The Mane Point: a legal blog for smart horses and their people
By Allison J. Farrell of Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC on 07/17/2020
Equine Liability: Don’t Risk Your Kingdom on a Half-Nailed Shoe

A horseback riding accident can happen in the blink of an eye. One moment, you are happily trotting down a trail. The next moment, you are flying head first into the unforgiving trunk of a tree. What the heck just happened?

Sometimes, you know what happened. A cow running in an adjacent field spooked your horse (true story). Or a truck underneath the bridge on which you are riding applied its engine brake and the gunshot-like rattle spooked your steed (true story). Or your horse caught a glimpse of his handsome self in the arena mirror and spooked in response to . . . himself (also a true story!).

Image of a horseshoe on a barn door, representing the importance of attention to equine liability issues and the need for knowledgeable equine attorneys in WV and elsewhere.

Other times, you don't know what happened. In the trotting-head-into-tree-trunk scenario, my experienced trail horse thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye and bolted into a panic run for which I was not prepared. To this day, I do not know what scared him. Regardless of the cause, equine liability is a concern for every horse owner or rider.

Preparing for Equine Liability Issues

The moral of all these (painfully) true stories is that horses are unpredictable. And if you are in the business of making money with horses, your fortunes are tied to the whims of a thousand-pound land mammal with more teeth than brains that can be startled into panicked flight by a floating plastic bag. Knowing your rights and how to find quality legal help is as essential as maintaining your tack, truck, and trailer.

Equine Law and Protections for Equine Businesses

The likelihood of a horseback riding accident happening in the equine industry is not a matter of "if," but "when." If you are engaged in an equine business, it is in your best interest to make sure you are prepared for the inevitability of "when." While most states have enacted laws designed to shield equine businesses from certain lawsuits and claims, these legal defense "shields" do not apply in all scenarios. And, more importantly, most states require an equine business to take specific actions before the business can claim the protection of these defenses. For example, in Pennsylvania, equine businesses are required to post at least two signs on their premises with statutorily mandated language, among other actions. And in West Virginia, equine businesses must obtain signed statements from their participants acknowledging their liability and accepting the risks of equine activity. West Virginia equine law also places additional duties on equine businesses and “horsemen.”

How to Manage Equine Liability

Are you taking the necessary steps to comply with your state's equine laws? Do you have the documentation to "prove it" so that you can invoke the protections of the applicable legal defense shield? Experienced equine attorneys can help ensure that your business is complying with state equine law and industry standards, so as to reasonably protect your business from the inherent risk of equine activities.

I know you have heard Benjamin Franklin's old adage:

For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For the want of a horse, the rider was lost. For the want of a rider the battle was lost. For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.

Seeking advice from experienced legal counsel regarding your equine business is like hammering all the nails in a horseshoe. You don't want to risk your kingdom on a half-nailed shoe.

Businesses Need Knowledgeable Equine Attorneys

Whether your questions relate to equine liability, insurance, real estate, boarding contracts, buy-sell contracts, LLC formation, business incorporation, or any other aspect of the equine industry, an equine attorney from Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC can help protect you from the risks inherent in the equine industry so you can keep on doing the work you love. Contact attorney Allison J. Farrell by phone at (304) 399-9763 or complete this online contact form to discuss your questions and learn about the affordable, flat-rate fee options available to her equine clients.