What is Equine Law: The Ultimate Guide

August 3, 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.


While equine law may not be the most exciting part of owning a horse, it is important that you brush up on your equine law knowledge to avoid headaches down the line and keep horse ownership fun and rewarding. 

Here’s what we’ll cover in our Ultimate Guide to Equine Law:

  1. What is equine law?
  2. What’s unique about equine law?
  3. Common examples of equine law
  4. What equestrians need to know about equine law
  5. Legalities of equine business
  6. Where to start when it comes to complying with equine law

What is equine law?

Equine law covers all of the legal considerations that come with owning a horse. Someone who labels themselves an “equine attorney” has expertise in business law (such as contracts, trademarks, estate planning, and more), and a personal understanding of all things equestrian. An equine attorney can help anyone who owns horses, whether it be just for fun (think showjumping or western pleasure competitors) or as a part of a business, like cattle ranchers, farmers, and homestead owners. 

I have owned and operated a business law firm for four years, working with everyone from ranchers to entrepreneurs. But outside of practicing law? I’ve been an avid equestrian for 30 years, doing everything from competing in the hunter jumper realm to training green horses. Each and every day, before the doors to the firm open and after they close, I’m out with the horses. As someone who’s ridden horses her entire life, and practices business law every day, I have a unique perspective on the world of equine law. I commonly work with horse owners to satisfy all of their legal needs.

Owning a horse is supposed to be fun. When you think of owning a horse, your first thought isn’t about what legalities may be involved, right? But be aware, misunderstanding equine law can cause so many unforeseen hassles (and expenses). The purpose of this blog is to answer the questions you might not even know you have. Once you know this valuable information you can enjoy owning your horses, without wondering if you are legally protected. Let’s avoid those common legal mistakes horse owners make! 

Horses are unique in the eyes of the law 

Horses are fascinating animals in the eyes of the law – they range from professional athletes to personal property, to types of vehicles, to livestock property. After all, think of the range of racehorses to carriage horses, and ranch horses to your backyard friend. The legality of what is needed to “keep horses legal” is wide-ranging! A good equine attorney is able to apply their knowledge of both the law and horses to help keep horses and their owners as legally protected as possible. 

What are some examples of equine law?

Since “equine law” can cover such a wide range of topics, what exactly does an equine lawyer do? 

This is a great question. Most horse owners fall into one of two camps:

  1. Personal enjoyment –  This group owns horses for horse shows, hunter jumper, western pleasure, and more
  2. Business Use – These horse owners use horses for their business in some way, shape, or form. To name a few: cattle ranchers who use horses to herd their cattle, a racehorse owner who makes money from races, equestrian trainers who run horse boarding and horse training facilities,  horse trainers who train and sell horses, or homestead owners who own horses and have turned their homestead into a business. 

In the same way that an equine vet is tasked with protecting a horse’s health, an equine attorney’s job is to legally protect horse owners and their horses. 

What do equestrians need to know about equine law? 

Equestrians of every level need to know that no matter the purpose of your horse, there are certain areas of equine law that will apply to you. This blog will break down exactly what you need to know, with none of the guesswork.

Do you have a retired show horse in your backyard? Do you own a little bit of land? Maybe even have a hobby farm with a few horses that you only ride every now and then? Or, are you a competitive equestrian, traveling around the country competing in the jumping circuit or western pleasure? 

No matter what led you into horse ownership, there are a few equine law considerations that you need to know. At the end of the day, you own your horse for fun. Covering your legal bases keeps it that way. 

Horses become beloved family members or part of a business. The goal of every horse owner is to keep themself, their family, and their horse safe in the process. Aside from the fact that horses are “inherently dangerous” due to their large size, there are certain equine liability considerations that every horse owner needs to be aware of. There’s always more than meets the eye! 

What to know when it comes to equine activity statutes.

When you have a few horses and you let your friends come over to ride, what do you REALLY need to know about helmet waivers, and other helmet-related equine liability issues? What about letting your friend board their horse on your property, or horse trailer ride shares? What happens if someone wanders onto your property – do you really need equine insurance? If you board your horse somewhere, do you need equine insurance if they get sick? What is that “Equine Activity Liability Act”- does it even apply to you?

Buying, selling and leasing horses

An equine lawyer will be able to answer those questions you may not even know to ask: for example, do you need a bill of sale when you purchase a horse? Do you REALLY need registration papers when you buy or sell a horse? What happens if you buy a lame horse – are there actually “lemon laws” when you buy a horse? What about those scenarios where you decide to lease a horse – will it be a half or full lease, and what should be in the contract? An equine lawyer can answer all of these questions.

Owning land and horses

What if you own a bit of land, and maybe a few horses… and realize the possibility of a new business is right outside your door? Do you have a hobby farm, or a homestead…or is it time to call it a business? This is where an experienced equine lawyer can save you so much time and grief at the outset. 

The legalities of your horse-related business: 

Some people use their horses as an aspect of their business, whether they are part of their farm or ranch, their horse boarding or training facility, or more. A 20 acre hobby farm is not in the same league as a 5000 acre cattle ranch, but at the end of the day, business is business, and the legality remains the same.

First, ask yourself, do you have a business on your hands? In other words, do you make any money from your ranch or horse farm? If so, an equine lawyer can provide you with the exact tools you need to grow your business and build your legacy. 

Anyone who derives income from their property needs to ask themselves if and when it’s time to incorporate their equine or cattle business. An equine lawyer can easily answer this question for the business owner and offer advice to the business owner about whether or not it’s time to form an LLC or Corporation.

Protect your horse business

Quick sidebar: Why would you consider creating a legal entity around your horse business? In short, this separates your business’ liability and assets from your personal liability and assets. In other words, you never want your business to interfere with your personal life, or vice versa; you want to use each to support the other. Find more on this topic here. 

Because of the wide-range use of horses, an equine lawyer is the type to help horse farm owners start and grow their businesses. This can include starting a “horse business”, drafting and negotiating contracts related to the horse business, registering trademarks to protect the business name, and drafting estate and succession plans to keep the legacy of the business alive. 

Equine law is also important if you’re a trainer who is building or running a horse training or boarding facility. How do you successfully incorporate the business, secure investors, and then run the horse training or boarding facility legally? What does this even require?

Finally, how do you protect the brand you’re building and secure its legacy? Equine business owners need to consider trademarking their business name. If they don’t, they’re at risk of being forced to change their business name at best, or inviting a lawsuit to their door at worst. Finally, never wait to get your estate plan in place; this ensures that the legacy you are building will last.

Where to start when it comes to equine law:

Each of these topics will be discussed in depth in a future post, but every horse owner should know these basics about equine law: 

1. Equine liability insurance

Even though your state likely has an Equine Activity Statute, that does not mean that equine liability laws offer “complete immunity” or “zero liability”. Accidents happen, and horse owners need to have liability insurance to protect themselves and their horses.

First of all, don’t assume that your homoeowner’s liability insurance will cover you if something goes wrong. For example, what happens if you let someone ride your horse, and they get bucked off? What happens if someone comes onto your property, and gets kicked?

If you are a business, you need to at least have commercial general liability insurance. But no matter what, if you have a horse, you need to get professional equine liability insurance. We go into that more in depth here.

When it comes to horses, accidents can still happen no matter how well-trained your horse is. They’re just unpredictable, and accidents happen. If something crazy happens, like your horse gets loose, or it trips and breaks its leg the day after you bought it, you may not have a legal remedy to pursue. You need to have an insurance policy that covers accidents like these that could arise from your horse. 

How do you know if you’ve found the right equine liability insurance? Again, we’ll be discussing this in depth in our equine insurance post, but make sure that you communicate everything that you’ll be doing with your horse to your insurance agent. Will they be on your property, or boarded at a barn? Will they be a “backyard friend”, or will you be showing competitively? This will help narrow down what insurance policy will be best for you. 

2. Equine warning signs 

An equine attorney can help you determine whether or not you need any sort of equine warning signs around your property. For example, your state’s Equine Activity Statute may require you to have signs worded in a certain way around your property. When it comes to complying with equine laws, common sense reigns supreme. If you have a horse known to kick or bite, make sure and have a warning sign outside their stall. If your horses are housed on your property, have a sign that says something like “warning, no trespassing allowed” or “do not feed or pet the horses”. Make sure that the signs are prominently displayed and easy to read. An equine attorney will be able to help advise you as to what exactly these signs should be, and what they should say. 

3. Equine liability releases

An equine liability release, or “equine liability waiver” is one of the most important documents within the horse industry, and also one of the most misunderstood (and misapplied). These documents can make or break an equine facility, and it’s so important that they’re worded correctly. Within the realm of equine law, know that an equine attorney can help you draft the correct liability release, but keep these points in mind:

  • If you’re asking a minor to sign the equine liability form, remember that their guardian or parents must sign for them, until they’re 18. The liability release should say this.
  • Remember, every party must sign the release, and can only sign for themselves. In other words, everyone who needs to sign a release must sign on their own (this includes the rider, parents…anyone around the horse on your property). For more information on this topic, we discuss in great depth here.
  • Keep a signed copy of this release in your own files. As any equine attorney can tell you, one of the most common mistakes we come across is people forgetting to keep a signed copy of the release! It will only protect you if you have a signed copy.

Again, equine release forms are only as strong as the brain that wrote them. This will be one of the first documents that your equine business will rely on in case of an accident, so make sure that it complies with equine laws. 

4. Use strong equine contracts 

I may be biased, but horse people are just good people. A lot of “handshake deals” tend to be done in the horse industry. But, it’s important to get every agreement in writing. For example, have you heard of the “Cinderella horse”, Snowman? Snowman is one of the most famous show jumpers of all time. When he was 8 years old, he was sent to a slaughter auction.

The same day, Harry de Leyer, a riding instructor, went to the auction looking for school horses. De Leyer and the horse clicked, and de Leyer purchased him for $80. He tried selling Snowman to a neighbor one time, and the horse jumped incredibly high fences to go back home to de Leyer. That’s when it dawned on de Leyer that he had a jumper on his hands.

Two years later, the two began winning prestigious competitions together, such as jumping over other horses, jumping incredibly high fences, etc. He’s now in the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.

But, what if that neighbor came back after Snowman became famous, and tried to claim ownership? What if the neighbor tried to argue they’d had a verbal contract? Those agreements take a long time to resolve, can be expensive, and are tough to fight. On the other hand, a written contract provides literal black and white evidence of an agreement, and helps clarify exactly what was agreed to, especially if it’s drafted by an equine attorney. Any equine contract needs to completely and accurately reflect the agreement and intention of the parties and be easily enforceable. 

If you’re not a lawyer, drafting your own contract may result in bigger problems

Simple documents, like a bill of sale, may not require a lawyer’s help. But more complex issues, such as liability releases, lease agreements, or installment sale contracts, get tricky quickly; every word of the contract matters. What’s more, laws vary state by state. An experienced equine attorney knows what to look out for and how to draft these documents to protect the horse owner. 

Frankly, if you’re not a lawyer, you shouldn’t be drafting a contract…especially when it comes to large animals like horses. That’s why I have created contract templates that you can find here to help you get started. (coming soon)

Even if you aren’t selling a $500,000 showjumper and are just selling an $80 “backyard horse” like Snowman, protect your interests. Think of what happens if the other party doesn’t pay, or you buy a lame horse without knowing. At the end of the day, you and your horse will be better off if you have reliable contracts and a solid understanding of equine law basics.

An equine lawyer will ultimately help horse owners save time, money, and heartache.

At Fairway Stables™, our mission is to provide education on not just what it takes to become a better horseman (a never-ending pursuit), but to support horse owners with everything they need to know about horse business and equine law.

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