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!