Equine Law: The Horse Owner’s Ultimate Guide

August 14, 2021

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.

No matter your experience level with horses or homesteading, I hope this is a place you can get lost in, and learn something along the way - we welcome everyone from vets, to lifelong ranchers, trainer, to nonprofits contributing.


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Listen up horse owners! We’re breaking down everything you need to know about equine law.

Because at the end of the day, owning a horse should bring you joy, not liability!

That’s where equine law comes into play. What is “equine law,” you ask? Really, it’s just a fancy way of saying “the law when it comes to horses”. For example, how you legally buy or sell horses, the legalities around training horses, etc. 

Whether you’re a horse owner or a business owner who has horses, like a farmer, rancher, farmette owner, or homesteader, this post outlines everything you need to know about equine law, such as: 

What is equine law?

I know, people don’t associate horses with a courtroom, right? That’s because an equine lawyer’s job is to keep it that way. 

“Equine law” encompasses everything that keeps horse owners safe and able to enjoy their horses. An equine attorney can write the contract needed to buy a horse, draft the liability release for the horse trainer, or write the estate plan for the homesteader who wants to keep the land and horses in the family for generations to come.

But here’s what it really boils down to: an equine attorney knows about the needs of horse owners, because they’re (usually) equestrians themselves. 

I, myself, have been riding horses for nearly 30 years, and while I’ve been a contract attorney for years now as well, I probably wouldn’t know those random details you need to include in an equine sale agreement if not for my personal equestrian experience. For example, one time, a family member bought an “incredibly calm and safe” horse for his young daughter to ride. Then, he found out that the seller sedated the horse for the sale. Unfortunately, the purchase agreement didn’t specify that the horse should be drug tested before the sale, but for any attorney with equestrian experience, that’s a no-brainer. 

An equine lawyer’s job is to think about those things for you, before the issue arises. 

Horse owners, you need this equine law checklist:

Let’s face it, a 1000-pound animal just naturally comes with a bit of liability, no matter how sweet they are. Let’s take the guesswork out of it- here’s exactly what you need to know: 

  • Should you get equine insurance?
  • Do you have horses on your property?
  • What should you do if you have a dangerous horse?
  • Do you keep expensive equipment in your trailer (like a saddle)?
  • Can you board your horse?
  • Do you own your horse with another person?
  • Should you let other people ride your horse?
    • Do they need to wear a helmet?
    • Can you even let other people ride your horse? 

The good news? This horse owner’s guide to equine law will answer all of this, and more!

What is the Equine Liability Statute (& why do you need to care?)

Farmers, ranchers, horse trainers, homesteaders, farmette owners, listen up: 

You need to know about Equine Liability Laws. Just about every state in the United States has some form of the Equine Activity Liability Act (EALA). Every state has a different name for the statute, so you’ll likely just hear it called an “Equine Activity Statute”.

Here’s why it matters, whether you’re an equestrian or not: in many states (including Oklahoma) it applies to farm animals other than just horses. This means that ranchers, farmers, farmette owners, or homesteaders might fall under this law without even knowing about it. You can find your state’s EALA here.

Despite what some might think, Equine Activity Statutes provide incredible protection for horse owners and owners of other farm animals. Why? As long as you are complying with your state’s statute, this statute will limit liability for injuries (or even death) related to horses or other farm animals. In other words, this allows you to own horses and other farm animals more safely. 

Equine insurance: why would you need horse insurance?

If you own any kind of horse, I highly recommend that you have insurance for them. Even if you board your horse, buying horse insurance is in your best interest.

Here’s a quick example of why: when I was 5 years old, my parents bought the sweetest Shetland pony on the face of the earth. He wouldn’t hurt a fly–he even let cats sleep on his back! So, why would you need insurance for a salt of the earth horse like that?

Well, as any horse owner knows, accidents happen, and they usually result in pricey vet bills. One day, that same sweet pony who wouldn’t hurt a fly got ahold of a trailer full of fescue and ate himself nearly to death (literally). If you’ve ever had to pay for a colic surgery, you know it’s not cheap.

Here’s the moral of the story: equine insurance protects horse owners from both accidents that could happen to their horse AND accidents that their horses could be responsible for.

At the end of the day, it’ll save you money, by protecting you from the unforeseen, unavoidable scenarios. For example, if your horse kicks someone, you don’t want to be on the hook for the legal fees that could arise! 

Everything you need to know about equine liability releases

Ok, here’s the truth: one of the most important ways to protect your horse business is by using liability release waivers. Especially for those of you who are horse trainers. 

But here’s the thing: they have to actually be legitimate waivers. In other words, the random free document you see on the internet is usually free for a reason. At the end of the day, just having one won’t get you anywhere unless you can rely on it. 

At Fairway Stables™, we’re in the business of horsemanship™, which means that we want you to be forewarned before something happens, so that you can be forearmed to handle it. 

So, what do you do when you have to rely on your equestrian liability release form

How to protect your equine business with liability waivers and common liability waiver problems that occur in equine law

Here are the most common mistakes we see with liability waivers in the world of equine law….and a clear roadmap on how to avoid them!

1. Make sure your release has specific language about risk. 

In order for your equine liability release to stand up in court, it has to have specific language. At a minimum, it must spell out all of the risks. It’s always smart to start with what your state’s Equine Activity Statute requires, and explain why horseback riding can be dangerous. For example, having language like “horseback riding can be dangerous. You are assuming the risk” will do nothing to protect your business in court. In Fairway Stables™’s liability release,  we specifically state the risks involved with riding in lessons with other riders, such as horses spooking, the risks of jumping, etc. 

2. Your equine liability release should also discuss negligence.

This is one of the most common mistakes that we see with free forms found on the internet. Make sure your liability release clearly states how the parties will handle claims of negligence. In other words, spell out to the participant that she/he is agreeing to relieve your equestrian business from liability for negligence. Without this specific language disclaiming negligence, the release typically will not actually shield the equestrian business from liability.  

3. The proper parties must sign the equine liability release.

In other words, the released parties should be specified. 

Here is a common mistake that we see:

An equine facility owner gets a liability release agreement, ensures that it complies with their state’s Equine Activity Statute, and that it discusses how negligence will be handled in detail. So far, so good! However, the mistake usually occurs at the end of the document, and it’ll be hiding in plain sight:

  • “This document is hereby signed by John Doe and Jane Rider, effective as of December 25th”.

A made up scenario of course, but what are the issues with this? What should the release say instead?  The business owner must sign the document, indicating their role and the business name

  • The release needs to generically specify all released parties. This includes the business entity, its owners, it’s independent contractors, its employees, and if a barn does not own the facility itself, list the name of the property owners. 
  • If the equestrian business owner is an LLC, corporation, or anything other than a sole proprietorship, it must be signed on behalf of the business. (Side note: if you own an equine business, you MUST consider at least having an LLC for liability purposes). 
  • Remember, a person can only sign away his or her own right. This means that each person who needs to sign a release needs to sign one individually. One person can’t sign for multiple other people. For example, if you need to have family members, spectators, or guests sign a release (if they are around the horses), they need to sign their own release–the rider can’t sign for them.
  • Also, remember that children can’t sign away their rights, so a parent or guardian needs to sign for them.

Remember, if the wrong person signs your liability release, it will not be enforceable. 

Here’s who needs to sign liability waivers:

Essentially, anyone who will interact with the horses on your property: 

  1. The rider (or, the parent/guardian of the rider, if under the age of 18)
  2. Each guest or visitor that comes onto the premises 
  3. Spectators, as necessary. If you run a standard horse boarding and training facility, this won’t be as applicable to you, unless you allow the spectators to interact with the horses. 

Make it a habit to keep signed copies of all releases.

The last reminder, but it’s oh so important! You won’t be able to rely on your equine liability release unless you have a signed copy. So, make sure you keep a file of them all!

Legally protect yourself when buying and selling horses. 

Preparing to purchase a horse is such an exciting undertaking, but no matter how exciting it is, you must take certain precautions. Below is a list of what you should keep in mind when thinking about making a purchase, even if you’re just purchasing a backyard pet. After all, even if you’re not riding him, you don’t want him to start showing signs of disease or injury as soon as he’s home and become a walking vet bill! 

Here is a list you can keep handy as you’re preparing to start or add to your herd:

  1. First, where did you find out about your prospective purchase?
    • For example, if you’re working with a professional (a vet, trainer, etc.), many of your “vetting” has naturally occurred. If, on the other hand, you found your horse somewhere like Craigslist, etc., be prepared to do much more homework before you purchase. 
  2. Be honest with yourself and your skill level.
    • I know, this can be a bit of a buzzkill, but it’s critical to keep in mind: if you’re going to the horse’s “home” to check him out, remember that’s where he’ll be the most at ease. If he’s a little too much to handle there, bringing him to an entirely new atmosphere will bring out a whole new horse.
    • Always remember what discipline you trained in. You may be a rider with years of western training under your belt, who’s fallen in love with a warmblood (I mean, who can blame you). Invest in some English riding lessons to become accustomed to the discipline. I’ve seen heart-wrenching cases where an inexperienced rider purchased a horse based on looks alone, only to have to sell the horse after discovering it was simply “too much horse for the rider”. 
  3. Bring a trainer or very experienced friend
    • I’ve happily played this role for friends of my own, and personally, I have never purchased a horse without a trainer’s approval first. Not only will they be able to help provide a helpful and unemotional opinion, they’ll be able to help with the necessary photos and videos. 
  4. When you arrive to see the horse…
    • Do not be afraid to take photos and videos. You’ll want to have plenty of content to review (or to show your vet or trainer) before making any decisions. This will also help in aligning your impression of the horse with the seller’s description. 
    • What photos should you take? Take photos of the horse square from the front, the back, and each side. Take videos of the horse interacting both as they are tacked up and as they are ridden. 
  5. Do not be afraid to ask questions
    • It’s in the seller’s best interest to answer in great detail, as you are technically entering into a purchasing agreement before purchasing the horse. In the same vein, be honest with the seller about your intended purpose for the horse. A good horse owner will want the horse to find a good home, but they will also be interested (and knowledgeable) about whether the horse is a good fit for you. So what should you ask? You can download a full checklist HERE, but ask questions such as:
      1. The horse’s age
      2. How often do they ride the horse?
      3. Temperament, both with people and other horses
      4. Temperament with farriers and vets
      5. Health/soundness history
      6. When were their teeth last floated/vaccines given?
      7. His/her training history 
      8. How do they care for the horse (i.e., is he clipped or shoed; is he used to a stall at night?) 
    • If you’ve brought a friend or trainer, they should be able to help you answer the necessary questions.
  6. Ride the horse when trying him out 
    • We don’t ever recommended that you purchase a horse without riding him first. If you’re an experienced rider, you know there’s so much more you can “see from the saddle” than the ground, and I don’t just mean visibly. You’ll want to know how he carries himself, how responsive he is, what his training level truly is, etc. Give the seller a head’s up that you intend to ride the horse when you come to try him. It may even be wise to ask to see the horse’s ability to be loaded in a trailer. 
  7. Conduct a vet check 
    • This is arguably the most important element on the list, and one that CANNOT be overlooked. Again, even if you are just purchasing a horse to be a “yard ornament”, you do not want your new backyard buddy to become a walking vet bill you can’t afford. 
    • I would advise that you ask your vet to conduct the check, not the seller’s vet. (If that is not possible, include in the agreement that all of the vet screenings will be sent to your vet for review). Your vet will (or should) know what to screen for, but have the vet do blood work, screen for painkillers and tranquilizers (Remember my family member’s story!), for general health, and x-rays, if advised. While this might feel like an expensive endeavor, you are saving yourself money in the long run by being thorough at the outset. 
    • A common question that comes up: what if I’m purchasing from a friend? Or just getting the horse for free? Look at it this way: if that’s the case, you’re doing both of yourselves a favor. If anything comes up, you’re saving your friend money.
  8. Get all of the horse’s paperwork.
    • Note: include this as a prerequisite in the purchase agreement. I recommend requiring that this paperwork be sent to you prior to the purchase, rather than after, so that you can ensure all descriptions of the horse match the horse you’re buying and that the seller is listed as the current owner. The registration paperwork is the main paperwork that you will need to obtain if the horse is registered. If you do have the registration paperwork, your horse is not technically registered until you have those papers in your name and complete all steps necessary to transfer the ownership of the horse into your name in the official breed registry. Of course, review the paperwork to ensure that all parties signed it correctly. 
  9. MOST IMPORTANTLY OF ALL, ensure that the transaction is enumerated in writing
    • What I mean by this: make sure you have a signed purchase agreement for your new horse! This agreement should be a thorough reflection of the representations made to you by the seller, all registration paperwork, etc. Your agreement should be in black and white and an honest representation of your agreement. You can find lawyer drafted purchase agreements here. (Coming Soon) 

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