The Mane Point: a legal blog for smart horses and their people
By Allison J. Farrell of Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC on 11/30/2021
Equine Risk Management: Don’t Leave It to Chance

People who own horses or run equine businesses and organizations are an adventurous breed. After all, these activities are not for the faint of heart, and both horse ownership and equine business pursuits require significant commitments of time and energy. While horse people are not afraid of hard work, when it comes to equine risk management, some may be tempted to muck that stall tomorrow. That procrastination could be costly.

Image of a horse with a warning sign, representing the need for horse owners, businesses, and organizations to engage in equine risk management and how WV equine lawyer Allison J. Farrell can help.

The Basics of Equine Risk Management

Risk management—in any arena—involves identifying and evaluating potential liabilities, evaluating those issues or circumstances, and taking steps to minimize or eliminate risk. For horse owners, businesses, and organizations, this means assessing and limiting the opportunity for uncertain situations when possible and taking appropriate steps to limit liability in the event an accident or incident occurs or is alleged to have occurred.

Depending upon your situation, managing equine risks could involve implementing an equine liability waiver, properly managing contracts and other equine legal forms and documents, drafting operating procedures, obtaining adequate liability insurance, and more. In any of these cases, an equine lawyer who knows the industry and the laws in your area will be best suited to guide you through the process of protecting your equine interests whatever they may be.

When Do You Need an Equine Liability Waiver?

The need for an equine release or waiver of liability—as well as the contents of that document—depends on the equine activities in which you are engaged and the various laws governing your jurisdiction. Some states require written waivers and even specific language.

The Equine Release and Waiver of Liability in WV, PA, and OH

West Virginia (WV), Pennsylvania (PA), and Ohio (OH) are three examples to consider. All three states have statutes that limit the liability of horse owners and businesses while outlining the duties and responsibilities of the parties involved in equine activities. Ohio’s law is the most stringent in regard to the equine release and waiver of liability, with title 23, section 2305.321(C)(2)(a) stating a liability waiver should specify each inherent risk to be acknowledged by the participant in an equine activity.

WV Code §§ 20-4-1 to -7 sets out the responsibilities and liabilities of a “horseman” and a “participant.” A horseman is defined by the law as any individual or entity that engages in the organization or provision of equine activities or facilities for such activities—whether for compensation or not. A participant is any individual using the equine services or facilities provided by a horseman.

Regarding the need for an equine release and waiver of liability, WV’s law states that a horseman must have each participant in an equine activity inspect and sign a statement that clearly and concisely explains the duties and liabilities of each party as defined under the law.

Pennsylvania’s law—2005 Pa. Laws 472 (4 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 601 to 606)—does not include guidance on the need for an equine liability waiver. The law does, however, require specific signage on sites where equine activities occur.

Equine Risk Management through Policies and Contracts

In addition to the equine liability waiver, other legal forms and organizational documents can also be useful in equine risk management. One of the best things people can do to manage their risk in the horse business is to have appropriate contracts! Contracts are critically important to controlling risk.  Contracts play an important role in all aspects of personal, for-profit, and nonprofit equine ventures—from breeding contracts to formal facilities agreements and more. Legal contracts establish expectations and create a legally binding agreement that can be referred to when the unexpected happens or things don’t go according to plan.

For businesses and nonprofit organizations, establishing solid operating policies and procedures in writing is a critical aspect of risk management. These policies and related documents help ensure consistent and safe practices, guide employees and management in operations, and provide support and justification for specific actions taken if allegations of misconduct arise.

When Do You Need a WV Equine Lawyer?

With the technology and information available today, it is relatively easy to find templates for equine legal forms and documents—like equine liability waivers, breeding contracts, and much more—online or elsewhere. But horse owners, organizations, and businesses should be wary of a DIY approach to equine risk management. A knowledgeable professional, like WV equine lawyer Allison Farrell at Jenkins Fenstermaker, PLLC, can assist you in drafting and formalizing documents and policies that help minimize your risks. She is also licensed in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Contact Allison at the firm’s Clarksburg, WV office by calling (304) 521-6120 or completing this online contact form.