Euthanize Moody Mares! And other thoughts on a crazy Court Decision


Over on Twitter (come and follow me!) we've been having various discussions about the recent Connecticut court ruling.  If you haven't been brought up to speed- please make yourself aware of the case and its potential ramifications as part of your duty as an equestrian representative in your community.
 As a brief backstory, a toddler went to pet a horse in a paddock at a local market.  The horse bit the boy in the neck causing injury.  A lawsuit commenced.  The ruling in relevant part:

The owner or keeper of a domestic animal “has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the animal from causing injuries that are foreseeable because the animal belongs to a class of animals that is naturally inclined to cause such injuries,” the court ruled. Owners may be held liable for negligence if they fail to take reasonable steps and an injury results, the justices said.

It's one of those rulings that is frustrating, aggravating, leaves more questions than answers, and in my opinion, doesn't result in any productive solutions.

Here are two PIVOTAL phrases the court uses that I want you to consider with this case...



Naturally Inclined to be Vicious

The court got this wrong.  
Because horses are prey animals, they are wired for "flight" not "fight."  While we all love to trail ride on a horse that is willing to stand his ground and not whirl spin and bolt when something spooks him, that is often a trained characteristic.  When you observe wild horses, or even domestic horses in the pasture, they respond to a sudden low noise or movement by tucking their tail and jumping to alertness, if not bolting immediately.  Special mention to my conversation with @RateMyHorsePro on this point.

Horses that do show vicious propensities are typically that way because of some form of abuse.  Either they are under fed, over crowded in confined areas, or treated with physical aggression.  Even then, a horse will generally only behave in a vicious manner when first provoked.  And even beyond that, a horse typically provides warning signs prior to aggression, such as pinning ears, flaring nostrils, and whipping its tail.  I understand non-horse people can't read these signs, but I do believe that some degree of  common sense should be expected of human beings.  If a strange dog is in a confined pen, generally you don't allow your toddler to approach the dog without first ensuring that the child's safety is certain.  And even then, I don't allow children under my care to sit unattended with dogs.  A child may inadvertently pull the dog's hair or ears, poke it in the eyes, and even the sweetest dog may communicate with a nip to say "leave me alone!"
So on this point, even if this horse had some history of biting, I say the court was wrong and the parent should have exercised greater caution.  I also don't think the court has sufficient equestrian knowledge to be able to make that ruling, and I'm curious what experts would testify scientifically to the claim that horses are "naturally inclined to be vicious."  

Duty to Prevent Foreseeable Injury

The court got this wrong.
The court built on the idea that because horses are "naturally inclined to be vicious," therefore:

Owners of horses and other domestic animals must try to prevent their animals from causing foreseeable injuries. 

Frankly, riding horses bears inherent risk.  This means that because a horse is a living, breathing creature with its own mind and four legs, things can happen that can harm the rider.  This might be part of rider error, or it may be because the horse spooks or stumbles or does something unexpected.  Because I know horses really well, I know that every time I enter the barnyard there is foreseeable injury.  I don't wear flip flops to bring the horses in at night, because it is foreseeable that in a rush to get into the stall or to avoid a swinging gate, an iron-clad hoof can crush my toes.  I wear a helmet every single time I ride because its foreseeable that a horse will stumble or spook while I am mounted, and that falling to the ground I can hit my head.

First, I don't think horse owners can prevent foreseeable injury whenever we are with a horse.  Secondly, even if we were to interpret "foreseeable injury" more narrowly, then any "abnormal" circumstance would need to be eliminated.  As I responded to @horseexpert on Twitter, we should not allow riding on windy days, because that is even MORE foreseeable that a horse will spook.  We should also euthanize moody mares.  I had a mare that bit at walls or lunged at other horses during feeding time (read my post about it!).  It was foreseeable that if you led your horse up to her stall when she was eating her grain, your horse could be bit.  But people in the barn knew not to lead their horses up to the stall of another horse during feed time, especially because a simple glance in her direction revealed "pissy mare syndrome" with her pinned ears and slapping tail.  She never did bite anyone or any horse because ordinary common sense precautions were taken.  But according to this court's decision, to protect from any claim of negligence or liability, mares like her should really just be euthanized because of the foreseeable injury by failing to use common sense.

Quotes in bold taken from this article.

Photos sourced for graphic {1} {2}