Health Insurance for Horses

Health Insurance for Horses

Equine health insurance can cover the cost of emergency or necessary surgery.

Photo: Thinkstock

Sometimes all that separates a horse from life-saving treatment vs. euthanasia is economics: If a horse owner doesn't have the money to provide treatment, often the only humane option left is to put the horse down. It's a terrible decision to make, putting a beloved horse down because the funds aren't there to save it. Fortunately, this situation can be avoided through equine health insurance.

Equine health insurance is available in two forms: major medical or surgical. Major medical covers veterinary treatment, medication, and surgery due to accident, injury, or illness. Surgical insurance only covers emergency or necessary surgery in a veterinary clinic. Neither covers for routine care (worming, vaccinations, etc.), pre-existing conditions, or degenerative conditions.

To acquire either major medical or surgical coverage, one also is required to carry mortality insurance on the horse. Mortality covers the value of the horse due to death from accident, illness, disease, and usually loss due to theft.

Beth Britton, an agent with Blue Bridle Insurance Company, says colic surgery is the biggest concern of horse owners. She adds, "We also see large medical bills for ongoing lameness treatments."

Other common maladies for which claims are filed include lacerations, strains, founder, laminitis, respiratory infections, eye injuries, and EPM (equine protozoal myeloencephalitis). "We're seeing more and more EPM," notes Barbara Kirby, vice-president, Agri-Risk Services. "The cost of treating EPM can be incredibly high, running into thousands of dollars."

When Problems Arise

If a horse incurs illness or injury, the horse owner should obtain veterinary treatment as soon as possible, then notify the agent or claims department immediately thereafter. In non-emergency situations where treatment is pending, such as a scheduled tumor removal, the owner should apprise the adjuster of the situation and when the surgery will take place.

"The adjuster will ask for information about the nature of the injury or illness, the vet's name and phone number, then follow up and send information to both the veterinarian and the customer that they should complete and send back," explains Kirby.

Some companies require that the customer pay the veterinary bill, then submit the claim to the insurance company for reimbursement, while other companies allow the customer the choice of either paying the veterinary bills and getting reimbursed from the company or having the insurance company pay the veterinarian directly.

Generally, major medical entails a deductible per incident; the deductible for Agri-Risk and Blue Bridle is $200. There usually is no deductible for surgical.


Horse owners should be aware that not every horse is qualified for health insurance coverage. Says Kirby, "At Agri-Risk, coverage is available for horses between the ages of five months and 15 years, but not for older racehorses."

Britton says that Blue Bridle does not offer major medical to horses more than 15 years of age, nor surgical for horses more than 18 years old. Neither offers coverage to racehorses except for limited colic surgery coverage.

In addition, coverage is not available for pre-existing conditions. A pre-existing condition includes disorders that might have occurred in the previous policy year and thus might be excluded when renewing for the next policy year. Explains Britton, "What people don't understand about health insurance for horses is the 'pre-existing' definition. If something happens to the horse while it is insured, the insurance company may exclude that condition during the following year as a pre-existing condition. Horse insurance is a specialized market; each time you renew, you're paying for a year's worth of coverage, so even though you're renewing without a lapse in coverage, it's still a new policy period. Therefore, the insurance company can exclude a disorder that occurs this year as a pre-existing condition."

However, pre-existing exclusions do not always follow the horse through its lifetime. For example, if a horse colics, there would likely be an exclusion for colic for six to twelve months during the next renewal period, depending on the severity of the episode, says Kirby. "If the horse had colic surgery, the exclusion would be on the next policy for the whole year," she says. "At the end of that period, the horse's health could be reviewed again to see if the exclusion could be deleted."

And, as mentioned previously, degenerative conditions such as arthritis and navicular are automatically excluded.


Generally, $5,000 worth of major medical coverage costs about $150 a year above the cost of the mortality insurance. Surgical coverage is available in different limits for varying amounts. At Agri-Risk, surgical coverage has three limit options, Kirby says: "$2,500 maximum for $90, $5,000 maximum for $125, and $7,500 maximum for $175. Our company also offers the option of stacking those coverages, so you could buy the medical coverage, which already has a $5,000 maximum that includes surgery, and could also add to that the additional $2,500 surgical for an additional $90, to bring the surgical limit up to $7,500."

Mortality premiums are based on the age, use, and value of the horse, so the rate will differ somewhat among individual horses. Rates generally range from 3% or more per year of the insured value of the horse, subject to a minimum policy premium of $150.

Shop Carefully

When considering the purchase of equine mortality and health insurance, it pays to go to an equine specialist. "There are several A-rated companies that write mortality and medical insurance," says Kirby. "A bigger concern is the agent that the coverage is placed with. I'd encourage a horse owner to place coverage with an agency that specializes in livestock mortality as opposed to your homeowner's agent. There is product knowledge involved that is so specific and so deep that someone who is not actually in the equine field is not going to have the product knowledge."

Beyond that, check into who is underwriting the company: Is the underwriting company a livestock specialist? How long have they been in business? Longevity often indicates stability. What are their ratings in "A. M. Best" or with the state Insurance Department? An A+ rating is the highest available. Adds Britton, "Compare deductibles on the major medical and surgical coverages so you can compare apples to apples. Also note what the exclusions in the policy are for."

By planning ahead and making careful insurance decisions, a horse owner might never have to face the awful dilemma of assigning a dollar value to saving a horse's life.

Who Needs It?

Who needs equine health care insurance? Just about anyone who cannot easily afford the cost of expensive treatments or surgeries for their horses.

Beth Britton, an agent with Blue Bridle Insurance, notes, "People who have high-valued horses will most probably insure for the mortality insurance, and then may add on the medical. But others who have lower valued horses and are worried about paying the veterinary bills get major medical or surgical insurance, too."

Barbara Kirby, vice-president, Agri-Risk Services, points out that people who lease horses also should consider purchasing medical coverage "so they don't get stuck with a big veterinary bill for a horse they don't even own."

Additionally, folks who already have mortality insurance on their horses should give serious consideration to adding health insurance coverage. "The terms of mortality coverage require that the insured take whatever steps are necessary to preserve the horse's life," states Kirby. "For example, the insurance company will require that colic surgery be done if that's what the veterinarian recommends, regardless of the expense." In other words, if the horse owner cannot afford recommended, life-saving surgery or treatment, and has to put the horse down or let it die based on economic reasons, the insurance company is not obligated to pay a mortality claim because the horse could have been saved. (This differs from a situation in which a veterinarian recommends euthanasia; insurance companies recognize and honor mortality claims under those circumstances.)

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