Keep 'em Safe on your Horse and Don't Lose $300 grand

A recent equine law Florida case provides valuable insights into ways YOU can avoid liability when allowing anyone to ride your horse.
It is such a shame that fear of liability has caused so many of us to become hyperaware and fearful of accidents and lawsuits with our horses.  It makes me supremely cautious to ever allow a friend to ride one of our horses, help lead a calm horse into the barn, or even feed carrots at the risk of a chomped finger!  

First, I'll share a few facts of the Florida case, then Randi Thompson, of Horse and Rider Awareness, shares tips to help reduce risk of injury when guests ride your horse.
 Whether you are a horse business or a private horse owner, and whether you are allowing someone to ride to try the horse prior to purchase, to take a lesson, or as a fun experience, both the Flordia case and Randi's tips will help ensure you can enjoy your horse experience to the fullest while limiting the risk of liability.

Randi Thompson coaching.  Image source Horse and Rider Awareness

The Equine Law Case
A woman owned a horse named Buster.  As part of Buster's diet she fed him a calming supplement from Smartpak, and subsequently wrote a review of the supplement that was published by Smartpak, stating that Buster "can be a little difficult at times, what a difference [the supplement] made in him.  Since he's been on it we've had nothing but great rides."
Buster's owner permitted another woman to ride Buster.  This other woman said that Buster's owner told her that Buster was well-trained.  When the woman applied her legs to Buster to ask him to move forward the horse allegedly reared, she fell and broke two vertebrae.
Apparently someone anonymously sent the injured woman's lawyer the Smartpak review written by Buster's owner.  After four years of legal wrangling and appeals Buster's owner agreed to pay to the woman $300,000 as part of their settlement.

Yikes. My first thought is that just because a horse can be a little difficult at times, doesn't mean he isn't well-trained.  And it was the owner who had nothing but great rides, which says nothing to the riding ability of the other woman.  However, I imagine there are a lot more details to both sides of the story, so here are a few things we can learn from the case:
  • If anyone gets on your horse, have them sign a Release of Liability first.
  • If you allow anyone on or near your horses, err on the side of disclosing that your horse may have MORE quirks to be cautious about, rather than less.
  • As an equestrian, make sure you have the right umbrella insurance policy or rider to your applicable insurance.

Practical Tips
“The Secrets to Teaching a Guest or Rider the Basics"
By Randi Thompson © 2014 Horse and Rider Awareness

What do you do when you have a guest who wants to ride your horse? Would you like a safe process that will let them have fun as they discover how to control a horse?
Your main goal will be to protect your rider. Try to make everything fun, but keep in mind that safety has to come first. Begin by making sure to have a safe, quiet horse. Next, choose a safe location. A fenced in area with level footing is always the best choice.
  • Take special care when the rider is Mounting and Dismounting
  • Let’s ride! To be safe, keep the lead line on so that you have control.  If the rider cannot stop the horse on their own, you cannot let go of the lead line at any time.
  •  Take your time and make sure the rider knows that the horse is moving forward because of what they are doing with their legs.
  • Check that the rider can go in both directions while starting and stopping. As their steering improves you can choose other points of focus and ask them to ride the horse to that spot and stop.
  • Test their controls again. When you are sure the rider is in control, and not before, you can remove the lead line and repeat the process. Stay close to the horse until you are certain that control has been established, and finally, step away. 
  • Some people think it is fun for a new rider to trot or canter. This is where most accidents happen. These gaits are not comfortable to new riders and they will also not be able to control the horse.
Now you have the tools that will give you the confidence to put a rider on your horse. Your goal is simple. Keep them safe first, and keep them having as much fun as you can.

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I know that the fear of liability has caused the decline of casual horse back riding.  But when you take steps to alert a rider of the inherent risks to riding (such as verbal warnings, a signed liability release, and posted signs) AND you take reasonable steps is assessing the rider's ability on the horse before you let the rider independently, then you are far ahead in protecting yourself.  Most states have Equine Activity Liability Acts, but do not rely on these alone because each state's act has exceptions to the liability protection.

I have been riding my entire life, but when I go to try a horse or ride a horse at another barn, most trainers usually hold the horse by the reins while I mount, tell me that the horse may spook in the far corner, and alert me to any other possible risks.  And of course I have always signed a Liability Release before I get on when at a horse business.  Even though I am an experienced rider, I appreciate that the owners or agents of horses take steps to make sure we all have a successful ride.  When these cautionary steps become a part of the everyday make-up of how you conduct your horse business or horse life, it feels natural and not like you are taking the steps out of fear of liability.

I know that lawyers can ruin a lot of things about our great horse sport (by being willing to take some ridiculous horse cases!), but equine law is so great because it provides a vehicle for us to all learn how to conduct our horse lives in a way that ensures everyone, and all the horses, have a better time.  This is what will help our sport grow!


Special thanks to Rate my Horse Pro for sending me this Florida case on Twitter.  You can read the full article at their site by following this link.

You can experience Randi's simple, yet amazing Horse and Rider Awareness techniques that have been tested and proven to work on 1000s of riding instructors, horse trainers, students and horses and can learn more by following this link to Horse and Rider Awareness.