be a great fit for this particular buyer; additionally, it would be wise to remind beginning riders/ buyers in writing and verbally that horses are unpredictable animals and cannot be relied upon to act consistently on any given day.

As a seller of a horse, what kind of warranties do you make- either verbally or in a written contract- as to the suitability of the horse for the rider? ("This horse will be perfect for your 2'6" competition goals," vs. "this horse will cinch the Championship medal for you this summer")
Or, what kind of warranties do you expect from a seller when you buy a horse? ("Will this horse have the ability to go up to 4' jumper courses/ Grand Prix Dressage in the next year?")

And speaking of unexpected bucks, my old reliable 17 year old arthritic mare gave an enormous buck today out of the blue; horses are unpredictable so keep your heels down and your helmets on!

Independence for our Courts and Horses: Happy 4th of July!

To my fellow Americans, Happy Independence Day!

(I know, it's a Californian not an American flag, but we do fly both!)

Our country has been built on one particular solid premise: Justice for All.
It is through our independent court systems that we pursue and enforce integrity, fairness, and justice.
It is my fervent hope that in this next year the courts and judges strive for upmost impartiality and respect for our Constitution and our legal ideals, and the strength to withstand temptations from financial or political powers.
I advocate for maintained (if not increased) funding for the court systems to ensure justice and to permit equal access to the courts.  Sufficient funding is required to allow courts to implement essential tasks, including the provision of timely justice; we shouldn't have to wait two or more years to begin judicial dispute resolution.

I also advocate for justice and fairness for our horses, and hope this next year brings greater clarity to the horse slaughter debate, to the enactment of felonious crimes for horse abuse, and for fair dealing in horse transactions small and large.  This past year has seen a top equestrian embezzle from her city to support her quarter horses, drug cartels laundering their money through horse operations, drugging violations in the racing world, and a top trainer was video taped committing atrocious acts of violence on Tennessee Walking Horses.
It isn't a pretty picture for our horses, and it is my hope that transparency, fair play, and justice will be brought to our nation's great equestrian communities.

After all (and rightly applicable to all equines, stabled or free):
"Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people."
(Public law 92-195, 1971) 

Happy 4th of July to you and your horses!