That horse is mine! How to get your horse back

The previous horse possession post discussed what to do when an owner refuses to take his horse back from you.  
This post looks at the flip side: what can you do when someone won't give your horse back?


Consider that you have leased your young stallion to a rider for free for five years, but the rider must pay for all care and training.  You both mutually understand that the horse will be later be used for breeding or for re-sale.
At the end of the lease you request your horse back, but the lessee claims that there are oral agreements (and multiple different and conflicting written agreements) that you will reimburse her for certain incurred expenses, and that she has also increased the horse's value from $40,000 to $800,000 (based on breeding viability) and that you have been unjustly enriched in this situation.  She won't give the horse back to you until you pay her the costs that she claims are owed to her.
You know this wasn't agreed to, so how do you get your horse back?

Unfortunately there are not too many options.  The courts typically don't like it when citizens "take the law into their own hands."  For example, a landlord cannot engage in "self-help eviction" by moving a tenant's possessions out of the house or changing the locks.  And entering the premises to take back your horse could result in charges of trespassing, theft or conversion, and angry interactions with the lessee that can spiral out of control.

But we're all about problem-solving here at Ribbons and Red Tape, so here are some action steps that might be available to you:

1. Negotiate.  If communication remains relatively amicable, try to negotiate the return of the horse in exchange for something the lessee seeks.  There may be nothing you wish to concede, but at the very least you can offer to pay for the horse's return costs, and some or all of the claimed expenses.  The lessee may be willing to enter into a trade with another horse you have, for breeding rights, or something along those lines.  Be clear that you make any offers specifically for mediation purposes; often courts will not admit mediation communication into court evidence, so it can't hurt you.  And if you decide on a compromise, please have it in writing (and signed if possible, but at least a clear email trail!)

2. Seek recovery of your horse in the court system.  A preliminary or other applicable injunction compelling the return of the horse may be available; the courts would be unlikely to grant the injunction if material facts are in issue, unless you can show that the horse is at risk of facing irreparable harm or removal from the state if the injunction isn't granted. This option is sensitive to the laws of your state and jurisdiction.

3. If you bring suit against the lessee, you will likely claim breach of contract, conversion, and various other causes of action.  The request for recovery of the horse is based on replevin, or there may be a relevant statute in your jurisdiction allowing recovery.  In some instances you may be able to post a bond at double the horse's value with an affidavit of your ownership rights, and have the sheriff seize the horse.  

For any action step it is vital to have your evidence in order.  Gather together the originals of your lease or other business agreement regarding the horse, your Bill of Sale when you purchased the horse, your breed registry ownership papers, show records, and any relevant email or other written communication between you and the person holding your horse.

Always be able to prove your indisputable ownership of your horse, particularly when the horse leaves your possession or is involved in any partnership or agency dealings.

And as my posts re-iterate time and again: prevention is everything! From my clients I've seen that one of the most helpful things to do in a long-term lease or business arrangement is to keep communicating with the person who has your horse and show up to see the horse! E-mail, call, ask how YOUR horse is doing and improving.  Go to its shows or lessons.  Make a goal of communicating every 1-3 months to help the lessee mentally realize he or she is not the "rightful owner" of the horse.

Would you be able to indisputably prove you own your horse if someone challenged you in court tomorrow?