I'm Selling My Horse. What Should I Disclose?
Ensure your potential buyer is well-informed about the horse he or she is interested in and understands any vices, limitations, or physical issues the animal might have.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
You’ve listed your horse for sale, and you’ve already gotten an inquiry! You read the questions the potential buyer has asked, but slowly your excitement turns to trepidation.
Does the horse have any vices?
His cribbing and stall walking don’t count, do they?
Would he be suitable for a novice child rider?
Sure … if the child is on a lead line.
Does he have any existing health issues?
Not aside from the presumptive Cushing’s diagnosis he got last year…
Ugh, I’m never going to sell this horse!
You don’t really have to answer all those “self-incriminating” questions, do you? Actually, you should. Misrepresenting a horse could land you in some serious legal trouble.
At the 2016 National Conference on Equine Law, held May 4-5 in Lexington, Kentucky, equine lawyer Dottie Burch, JD, reviewed equine seller disclosure laws and how to protect yourself as both a seller and a buyer. Burch is an equine attorney with Ragsdale Liggett PLLC, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
If you’re not sure whether to inform a potential buyer about a quirk or health issue, always err on the side of disclosure, said Burch. Don’t tell white lies (even something as simple as “stands quietly for tacking” or “loads and trailers well” if neither is true) and absolutely avoid blatant misrepresentations of a horse just to sell him faster—this could potentially result in a life-threatening scenario for both rider and horse, she said. Neglecting to inform a possible buyer about a cardiac arrhythmia or saying a horse is kid-safe when the opposite is true, for instance, could result in the injury or death or the horse, rider, or both.
Buyers Can Protect Themselves, Too
You don’t have to be a seller to protect yourself during a horse deal. Equine lawyer Dottie Burch, JD, of Ragsdale Liggett PLLC, in Raleigh, North Carolina, said one of the best ways to protect yourself as a buyer is to exercise due diligence in evaluating the horse’s condition before you purchase it.
If you’re buying a horse at auction, make use of the repository—essentially, an auction house library that contains information and analysis of various exams (often endoscopic and radiographic exams provided by the seller) for each horse in the sale. But, Burch said, remember a few things about repositories:
- The auction house generally does not review information in the repository, nor does it warrant the accuracy of the reports submitted to the repository by the seller or third parties;
- That said, the seller is typically required to warrant the accuracy of the information they submit;
- It’s wise to use repository information in addition to a veterinary prepurchase examination to ensure the information provided is accurate and so you know exactly what you’ll be getting should you buy the horse.
Likewise, if you are purchasing a horse from a private seller, be sure to have a trusted veterinarian conduct a prepurchase exam prior to making a final decision about buying the horse. Burch recommended drawing blood at the prepurchase exam, even if you just store it for a couple of months before spending the money to test it. Many labs will store the blood sample at a nominal cost, and if you notice any changes in the horse after your purchase, you can send the sample for testing. And if everything goes fine after the purchase, you’re not out any money on unnecessary testing.
Without exercising due diligence before a purchase to ensure the horse is healthy and appropriate for your purpose, it’s unlikely you’ll have any success with legal action against a seller involving things that reasonable due diligence would have revealed.
Opting to disclose information before selling the horse will help you protect yourself in the event of a lawsuit, Burch said.
Moving forward, she described specific seller disclosure requirements and gave examples of how disclosure works in different sale scenarios.
The laws you’re expected to abide by when it comes to disclosing information about horses for sale vary according to your state of residence.
California, Florida, and Kentucky, for example, have specific statutes regarding disclosure requirements in equine transactions, Burch said. In states that don’t have equine-specific statutes, horses generally fall under one or more of the following: Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code, consumer protection acts, livestock regulations common law contract, or equitable legal principles, she said.
It’s important to know what laws govern horse sales in your state, in addition to what those laws require you, as a seller, to disclose to a potential buyer. As such, it’s advisable to consult an attorney familiar with equine pursuits if questions arise when you’re selling a horse.
As a seller, be transparent. Answer buyers’ questions honestly and fully to help ensure your horse goes to an appropriate home.
Also, include a seller’s disclaimer in your sale contract. Even if you’ve been 100% honest in your disclosures, this block of text essentially stating that you’re selling the horse “as-is” can help protect your interests should a lawsuit arise.
Attorneys recommend including language such as the following in sale contracts:
Seller makes no warranties or representations whatsoever, expressed or implied, with respect to the horse, including warranties concerning the physical condition, health, or soundness of the horse, or warranties or representations with respect to the merchantability or fitness of the horse for any particular purpose, all of which are hereby excluded. The parties to the agreement acknowledge that the horse is sold “as is” and “with all faults.” Buyer acknowledges that he has conducted such investigations and inspections, including the use of a qualified veterinarian, and is satisfied with the horse’s condition.
Additionally, put everything in writing. Burch recommended using a disclosure form, which is designed to allow the seller to disclose information—in writing—including:
- The horse’s owner(s), lessee(s), or agent(s);
- A physical description of the horse;
- The horse’s current stabling information (i.e., is he stalled, how much turnout, any special equipment for turnout such as boots or blankets, etc.);
- Feeding information;
- A health history; and
- Behavioral habits, along with anything else the seller wants to disclose or buyer needs to know.
Also, be sure you have a sale contract in writing outlining the terms of the sale and signed by all parties involved or at least a bill of sale signed by you as seller.
In some cases, Burch said, a buyer or seller prefers to speak on the phone instead of via email or text message. In fact, she said, sometimes it gets to the point that the other party can’t seem to get anything—agreements, disclosures, etc.—in writing. In these cases, Burch recommended following up via email with the individual, outlining the conversations that have taken place. In this way you can basically back into a “writing” by creating one immediately after the fact. It’s not as good as a real contract signed by the parties, but it’s better than nothing at all, she said. For example:
I’m writing to confirm that my take-aways from our conversation yesterday are accurate. You stated that the horse you’re interested in needs to be suitable for a beginner rider, and I confirmed that the animal has been a solid beginner lesson mount for the past four years. You also asked whether the horse had any physical limitations, to which I replied that the mare has some arthritis developing in her hocks that has not been treated or affected her performance in any way thus far. I also offered to share her health records with you to show where her veterinarian indicated that there are pain-relieving options available when the arthritis worsens. Does this sound correct to you?
By sending such a message to the opposite party, you’ve given them the opportunity to confirm (or deny) that everyone is on the same page moving forward, Burch said.
Ultimately, Burch encouraged attendees to “disclose, disclose, disclose” and “disclaim, disclaim, disclaim.” Ensure the potential buyer is well-informed about the animal he or she is interested in and understands any vices, limitations, or physical issues the horse might have. Also, she stressed the importance of putting everything in writing when selling (or buying) a horse to cover your bases should a lawsuit occur.
About the Author
Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.
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