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?"


Wolfie said...

I just think it's cleaner to have documentation. I like having something to refresh my memory. It can be awkward with someone that you know to suddenly ask for a contract or agreement. But I have found that stating that it is a sanity check for ME is a good approach and one that is welcomed. :-)

I actually saw a very stressful situation unfold where I board. When my BO was just starting out a few years back, a friend of the BO and her mother moved their horses to the barn as a "favour" to the BO. Unfortunately, over time, the boarder took advantage of a friendship with the BO. She and her mother were regularly late with board and farrier payments. Attempts to collect were awkward and sometimes argumentative. The friendship fell by the wayside. Eventually, it was so bad that the BO served written notice to both that if their board, etc. was not paid within 10 days, their horses were going to be auctioned to pay the bill. It came right down to the wire. They arrived with a hired driver/trailer to pick up their horses, but they were not allowed on the property without full payment being made. They paid, but it was a confrontational situation as you can imagine.

It was a lesson learned for the BO. Now new boarders have to provide post-dated cheques when they sign their board contract. The farrier has to be paid up front, and if payment was not left with the BO then the horse does not get its feet done; simple as that. Barn rules are posted on the whiteboards. Texting is also encouraged for special instructions so that their is a written dialogue to refer to. This set up is stress-free for the BO and for the boarders.

Corinna Charlton said...

Wow, it seems like she definitely learned from previous mistakes, good for her- and will hopefully result in stress-free boarding relationships. I'm not sure if in the BO's jurisdiction it was legally accurate to be able to auction the horse (California is very strict), but I'm glad it ended up working out. thanks for sharing!

Suzanne Cannon said...

So glad I discovered you through LinkedIn, and now your blog. I will post a link to your blog on our FB business page, since we have some equine business owners & equine enthusiasts who follow us.

This is a great blog post. Not getting things in writing was a mistake for me when a friend moved her horse to my barn - but she told me she couldn't afford to pay board. We verbally agreed that she would cover her expenses (feed, bedding, split cost of hay, vet, farrier). But 3 years later, when I needed to terminate my lease on the barn after relocating, the friend retaliated and caused all sorts of problems. It was as if I couldn't move because then, she couldn't get "free board" anymore.

Very poor judgment on my part. Everything should have been in writing from the beginning, including what would happen in the event that I decided to terminate my lease and move my horse elsewhere.

Anyway, thanks for the things you are posting here.

Corinna Charlton said...

Suzanne, thank you for leaving a comment, I am so glad you found the post helpful! I'm glad you're here! It seems the friend situation is one of the stickiest. Unfortunately even if no litigation starts, you can often still lose a friendship over the dispute when the communication isn't clear upfront (and by clear, I mean in writing!) Even a simple document can help enormously!