Horse-Sitting 101: Legalities to Consider

Horse-Sitting 101: Legalities to Consider

Horse-sitting agreements often are informal affairs, but putting the basics of the arrangement in writing will establish obligations and expectations, and this will allow everyone to sleep easier.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Leaving your horse in the care of another person--even a trusted friend--can be a nerve-wracking experience. It's possible to eliminate some of the anxiety, though, by preparing for the trip in advance.

Understand the legal implications. The relationship between the person who owns the horse (or any other personal property) and the person who has possession of the horse and has accepted responsibility for its care is a legal arrangement called a "bailment." This means the caretaker has the legal duty to return the horse to the owner unharmed. If the horse is injured or dies, there is a presumption of negligence by the caretaker, which will be very difficult to disprove if there is a lawsuit. The person to whom you entrust your horse should understand--and accept--this responsibility.

Keep in touch. Both the horse owner and the caretaker should have multiple ways to contact each other in the event of an emergency or any other unexpected circumstance. Contact information for veterinarians, farriers, insurance agents, and anyone else with an interest in the horse also should be shared before the owner departs. The communication network might include a land line, cell phone, e-mail, text messages, or some combination, but reliable communications are a must for both practical and legal reasons.

Get it in writing. Horse-sitting agreements often are informal affairs, but putting the basics of the arrangement in writing will establish obligations and expectations, and this will allow everyone to sleep easier. There should be an understanding of what the caretaker can do, or what he or she can authorize someone else (a veterinarian, for example) to do without contacting the horse owner. If the horse colics in the middle of the night and the owner cannot be contacted, for example, can the caretaker authorize surgery or other veterinary care? And if the horse is insured, the policy probably includes a requirement that the agent or carrier be notified in the event of illness or accident. The caretaker's failure to make the required notification may void the policy. Ensure the caretaker fully understands what he or she needs to do in the event of an emergency.

And what about day-to-day expenses such as feed and shoeing? Are there limits to how much the caretaker can spend and expect reimbursement without prior authorization from the owner? Does the caretaker have riding privileges? Can the horse be trailered somewhere else for a ride or show? There are no "correct" answers to these questions, so make sure both parties know what is expected of them ahead of time to avoid possible conflict later.

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Leaving the caretaker a credit card or a few signed, blank checks probably is not the best option for dealing with unexpected expenses. A better option is to notify your veterinarian, feed store, and farrier that you're leaving your horse with a caretaker. You can authorize expenses in advance without the risk of losing a credit card or blank check.

Finally, both owner and caretaker should review their insurance: the owner's liability policy for coverage if the horse causes injuries while in the care of another person; the caretaker's liability insurance covering injury to the owner's horse, as well as coverage for harm caused by the horse to a third party.

Leaving a horse behind while traveling might still be a challenge for some owners, but preparing ahead and fully understanding owner and caretaker duties ahead of time can make for a more pleasant experience for all involved.

About the Author

Milt Toby, JD

Milt Toby is an author and attorney who has been writing about horses and legal issues affecting the equine industry for more than 40 years. Former Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association's Equine Law Section, Milt has written eight nonfiction books, including national award winners Dancer’s Image and Noor. He teaches Equine Commercial Law in the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program.

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