Get it in Writing! The Importance of Contracts

Every few weeks I read about an equine-related transaction gone wrong: someone free leases their horse and later finds the horse (and the lessee) is gone with no forwarding address; a leased horse is injured requiring thousands of dollars in vet bills and several months of layup and the lessee wants to return it; someone arranges for a trainer to sell their horse then finds its no longer where they dropped it off but they now owe “back board”; someone sells a horse for a friend or student and finds no commission coming their way; a horse sent on trial colics and dies, or is ridden into the ground before being returned; a horse is sent for training but the owner suspects the training rides aren’t taking place. Some of these situations turn out alright in the end; others have more tragic outcomes. What almost all of them have in common is that they had either no — or an insufficient — contract up front.

It would be nice to be able to do business on a handshake and a mutual understanding. In some cases, that works. Most of the time it doesn’t. It’s far better to spell out each person’s requirements and responsibilities well in advance of a problem arising.

Why don’t people rely on contracts? Partially, it’s because they have faith in the goodness of human nature. What a shame that when pushed, many people choose to do what’s right for them, rather than what’s morally right. Some people don’t like to think about what might go wrong, or have little imagination in that area. When it comes to horses, almost anything that can go wrong will go wrong, so plan accordingly. Other people don’t press for contracts because they are worried that they will offend the trainer or potential buyer or agent. In truth, a good contract protects all parties and if you can’t agree on the terms up front, imagine how tough it will be to negotiate after a problem has occurred!

I haven’t had too many needs for equine related contracts, but when I sent a horse on a one-week trial to a potential buyer I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about potential problems and wrote a contract based on those issues. From what I recall, the trial period contract included the following:

  • She would purchase short term mortality and loss of use insurance naming me as the beneficiary.
  • She would be responsible for any medical care or rehabilitation for injuries or illnesses that occurred during the trial period. Any injuries or illnesses must be reported to me within 24 hours.
  • She would pay board for the horse at the facility during the trial period.
  • No one except me could transport the horse.
  • Only the potential buyer and her trainer were permitted to ride the horse.
  • The horse was not allowed to leave the property of the barn where the trial occurred
  • The horse was not to be jumped higher than 2’6″ and only jumped under supervision of her trainer.
  • The mare was to be ridden no more than once per day.
  • The horse was to eat only the grain provided.
  • The horse was to be turned out wearing bell boots and tendon boots as provided and was to be led individually, not in tandem with another horse.

When I’ve needed a contract I’ve generally gone to the free downloads offered by the Bay Area Equestrian Network and then modified them to suit my needs. However, I’m generally talking about a half lease on a horse kept in my barn or a trial period for a horse worth less than $10K. For anything more complicated (or for a more expensive horse), I would use a form from an equine attorney (many sell standard contracts as well as custom ones). They are easily found by searching “equine law” on Google. It’s a good idea to hire one that works in your state.

A few articles/resources that came up on this topic while I was researching it include:

17 Costly Mistakes that Force Horse Owners, Breeders and Trainers into Court

How to Buy and Sell your Horse or Pony

Equine Law Blog

Horse Trailer Ride Shares – Making them Work for You

Equine Partnerships: Traps for the Unwary

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