Making Equestrian New Year Resolutions that are Fail-Proof

I have many clients and friends who come to me with questions about how they can make their horse life have less conflict, less liability, and less drama.  They seek assistance in creating reliable contracts and written agreements, as well as my counsel on how to handle difficult equine situations and relationships.

I've written this post to help you frame and realize your goals for 2014, so that your horse life can focus more on the joy of riding and less on the anxiety of legal, business, or personal conflict.

Here is to a year of accountability, reflection, action, and success!

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No Longer Available!

Most of us at one time or another become frustrated when we don't accomplish our New Year Resolutions.

We start the New Year with a fresh slate and a feeling of such great excitement of hope and possibility.  Thinking of who we want to become in the next year, or how we can improve our lives is such an intoxicating dream!

Envisioning where you want go with your goals is an enormous part of reaching them- without dreams we can often become stagnant- but dreams without action often remain unaccomplished.

There are many ways to achieve your goals- and I'm sure your mother, friend, significant other, or trainer- are all willing to give you their two cents.

While it is often wise to listen to the advice of others, taking a moment to really contemplate WHAT you want to accomplish, WHY it is important to you to accomplish the goal, and HOW exactly you will meet that goal is typically the greatest recipe for success.

This FREE worksheet incorporates these important elements of goal making and goal accomplishing.  This Worksheet includes a completion guide and an example worksheet for your convenience and guidance.

It is a simple worksheet, but it asks the right questions.  This is the key to efficiency, productivity, and success in accomplishing your resolutions this year!

Ready to craft your perfect, personalized, and FREE worksheet?
Take action, this worksheet will be available ONLY until January 5, 2014.

No download, no gimmicks, no steps.  Just Click!

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One of my New Year Resolutions is to offer the thousands of readers who visit this blog more equestrian law, business, and lifestyle content that is authentic, helpful, insightful, educational, and interesting.  
This blog initially began to serve my own educational needs, and this year I want to focus on my mission, making this blog more about YOU: savvy equestrian readers who love to learn, who appreciate reliable equine resources, and who love horses and want to improve their equine lifestyle.
With that in mind, keep an eye out for some upcoming exciting changes right here at Ribbons and Red Tape.

Thank you to my readers for making "this whole blogging thing" worth it!

Care to share? Let us know what equine goals you have, or if you have any tips to getting those goals met in 2014.  Did you write a post on the topic? If so, leave the specific link in the comments!

Want to stay up to date on important equine legal issues, like horse slaughter, wild horses, equine contract horror stories, important equine law litigation, business law for equine business owners, and more?


Natural Disasters and Horses: How to Prepare

I know I missed the classic blogging Thanksgiving post by a few weeks.  But I think that being thankful is an excellent practice throughout the year, plus, my Thanksgiving was waylaid by one of the worst fears for equestrians: fire

We were away at the hospital when the neighbors called late at night that the neighborhood was under emergency and immediate evacuation.  California has received very little rain this fall/ winter, so the hills were ripe kindling, leaving no time for enacting our thorough evacuation plans.
Our neighbor rushed to our barn to turn the horses out into the large paddocks.
The wind was outrageous and whipped the fire into a fast spreading frenzy.

The next morning once we were allowed access to the road I checked on the horses.  They looked shell-shocked, but they were healthy and hungry for their breakfast.  They anxiously watched all the fire crews, but because they seemed happy to be together and to be home (we put them back in their stalls and closed all barn doors and windows so they were shielded from smoke.  They also drank enormous amounts of water!), we decided not to take them to a new facility which would just cause them more anxiety.
 The outer paddock fence posts were on fire, but no embers entered their paddocks.  The firemen came hiking out of the bushes and commended how well the property perimeter had been cut back of brush, and at how well the horses removed any dry vegetation from the paddocks.

The sand arena became a staging area for emergency vehicles, and hot spot teams and trucks used the fire roads and horse trails throughout the property.

Disaster Tips for Horse Owners:

Fire is traumatic! For humans and for animals.  Take time to assess any physical and emotional stress and treat it accordingly.

Make sure the appropriate disaster insurance for your region (tornado, fire, flood, etc.) is up to date.  Property insurance, fencing insurance, horse mortality/ major medical insurance.

Have multiple versions of your evacuation plan ready.  Sometimes you have an hour to evacuate, sometimes you have only 5 minutes.  Familiarize neighbors, employees, boarders, and any close or relevant parties with your evacuation plans. 

Preparation of the property! Maintain paths and roads- the fire crew loved how well they could access the property and neighboring properties with our roads.  Cut back vegetation (even if you have to bear the cost to cut back a stubborn neighbor's vegetation, it is worth it!), or take other precautions appropriate for the natural disasters in your region (clearing debris from flood zones or drainage ditches, securing propane or hot water tanks from earthquake, etc.)

Keep emergency numbers handy.
Always have a trailer in an easy to access and use location.
Attend local disaster preparedness meetings, particularly for animals.
Become a member or donate to your local volunteer emergency services.

Any other tips to share with other horse owners?

I'm grateful that no lives, homes, or animals were lost in this fire; I'm grateful for the thorough emergency response teams; I'm grateful my barn had used "best practices" in disaster avoidance preparation.  Serve yourself, your neighbors, and your animals and take time to ensure you are prepared to the best of your ability.

How to Ask for a Written Agreement from a Longtime Equestrian Friend

I read in an article this morning a lesson we can learn from frogs:

If you put a frog in a pan of water and turn on a low heat, the water will
eventually come to a boil. The frog won’t feel the gradual increase in
temperature and will stay in the pan and literally boil to death. If you toss
the frog into the pan after the water is already boiling, however, he will
immediately jump out.

I often see the client situation of those who have been in an equine relationship- a boarding barn, or with a trainer, or with a horse lease- that has been slowly disintegrating over time, little by little.

At some point one of the parties cannot handle the septic relationship any longer, attempts to break or kill the relationship (take back a leased horse, kick out a boarder, fire a student), and the manure hits the fan and legal action ensues.

 In this situation there are established emotions, and emotions in legal situations often lead to vindictiveness, sense of betrayal, and a desire to hurt the other person.  And a greater problem (from a legal standpoint) is that
  when relationships have built and evolved over time, there never seems to be a good time to ask for a written contract of the agreement, or you feel you can trust the other person without anything in writing 
("I've boarded my horse here for 10 years, how could you kick me out now?!).  It can be a little sticky- like asking for a pre-nuptial agreement when you've already been dating or engaged for 10 years.

Sometimes true! But some of our best friends are because they love horses as much as us.  Even if it is a longtime equestrian relationship, having your mutual agreement in writing is critical.

Even though it may be uncomfortable, putting in writing what you both already agree to is SO crucial in avoiding problems, or resolving them quickly when they arise.

So how do you bring a written agreement into an established relationship?
If you're nervous, put it on your lawyer- "my lawyer told me I have to have you read and sign this (likely true)" or put it on your insurance company- "my continued coverage requires I have you sign this Release of Liability (also likely true)."
Or say, "I know I haven't used contracts with anyone before, but my New Year Resolution is to operate my business/ my stable/ my training program more professionally/ with greater transparency/ more efficiently, and having written documents is part of achieving that resolution- please let me know if there are any other ways you think I can improve how things are run around here (asking for constructive feedback is always a good idea!)"

Don't be the frog that slowly boils to death, be the frog that can identify a potential or developing legal problem and either fix it, or leap away to safety.

*There has been a lot of legal discussion over copyright issues in Pinterest.  Do you have any thoughts? Are you a "pinner?"

Can you be sued for horseplay?

This is a top search engine query if you can believe it, so I thought with Halloween tricks and treats just around the corner, it would behoove me to address it with some equine legal discussion!

Horseplay: rough, boisterous play

It's all fun and games, until....

Scenario 1: two horses are turned out in pasture together for a few hours.  Frisky in the cold weather they squeal, buck, and gallop full speed at the fence before throwing on the brakes.  The two normally sedate geldings engage in horseplay by pretending they are wild mustang stallions fighting over a mare.  Horse 1 injures Horse 2, requiring vet care.  Can the owner of Horse 2 recover the cost of vet care from the owner of Horse 1?

Scenario 2: The intercollegiate riding team is celebrating the annual Halloween extravaganza at the stable where pumpkin beer is being served.  Two co-eds don horse masks for their costumes.  After several rounds of beers they think it would be hilarious to engage in horseplay and jump into the arena wearing their masks as a joke on their trainer, who is riding in the arena.  The two students leap out of the bushes into the arena wearing their masks, emitting loud neighs.  The trainer's horse jumps out of his skin, the trainer falls and is injured.  Are the two students liable for the trainer's damages?

Scenario 3: At a 10th birthday party the party guests play various backyard games, like the three-legged race and egg on a spoon.  The final game of the day is a game of 'horse' jousting in the swimming pool where one child is the horse, another the rider, and they attack each other with foam pool toys in an effort to unseat the other rider.  This horseplay increases in intensity with children trying to create the strongest teams, which requires increased force to unseat the other child.  In the midst of the shouts, splashing, and jousting, one child serving as the horse is accidentally pinned under water by his 'rider' and tragically drowns.  Would the parents of the child have a cause of action for wrongful death?

You likely can be sued for horseplay when horseplay results in an injury.  However, a plaintiff (the person bringing suit) bears the burden of proof to show either a deliberate intent to harm, or a breach of the standard of care, that resulted in the harm.

In Scenario 1, the owner of Horse 2 would need to show that the person who turned out the horses knew or should have known that Horse 1 and 2 should not have been turned out together that day.
In Scenario 2, the trainer would need to show he/ she was not aware that providing the pumpkin beer to the students would result in such horseplay, or that he/ she should have known that he should not have been riding that horse during a party.
In Scenario 3, there are a lot of issues, a large one is parental involvement and supervision; whether the child who drowned knew how to swim, or if his parents knew he might be swimming; and whether the horseplay was a tragic accident of children behaving as children, or whether it amounted to something more.

We love to play with our horses, and see our horses play with each other, but there is a chance that engaging in horseplay that is too rough or too boisterous, could leave you vulnerable to liability.  The good news is that while the courts want to protect the innocent, they also do not want to put a chill on recreational play, so there are always a number of elements explored in the event of a lawsuit.

Wishing you and your horses a happy (and safe) Halloween!

A Mini Breeding Question: are you alive?

Because it is that Halloween time of year I thought we should start off with a Frankenstein quote:
"I'm alive, I'm alive!"

What does the fox lawyer say?
"There are opposing views as to what is alive and the term as herein set-forth is overly broad and unconstitutionally vague..." etc etc.

The lesson of the day: in a breeding contract be sure to clearly define what "live foal" means for the purpose of your business, legal, and financial agreement.

That little one is just too much, right?  I snapped this photo of a miniature horse pinto foal named Pajama Party who was recently born at an elite breeding farm for internationally renown miniature horses.

Breeding comes in many different varieties and flavors, many breeders use responsible methods and  many do not.  A breeding farm may be enormous conglomerates breeding quantity in the search for one or two horses of quality, or there are backyard DIY breeders who think it is fun and sweet for their mare to have a foal.

For any breeding, of any breed and at any financial level you must have (at a minimum):
1. A veterinarian involved in the breeding and gestation
2. A breeding contract between the parties

In your breeding contract or agreement you should define live foal for your transaction.

First, is there a live foal guarantee?
If so, what is the guarantee? This may include refunds or future breedings.
If a future breeding, to the same stallion only, or any of the farm's similar stallions for no charge?
Or is there a credit to be used in a future season?
Is the refund or credit for the entire amount paid, or only for the booking fee or only the stud fee?
What care must be provided for the mare during gestation to ensure the guarantee remains in full force and effect?  This usually includes vet checks and reports, limiting or eliminating competition for the mare, and other safety measures.

Second, what is a live foal?
This traditionally is defined as standing up and nursing.  Would this be with or without any human assistance?  How long is the foal given to stand and nurse independently?
Some contracts may specify that the foal is only considered alive if it is alive for a certain number of hours.

Take into consideration the expense of the breeding, the value of the potential foal, breeding timelines, the value of the stallion, and other unique characteristics when deciding whether a live foal guarantee should be given in your breeding agreement, and if so, according to what terms.

Defining a live foal in your written agreement will take you one legal step closer to meeting the newest member of your herd.

You Scratch My Back and I'll Scratch your Legal Ethics...

I am currently reading "Wild Ride" by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach, sub-titled "The rise and tragic fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America's premier racing dynasty."  Anyone who has been to Lexington, KY has seen on Versailles Road the miles and miles of white fencing, the red cupolas atop white barns.  If you keep up on racing news you know of the many rumors that crop up about a possible sale of Calumet Farms.  

I had no idea how much legal scandal there has been in the Calumet rise and fall.  It actually started as a  harness racing farm under its founder Warren Wright and became a Thoroughbred racing powerhouse after he died and the farm was passed to his son.

It is a "you scratch my back I'll scratch yours" kind of industry, creating incentives for fraud, manipulation, inside deals, and legal wrongdoing.

I've started listing out some of the legal scandals I've seen in the Calumet story:

Partnership fraud
Securities fraud
Insurance fraud
Huge debts (up to $40 million) acquired through nefarious means
Having fake bidders bid up the price of Calumet horses at auctions for insurance and breeding reasons
Agency fraud
Syndicate fraud
Stud fee fraudulent inflation
Declaring leveraged horses free of liens
Tax fraud
Illegal tax shelters
Wire fraud
Breach of fiduciary duties to Wright heirs
Legal malpractice/ ethical violations
Accounting violations
Theft from company assets
Employment law breaches
Wrongful commingling of assets
Banking fraud
Mafia ties

And that is just the tip of the iceberg!  Many of those categories even have subcategories.  My theory is that Thoroughbred racing has the largest financial aspect in the horse world, which is why it is so rife with violations.  Interestingly, the book hasn't addressed any horse drug or welfare violations, except potentially for requiring Calumet's star stallion Alydar to cover (breed with) far more mares than was generally accepted in the industry.

The book of course only provides its own view on the decline of Calumet, but one reason why I love the study of law is because so much of the learning comes through stories.  Reading case law is often like reading a novel filled with greed, stupidity, intrigue, cleverness, spitefulness, and emotion.   It shows that the truth is often far more shocking than fiction.

But this post is not intended as a book review!  I think it is interesting for all horse people to understand the potential for a dark underbelly to our great equestrian passion, pastime, and sport.  The law is so intrinsically united with engagement in the horse world and can help prevent much of the double-dealing, thieving, falsifying reputation that horse sellers and riders can have.
"The truth is often far more shocking than fiction"
I'm curious- what is your horse industry (Dressage, Reining, Endurance, backyard hacking etc.) and what is the one biggest legal corruption you have seen, or that you see as the potential?  
Anything from the list above?  Perhaps judicial corruption (why is it certain riders always pin the blue?) Drugging? (Which the hunter/jumper world has been scrutinized for lately.) Cloning? (hello AQHA!) 

For me, I see a great deal of the "bully" effect where certain parties gang up to put pressure on a rider or owner to try to get him or her to act in a certain way.  Lawyers might call this collusion and/ or agency breaches.

Let me know, I'd love to hear!

A Horse Buyer is a Consumer of Goods

I generally encourage a negotiation and mediation approach to conflict resolution in the horse world.  The horse world is small, so I think it is better to make peace than rampage against each other.  The horse world is dying out (at least in California) as the cost of land and horse care increases, and as parents decide that ballet or baseball is more affordable than horses, and lawsuits only further discourage amateurs from staying in the sport.
  But if my client is sued then that typically opens the door to a cross-complaint.  This was a great portion of an article regarding grounds for bringing a complaint against a horse seller, owner, or lessor:

California's Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) is very powerful pro-consumer legislation.
The Act is set forth in California Civil Code sections 1750 et seq. and applies to specifically defined "unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices undertaken by any person in a transaction intended to result or which results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer." (Civ. Code § 1770 (a)). [Emphasis added] "Goods" are defined by the code as tangible chattels bought or leased for use primarily for personal, family or household purposes. (Civ. Code § 1761 (a)). The CLRA defines "consumers" as individuals who seek or acquire, by purchase or lease, any goods or services for personal, family, or household purposes. (Civ. Code § 1761 (d)).  Horses have been established as "goods" under both the Uniform Commercial Code and case law. Section 2105(a) of California's Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") states in pertinent part as follows: "'Goods' means all things . . . which are movable at the time of identification to the contract for sale other than the money in which the price is to be paid, investment securities. . . and things in action. 'Goods' also includes the unborn young of animals. . .". Further, the court in Sessa v. Riegle 427 F.Supp. 760, 764 (E.D.Pa.1977) found that the sale of horses was governed by the UCC. Given that horses have clearly been established as 'goods' under the law, the CLRA would clearly apply to the purchase of a horse in California.

The CLRA specifically sets forth numerous practices that are deemed unlawful methods of competition, unfair or deceptive acts from which a consumer may seek protection. The most applicable sections for a horse transaction are Civ. Code section 1770 (a)(5) and (7). When a seller falsely represents a horse as having certain characteristics, uses or qualities they place themselves in violation of the Act allowing the buyer to seek protection under the CLRA.

In order to invoke the protective power of this Act, the consumer must take certain necessary steps before commencing litigation or will lose their rights to pursue litigation under the CLRA. Pursuant to section 1782 of the CLRA, thirty days or more prior to the commencement of an action for damages, the consumer shall:
•  Notify the person alleged to have employed or committed methods, acts or practices declared unlawful by Section 1770 of the particular alleged violations of Section 1770.
•  Demand that the person correct, repair, replace, or otherwise rectify the goods or services alleged to be in violation of Section 1770.
•  Notice shall be in writing and shall be sent by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested, to the place where the transaction occurred or to the person's principal place of business within California.
** It is important to note that if the seller renders an appropriate correction, repair, replacement or other remedy, or agrees to within 30 days, no action for damages may be maintained.

The CLRA is a very effective tool for encouraging a seller to do the right thing, as consumers who suffer damages under this Act may recover actual damages, punitive damages, as well as, attorney's fees and costs. As so many horse transactions occur without the benefit of a written contract allowing for attorney's fees this aspect of the CLRA is of particular benefit to a horse buyer.

When you buy or lease a horse pay close attention to what is represented about the horse.  Even if your contract says that the horse is being sold "as is" without any warranties of performance or health, the owner may have taken other methods (such as medication) to hide the horse's true state.  In an even more grey area, a regular horse seller or trainer can be considered a "merchant" in the law, and if they unduly or inappropriately influence an amateur horse buyer/ lessee, they could be subject to legal penalty.
A horse seller/ lessor should always represent the horse's health fairly and with transparency, and not warrant that the horse will perform in any particular manner.  

A slightly dense post, but an important cause of action in equine law!

Your Downward Transitions: Sharp or Sloppy?

My new horse Bentley is wonderful, but at 17+ hands he has a long back, and at 6 years old he needs to learn how to utilize and strengthen his top line.  Aspire Equestrian reminded me of the enormous importance and effect of planned, deliberate transition exercises.
Rather than transitioning merely between gaits as we warmed up, we completed a series of 4 transitions each of walk/ trot, trot/ canter, canter/walk on a 20 meter circle.  After completing this exercise periodically over a few weeks the transformation of his top line and the roundness of his stride is incredible and overtly obvious to everyone.

I've spent some time thinking about the importance of transitions in life.
When I am speaking to large groups or arguing in court I keep myself on track by planning out how I will transition between arguments or story lines, and what word or event will trigger the transition.

I thought about how so many of my clients utilize my services because they are anticipating a transition, or have recently gone through a transition, and they need my legal expertise to help plan, smooth, or repair the transition.

Stills from a video of my ride on Bentley, stretching out his top line, taken prior to beginning transition exercises suggested by Aspire Equestrian

Bentley and I are getting much sharper in our transitions, but our canter to walk needs refinement.  He collapses a bit on his forehand and has too many trot steps.  I need to help him round and tuck his haunches and sit back to walk more smoothly and quickly (and I'm open to more training tips if you have some!)

Common client transitions are: a longer or shorter horse lease term, transitioning into ownership of a new horse, bringing in a new trainer, and other subtle or dramatic changes in equestrian pursuits. These changes require preparation to ensure a clean and efficient transition. 
 Just like riders putting their legs on, sitting deeply, and adjusting their aids for a transition, equestrians need to have the right legal framework, documents, and advice so that the transition in their equine life doesn't collapse like an unbalanced horse.

When I first started the transition exercises Bentley's hind end would collapse and stumble when going from canter to walk.  I needed to repair that error and get him back into a healthy frame.  If your equine business transition is in trouble, make sure you actively remedy it immediately so that you can get back on track.  Learn from and correct your mistakes to ensure healthier transitions in the future.

Switching to a dressage saddle helped me get my transitions rounder, cleaner, and more efficient.  Consider what legal steps or changes you need to take to make your equine transitions be the same.

The Sponsoring Company: What to Expect when your Rider is Expecting

You are an equestrian company and you would love to 1) advertise your brand as effectively as possible 2) give back to the dedicated riders that help perpetuate the sport.

The rider you decide to sponsor is expecting some of your products and/or financial backing to cover competition costs, so what should you expect?

An agreement must be crafted that will meet both your needs, and anticipate solutions should conflict arise.

Ariat sponsored eventer rider, Gina Miles (who I have been fortunate to clinic with on one of her horses!)

Some Potential Conflicts
1. Your sponsored rider begins to consistently lose every class
2. Your rider's primary horse goes lame and he/ she is now showing a green horse in the 2' ring
3. Your rider injures him or herself and is no longer riding
4. Your rider conducts him or herself poorly and has begun punishing his or her horse in the ring, uses foul language around the barns to express impatience, or starts gaining a reputation as someone with less than admirable traits
5. Your rider is interviewed frequently, and mentions favorite brands...but not your brand
6. Your rider takes poor care of the items you have given him or her; the free saddle is damaged and dirty, the polo wraps are grungy, the free riding clothes bearing your company name are filthy or torn

I could go on, but always imagine a range of best to worst case scenarios and prepare accordingly.  

1. At the outset of creating your agreement identify the most important things to you; the goals you are hoping to accomplish by sponsoring a rider.  Communicate and memorialize those goals in writing.  For example, "Trakehner Tack is engaging in this sponsorship agreement for the purposes of bringing positive consumer awareness of the brand in the sport of Dressage."

2. Then communicate how you will achieve that goal: "Trakehner Tack will provide three saddles over the course of a 12 month period to the Sponsored Rider as well as riding apparel bearing the brand name "Trakehner Tack" (specify what type of apparel, how often, and its market value)"

3. Then outline the parameters of the rider's use of the saddles/ apparel:
"Sponsored Rider is expected to use Trakehner Tack saddles in every competition entered over the course of this agreement (what are the dates of the agreement?), to the exclusivity of using any other brand saddle."

4.  And finally, prepare your escape route should the sponsorship deal hit some bumps.
"Should rider fail to perform pursuant to the terms of this agreement, this agreement is terminated immediately and rider is required to return all saddles that have been provided through the time of termination."
(I imagine you might not want used riding apparel returned, but that is up to you.)

This is just a basic skeleton of how a sponsorship agreement may be structured.  Your company's goals and desires can cause a sponsorship agreement to go in many different directions- depending on what products or financing you provide, the riding industry in which you sponsor, or how detailed you would want clauses to be.  Perhaps you would want an agreement that says the term of the sponsorship is one year and you can provide as much or as little product as you want in that one year.  If the sponsored rider fails to perform to your expectations, you could just stop providing goods rather than go through a potentially bitter termination process.

While sponsorship agreements could be a brief one page or be lengthy, the most important thing is to get the agreement in writing!  Having it in writing does not represent a lack of trust, but it is a tool of communication to ensure that you and the sponsored rider understand what you expect from each other.  And of course we all hope that the sponsorship relationship is mutually beneficial and rewarding!

As a final note, it is important your agreements are accurate from a legal standpoint, and also from the rules governing your horse sport.  For example, amateurs are most likely not able to receive sponsorships without jeopardizing their status.  Contact an attorney in your jurisdiction who can help navigate both the state law and the equine regulations of your horse industry.


p.s. Great timing with my sponsorship posts!  It looks like is offering a tele-seminar on sponsorship.  They branch beyond rider sponsorship to discuss event sponsorship, which we have discussed on this blog regarding Pepsi withdrawing from sponsorship of Tennessee Walking Horse Championships (May 2012).

p.p.s. Thank you to The Jumping Percheron and Wolfie for the Liebster blog award. Due to attorneys like those discussed in this post, I don't have a list of my answers to your questions, but I do enjoy reading all the other responses! What a great community.

The Sponsored Rider: I wouldn't get out of bed for less than 5 saddles a year!

It can be so difficult when companies clamor to be your equestrian sponsor.
When national magazines hound you for your photo and an interview, when televised equestrian events zoom in and replay the highlights of your ride, and companies fight to send you the greatest amount of free saddles and boots and riding clothes.

... if you are such a rider, congratulations!    Or if you are a junior or parent of a junior that is a riding rockstar in the making, you should be aware of the important clauses of sponsorship contracts.

I was reading my Architectural Digest the other day and spotted Zara Phillips, top notch 3-Day Eventer hanging out with a group of other remarkable female athletes (far right).  It is wonderful to see riding becoming accepted in general society as a bona fide respectable sport!

And of course most of us are aware that Princess Grace's granddaughter, Charlotte Casiraghi, is sponsored by Gucci.  She has been the face of the newly released Gucci equestrian clothing line and is a premiere international show jumper.

Image Source

One of my recent cases involved a sponsorship deal that went south.  It contained many complex and tangential issues, but one of them was regarding a sponsored female rider.  This rider had been given saddles and breeches by a brand's distributor.  The owner of the brand claimed that the products were given out in breach of the distribution agreement, and that the rider knowingly accepted products that should not have been given to her.  The owner claimed that she was not a sponsored rider, and in essence, had converted (the civil version of theft) ownership of the brand's property and needed to pay damages for doing so.
One of the aspects causing problems for the rider is that she didn't have a written sponsorship contract.  She claimed that there was a sponsorship agreement (the owner of the brand watched her ride knowing she was wearing and using his products), it just wasn't in writing.
While I understand that many equestrians think contracts get in the way of friendly business, equestrians also need to realize that, particularly when there is a lot of money at stake, having even a brief written agreement will avoid a lot of problems.

Some things to consider if you are the sponsored rider:

1. You don't ever want to be accused of having 'stolen' the brand's products, so you need to have a written agreement as evidence that the brand wanted you to take the products

2. You need to have a written agreement showing what you will be giving to the brand in exchange for the brand giving you products (this is called consideration).  For example, does the brand care how often you show wearing its products, or the classes that you enter?  If you are a Grand Prix rider but decide to take the rest of the show season training a green horse in the 2'6", is the brand going to be upset?

3. Is there exclusivity?  If you are sponsored by Ariat, will Ariat be upset if you regularly show in a different brand?

4. What if you are injured at the beginning of the year and can no longer show wearing the brand's products?  Do you get to keep everything that you were given, or do you have to return it?

I have seen an increasing amount of sponsorship at the lower levels of riding- which is great!  But even if you are just getting small things like polo wraps and saddle pads, make sure it is clear what the sponsor expects of you.  If you are an advancing rider, equip yourself with business professionalism.  When sponsors see that you conduct your riding business with integrity and transparency it will most likely make you a more attractive rider to sponsor.

{Coming in a future post, things to consider if you are a business that wants to sponsor a rider}

Have any of you ever been sponsored for your riding? Or, what rider would you like to see sponsored?

Burning Horse Thieves at the Stake (You should probably hire a lawyer)

As Texas approaches its 500th execution, there is a lot of discussion about the death penalty.  Did you know that a significant number of U.S. executed prisoners have later been found not guilty of the crime for which they were executed? This exoneration often occurs because science improves and evidence is re-examined with the newer technology.
  Our justice system is one of the best in the world, but it also has a huge number of flaws- perhaps even some of you have been victims of the civil or criminal courts adjudicating poorly or unfairly.
  I also strongly believe in the motto, "It is better to let a guilty man walk free than condemn an innocent man."

It is in this context that I had an upsetting conversation with another lawyer.  My client had bought a horse from his client, and after my client had re-sold the horse to a third party over a year later, there was a dispute over the buy-back provision in the contract.  The other lawyer asserted that my client was a horse thief (keep in mind there was a signed bill of sale, exchange of money, his client deposited the money, the horse was registered with the new owner in the breed database, and the horse was sold after the buy-back provision period had ended).

The other lawyer said, "Too bad it isn't the turn of the century otherwise your client would have been burned at the stake by now for being a horse thief."

I took a pause because I was speechless.

I responded, "Yes, well back then justice often meant pitchforks and burning torches.  My client does not believe she is a horse thief.  You know only one side of the story."

He agreed he knew only one side, and we ended the call. I was rather dismayed at his violent and one-sided choice of words; is it really 'too bad' my client hasn't been put to death?  
Let alone his mistake: the most recent "turn of the century" was from 1999 to 2000, at which time the U.S. was not burning people at the stake as a form of justice for horse thievery.  I also believe that hanging was the more common punishment for horse thievery, at least in the mid-1700s.

The Legal Lesson
I typically recommend that a person retain a lawyer if he is in a conflict with someone who is represented by counsel.  I was glad I was a shield for my client so that she didn't have to hear such inane things from opposing counsel.  
As many of you likely know, an attorney cannot directly contact someone he knows to be represented by counsel; he must go through that person's attorney for all communication.  I know how to deal with difficult or uncivil attorneys, but I also know that for many individuals legal conflict can be stressful, and  having to communicate with a rude or obnoxious lawyer would only add a tremendous burden to the situation.
Have you ever been faced with an attorney that could use a lesson in civility? If so, what did you do?

When there aren't enough Horses: Elite Show Jumping

At the horse show last weekend I had a long chat with a top trainer.  She has travelled all over the world to show horses, competed at the World Games, and is an international horse shopper.  She knows the show jumping world inside and out and had some insightful comments about the state of the top-level riding community that I thought were worth sharing.

Riders without Horses: a policy discussion

She said that there is a real problem of excellent riders not having quality horses.  The Springsteens, Kesslers, Bloombergs, the Royalty (Philips and Casiraghi) are all great riders, but they also have access to strings of the world's best horses.
When these top riders show in the grand prix arenas, the stands are filled with equally talented riders on the sidelines without access to horses that can show at that top level. 
At one California show in the past year a top rider had an $11 million string of show jumpers with her to ride and show (and win) on, and while she showed, there were numerous other highly talented trainers and riders on the sideline unmounted.

There aren't clear solutions to this problem, in large part because the actual problem or issue isn't clearly defined.  Do we care about expanding the base of competitors?  Is it important to deepen the level of horse supply?  Is there a duty of top riders with access to talented horses to help expand access to talented horses?

I know this post is more about policy than actual law, but our conversation segued into a topic on which I have prepared a couple draft blog posts.
The trainer said, "I don't know a single sponsored rider that got the sponsorship without having a personal connection to the sponsor."

I recently had a client that was being sued over a sponsorship agreement that had soured.
Not many of us are talented enough to garner a riding sponsorship- but according to the trainer- it doesn't seem to matter how talented we are if we don't also have a personal connection to the sponsor.  And how can you have a hope of making it to the top without the financial backing of a big-brand sponsor (or a wealthy family supporting you)?
But if you are sponsored or wish to be, there are contractual clauses you need to consider... and those tips will come in the next blog post!

I don't know if many of you think about the state of the elite riding world- such as Olympic-quality horses and who can buy them; or if you have any experience or thoughts on sponsorship- but if you do, I'd love to hear your comments!

Emotionally and Legally: How do I know if a Horse is Right for Me?

Both longtime horsemen and first time horse owners or lessees ask the same question: How do I know if a horse is right for me?

Horse sales can often ride the fringe of unscrupulous dealings- there can be hidden commissions or agendas, or untruthful seller guarantees regarding the horse's health or skill level.

Even in the best situations in which all dealings are honest, nothing can guarantee that a horse won't change after purchase.  The horse may injure himself the week after you buy him, he may not like his new facility, or you may find that you and your new horse may not work well  together as a team.

The legal steps to knowing whether a horse is right for you

1. Whether the deal is the right one for you.  This includes whether the horse is priced in your budget- can you make payments in one lump sum or do you need to pay on an installment contract?  Is the horse's price an accurate reflection of his skill, experience, and health?  Will his health and training needs fit into your financial plan?

2. Whether the terms are right for you.  Does the purchase and sale agreement clarify any warranties or guarantees that are made on the horse?
Has it been disclosed to you who is receiving commissions on the sale?  Does your agreement specify what will happen if something goes wrong- such as mediation, arbitration, and attorney fees?

3. Whether the horse's health is right for you.  Is your veterinarian unbiased?  Have you communicated with your veterinarian what your needs will be for the horse?  Have you requested that any questionable results in radiographs be read by a second opinion?  

4. Whether you are the right team.  Many barns do not allow their horses to go on trial, if so, have you made other provisions to get to know the horse?  If you are taking the horse on trial, have you protected yourself with a trial agreement and insurance?

 I have found that the most reliable horses are found through referrals: people who know the horse and think it would be a good fit for you.  Your trainer can help you find the right horse, a trusted friend who knows horses, or your vet may come across one that is for sale.  Many people also find horses online, which carry their own legal concerns: is the horse fairly represented?  If buying sight unseen, is the horse that arrives the same horse you purchased?

The Facebook group Equitation, by Judge My Ride recently asked, and I share some of the responses below:

What was the one thing that made you decide to buy/lease your horse?

-Her kind eyes.
-His personality matched me to a T! Don't think I'll ever find another like him:(
-He chose me.... And there was no way I was going to let him go to someone else
-He was my dream horse
-I knew him for a long time and bought him as fell in love and now I would never let him go not to anyone
-I didn't want him to go to slaughter..... he was very close...... but now he is happy and healthy and a super athlete!
-give me responsibility and keep me out of trouble!
-How easy he was to jump
-Couldn't resist the moose ears and auto changes!
-He was so willing to learn and his personality was like no other. I knew he was going to be great!
-Jumping abilities and super pretty face
-I searched for a year for an 8-10 yr old Bay, Gelding and ended up with a 3 yr old, Chestnut mare... I fell in love with her eyes...
-From the second I saw that add online I had to have him. So I emailed the trainer and fell in love instantly. I rode him once and we bought him the next day.
-I could go swimming on her I could ride her bare back and all if the work I have done I didn't want I go to waste. If I didn't buy my horse after free leasing her she would be sitting in a field doin nothing
he was well trained and gorgeous and i fell in love as soon as i met him
Many of the answers come from an emotional response to the horse, which of course is a very important element in your ownership and partnership with the horse.  However, always ensure that the rational response is also involved and consider the legal and business perspective.  As I repeat to all my clients, "A horse isn't a good deal if it isn't the right horse for you."

So what is the one thing that made you want to purchase or lease your horse?  Did you consider both the emotional, the legal, and the rational?


For a couple funny articles on how looking for a horse online is like online dating: