An Equine Lawyer’s Tips for Horse Trailer Ride Shares

November 20, 2021

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Equine law tips for letting your friend’s horse share a ride in your trailer and letting a friend trailer your horse.

Do you haul horses for friends? Or does someone trailer your horse for you? Here are 3 equine law tips you need to know for horse trailer ride shares.

Call me biased, but horse people are good people. A very common scenario is when people choose horse trailer ride shares, either as a one-off favor or more regularly.

I’ve grown up doing this regularly. We’ve always kept our horses on our own property. In my hunter-jumper years, my horse shared rides to lessons in another family’s trailer multiple days a week.

Now, these trailer ride shares may happen a little less frequently for me, but they still come up from time to time! Just a few months ago, I found myself in a position where I had an equine emergency. My horse almost lost an eye in a snowstorm, and an incredible friend saved the day by taking us both to the equine hospital, as my vet was out of town. 

There’s obviously nothing wrong with doing a trailer rideshare, but there are a few elements of equine law that you need to know to do it safely. 

Today I want to touch on a few topics so you can be prepared the next time you’re in need of a horse trailer rideshare:

  1. Why is it important to do trailer rideshares the “right” way?
  2. Safe practices for hauling horses
  3. Why you should us a liability release for equine rideshares
  4. Check with your insurance before your horse shares a ride in a trailer
  5. Keep tack and equipment safe during horse trailer ride shares

Why is it important to do horse trailer rideshares the right way?

As you’ll hear throughout this blog, our goal to educate our readers about equine law isn’t rooted in the paranoia that one bad occurrence can result in a catastrophic lawsuit (i.e., friends aren’t likely to sue friends unless something goes really wrong). 

BUT I see horse-related accidents happen all too often as an equine lawyer. If, God forbid, an accident was to occur, it pays to be prepared for the third party liability, not so much the friend you were just helping out.

To put it into perspective, let’s use a real client example. A client of mine was hauling a friend’s horse (the friend was even in the car with her), and they hit black ice. It was very clear to the passenger that the driver wasn’t at fault, and she didn’t hold the driver liable. In other words, she didn’t sue the driver. 

However, when the driver hit the black ice, they slid into the other lane, and rear-ended a car in the other lane. Hardly any damage was done (and luckily, the horses were fine), but that driver’s insurance company filed a lawsuit against my client. At the end of the day, it’s just business. The insurance company was trying to cover their costs. Nothing about it was surprising.

All of this to say, when we’re discussing equine law issues, it’s not just a question of whether the two friendly parties would sue each other in case of an accident. We always have to think about third-party liability.

What instances are we trying to protect all parties from in horse trailer ride shares?

  • Accidents both loading or unloading, in which the horse or a person could be injured (or worse.)
  • Accidents while driving 
  • Lost, stolen, or damaged tack/equipment 
  • Potential damage to the horse trailer/truck

But, we’re not just here to talk about the things that could go wrong. Keeping these scenarios in the back of your mind, let’s find ways to prevent them and keep everyone involved safe.

1. Safe practices for hauling horses 

Make sure the truck hauling the horse trailer and horse trailer itself are safe:

  • Check your tire pressure, and your horse trailer’s light/brake hookup each time. It may just be my luck, but horse trailer lights are finicky, to say the least. Make sure you have the equipment needed to change a tire, should that become necessary.
  • Double check that the truck/tow vehicle is rated (including it’s brakes and hitch components) to pull the combined weight of the trailer, gear, and horses over the planned distance. 

Make sure the horses are safe in transportation:

  • Speak to the horse’s owner about their trailering issues (if they have any.) For example, do they have any quirks, such as hating to be loaded first or last? 
  • Do you require shipping boots for horses you trailer? Or, if someone is trailering your horse, do you require shipping boots to be used on your own horses during the rideshare? If so, determine who is responsible for putting them on, etc. 
  • Make sure that there is room in your horse trailer for the gear and equipment necessary for the trip. For example, if you agree to haul someone’s horse and they don’t tell you that they will be bringing a trunk or other equipment that doesn’t end up fitting in the tack room on hauling day,  you shouldn’t be required to put the trunk in the trailer itself. This sounds obvious, but is unfortunately based on an actual case.

2. Consider using a liability release for equine rideshares 

As a lawyer, I always want to give the blanket advice to use a contract in every scenario. But, as a horse owner, I know that’s not always practical.

Take my emergency, for example. When I called my friend to take my horse and I to the equine hospital in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t expect her to get my late night phone call and then tell me to wait around while she found a liability release for me to sign before she’d agree to trailer us to the hospital. In fact, I would not be a happy camper in that scenario. 

However, when you’re in a setting where you’re regularly trailering someone’s horse (or if you’re a trainer trailering a barn full of horses to a horse show),  you should have the horse owner sign a trailering liability release form.

What should be in the trailer rideshare liability release form? 

If you purchase a hauling liability release form from Fairway Stables™, your release will cover all of the following. If you have a liability release form from anywhere else, make sure it has the following:

  • Specific language releasing the driver (or “hauler”) harmless for injury (or even death) to both people or horses who are in the horse trailer/hauling truck
  • Who is liable for damage caused. For example, if the horse owner or their horse causes damage to either the truck or trailer, that person will cover replacement costs
  • Whether or not shipping boots are required for the horses you trailer and who is responsible for providing them, putting them on, etc.
  • Whether or not you require the owner of the horse you are hauling to have an equine insurance policy
  • Who is liable if the trailer is broken into or equipment is stolen from the trailer and what policies apply for storing equipment in the trailer.

 Though asking a friend to sign a legal document before you share a ride may feel awkward, it won’t be nearly as awkward as defending a lawsuit.

What good do they do?

To be frank, a liability release won’t completely block a lawsuit from occurring, but it will absolutely act like a deterrent. What’s more, if a lawsuit were to arise, a well-drafted release of liability can be your defense. This means that, yes, you could still face a lawsuit, but the liability release would help prevent a judge from ruling against you.

3. Check your insurance coverage before your horse shares a trailer.

What insurance coverage do you have for your horse? What about your auto? It’s important to note that many auto insurance policies will cover damage to a vehicle, but not a trailer (or it’s contents). The same idea goes for a general liability policy being unlikely to cover an injury to a horse.

It is always wise to have equine insurance in the event a horse is hurt (and, if you’re trailering someone else’s horse, it’s wise to discuss ahead of time whether you require this or not). It’s recommended that you insure your trailer with a horse trailer insurance policy (or contact your auto insurance provider for a rider.)

Speaking of insurance, what about the tack and other equipment that is stored in the trailer?

4. Keep tack and equipment safe during trailer rideshares.

If you have expensive tack or equipment in your horse trailer, it’s wise for each owner to obtain a rider on their existing homeowner’s insurance policy to cover the potential loss of or damage to these items. Additionally, when trailering with someone else, discuss how that tack or equipment will be handled. 

For example, are you willing to let someone keep their very expensive saddle in the trailer overnight? What happens if the trailer gets broken into and the saddle is stolen? Are you liable for that theft? This is a conversation that should be handled prior to trailering, and can be covered in the liability release.

In Conclusion,

Again, horse trailer ride shares shouldn’t be avoided. They can be greatly beneficial to both parties! Just keep these elements of equine law in mind and remember to implement a hauling liability release form. These procedures may seem overbearing for a routine favor, but getting these details in order before horse trailer rideshares will keep you protected in case accidents happen.

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