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 www.equisportphotos.com

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 Horse.com 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 thehorse.com 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!