How Equine Liability Waivers Protect Your Equestrian Business

November 20, 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.

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When it comes to equine law, one of the most important things equestrian facilities should do is require their riders to sign equine liability waivers before allowing any horseback riding. At the end of the day, their purpose is as simple as it is critical. Equine liability waivers or releases are meant to protect the equestrian facility from liability if an accident occurs. 

Equine liability waivers go by many different names under equine law, such as:

  • hold harmless agreements, 
  • equine assumption of risk agreements, 
  • equine activity release and hold harmless agreement,
  • or ride at your own risk waivers

While most equestrians have heard of these documents, there’s a common myth that a piece of paper is “worthless” when something like a horse-related accident occurs.

This article won’t just debunk that myth; we’re going to lay out exactly what you, as a horse owner, equestrian, horse trainer, or homesteader, need to know when it comes to using equine liability waivers. Plus, how to know if yours is legit. Here’s what we’ll cover:

Here’s what you need to know to use equine liability waivers correctly to legally protect your equine business:

What is a liability release waiver? 

A liability release waiver is an agreement between the person allowing someone to ride the horse, and the horseback rider. It outlines what risk the rider is taking. For example, the owner of the equestrian facility would have the rider sign this document, stating that she is assuming the risk of horseback riding.

These can be general or specific equine activity release waivers, depending upon the type of horseback riding. For example, an equine therapy center would use  “equine therapy release forms”, while someone hosting a children’s pony party would use a “pony party release form”. (We’ll get into when and why you would need to use different types of forms below). 

At the end of the day, these documents serve a simple, yet very important purpose. They allocate the risk of each party. In other words, the two people signing the agreement are agreeing that one party is taking on the risk of the activity. In this case, that risky activity is riding. 

Let’s say we have a horse trainer who runs a great equestrian facility. She has done everything equine law requires to make her riding facility safe. One day, a horse spooks, and bucks a rider off. Should the trainer be liable for the equestrian’s fall?

Common sense would tell you no (horses are large animals with their own brains, after all!) If this trainer used a strong equine liability release, she’d be protected. Why? 

The rider “knowingly assumed the risk”- and it’s in black and white writing in the equine liability release. As you can see, these equine liability release forms are an important tool to protect equestrian facilities when they host equestrian events. They’re also important to discourage frivolous lawsuits.

Who should use equine liability waivers? 

Anyone who allows any horseback riding should have an equine liability release. This could include:

In short, anyone who allows people to ride their horses, or ride horses on their property.

Why do you need an equine liability waiver? 

Because as much as we love our equine friends….every equestrian knows that horse-related activities are inherently dangerous. 

Again, horses are large animals, with their own brains, their own personalities, and their own decision making capabilities. While we can train them, we can’t fully control them.

And while most states in the United States have adopted versions of Equine Activity Statutes, as we discussed, these statutes do not provide complete legal protection- just a first level of defense. In other words, the owner of a horse-related business can’t rely solely on their state’s Equine Activity Statute.

Word to the wise: if you are in a state that has an Equine Activity Statute, review your state’s statute to see if any additional language is required within your release to make sure you have the strongest equine liability release possible.

An equine liability release provides a second and more complete layer of protection for horse owners and professionals. In the same way that the Equine Activity Statute can dissuade overly litigious people from suing, a signed, strong liability release can discourage people from filing lawsuits in the first place. Any attorney who practices contract law, particularly an attorney familiar with equine law, will not want to take on a case where it’s clear that the person suing signed a document saying they assumed the risk of riding the horse


But, if we take it a step further and say that the rider in our example decides to sue the trainer anyway, a strong, properly written liability release will provide a very solid defense in court and will most likely result in the dismissal of the case.

The takeaway: while any equine liability waiver may dissuade people from frivolous lawsuits… a well-written release can get your lawsuit thrown out if you end up in court. 

However, this logic only applies if the liability release is written correctly and is actually valid and enforceable. So, how do you know if your liability release is valid, according to equine law? 

3 ways to know if your equine liability waiver is valid and enforceable:

The validity of the liability release is going to hinge completely on how the document is written. Just having a liability release form does not automatically make it valid. The document has to be in compliance with your state’s particular laws, which means that most liability release forms just downloaded for free off the internet aren’t enforceable–in other words, they’re worthless.

1. Your release has to have specific language about risk. 

In order for your equine liability release to stand up in court, it has to have specific language about what the equestrian is actually releasing the horse owner from.


It must completely inform the participant of the inherent risks related to equine activities. The language must spell out all of the risks- it’s always smart to start with your state’s Equine Activity Statute (these usually define what those “inherent risks” are), 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 lessons with other riders, such as horses spooking, the risks of jumping, etc. Under Oklahoma’s Equine Activity Statute, for example, the agreement must be in writing, the participant (or the participant’s guardian) must sign it, and it must explain to the participant why the activity is risky.

2. Your equine liability release should discuss how the parties will handle negligence.

This is one of the most common mistakes that we see with forms just pulled from 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 the equestrian business from liability for negligence. Without this specific language disclaiming negligence, the release typically will not actually shield the equestrian business from liability.  

In addition, it’s wise to include an indemnification provision, which would obligate the person signing to pay for your legal costs or expenses in the event of a lawsuit. 

This becomes particularly important if you are dealing with a rider who is under the age of 18. Because they legally cannot sign away their legal rights, the release needs to specify that the release of liability is being signed by a parent or legal guardian. If the indemnification provision is drafted correctly, it will bind the signing party to agree that if someone sues you, and you win the suit, the person who signed will pay your attorney’s fees.

3. The release has to cover and be signed by the proper parties.

In other words, it should specify the parties being released. 

Here is a common mistake that we see at Fairway Stables™: 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”.

This is a made-up scenario of course, but what are the issues with this? What should the release say instead?

 The business owner must sign this document, indicating their role and the business name. For example, sign like this:

/s/ Paige Hulse.

Paige Hulse, owner, Fairway Stables, LLC

  • The release needs to generically specify all released parties. This includes the business entity, its owners, it’s independent contractors, its employees, and, if the business owner does not own the facility itself, list the name of the property owners. 
    • What do I mean by “generically specify”? The equestrian business owner needs to list every type, or group of person covered (such as independent contractors and employees), but does not need to list them by name. Legally speaking, this is the safest way to do it, but more than that, you don’t want to have to ask your whole barn to re-sign the liability release if you hire one new stablehand.  
  • 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 people. For example, if you need to have family members, spectators, or guests sign a release to be 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.

Make it a habit to have the following people sign liability waivers:

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

  1. The rider
    1. The parent/guardian of the rider, if under the age of 18
  2. Each guest or visitor that comes onto the premises (you don’t want them to walk through the barn, get kicked accidentally, and sue you.) 
  3. Spectators, as necessary. If you are running a standard horse boarding and training facility, this won’t be as applicable to you, unless you allow spectators to interact with the horses. However, there have been cases where some facilities will also have bull riding events on the weekends, etc., and in some extreme cases, the bulls can jump into the stands. As crazy as this sounds, I have actually been to a rodeo where this happened. Because of this, it would have been wise for that facility to have spectators sign liability waivers.

It may feel strange to ask so many people to sign liability releases at first, but over time, it will feel like second nature, and more than that, the patrons of your barn will expect it. 

But after you ask those people to sign their releases, do you need to do anything else with them? 

Yes.

Make it a habit to keep signed copies of all releases

As a business owner, you could do everything right and check off every box listed above with flying colors. But, if you don’t have a copy of your signed liability release, the release will not be enforceable in court.  

If you had to fallback on the liability release in litigation, you wouldn’t want to count on the person suing you to provide you with a copy of the signed equine liability release. This document will help you win your case, not vice-versa. Even if you have proof that they signed (such as an email thread), unless you can produce the signed copy, you’re in trouble.

So, keep it simple. Make a habit to keep a file (preferably, the signed original and a digital copy) of all signed liability waivers!

Conclusion

While we know that things like equine liability waivers aren’t the fun part of being an equestrian, there is good news: if you take care of this once, you don’t have to think about it again! Doing it right at the outset by having a professionally-drafted waiver that protects both parties will save so much time and hassle. At Fairway Stables™, we’ve converted our own equine liability release waiver into a template that you can find here.  

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