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— By Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law —
Riding instructors often need horses for their students to ride in lessons. Not all instructors have enough lesson horses, however. Sometimes, instructors ask their clients to use their horses for lessons. For instructors and horse owners, these arrangements can bring several risks.
• If a student is injured while riding or handling the horse, both the owner and the instructor could be named in a lawsuit.
• Even if an instructor uses a release of liability (where allowed by law), these documents rarely include language protecting owners of horses used in lessons.
• The riding instructor’s liability insurance policy probably offers no protection to owners of horses used in his or her lessons.
• Individual horse owners often have no liability insurance of their own to protect them against claims related to their horses.
Some of these risks can have serious consequences, but careful planning can help avoid them.
• For Owners •
Before their horses are used in lessons, horse owners can consider several options to protect themselves, including:
• Buy Your Own Liability Insurance – Regardless of whether the instructor has liability insurance to protect you, consider purchasing your own policy of Personal Horse Owner’s Liability Insurance (sometimes called “Private Horse Owner’s Liability Insurance”). This type of insurance generally protects the horse owner (and possibly others that the owner may designate) in the event that someone is hurt while riding, handling, or near the horse. In the application, the horse owner would notify the insurer that the horse is being used in a lesson program. Keep in mind that this arrangement, depending on how the instructor compensates you, might impact your coverage and trigger a “business pursuit” exclusion.
• Get Included in the Instructor’s Liability Insurance – Consider asking the instructor to name you as an “additional insured” in his or her commercial and/or professional liability insurance policies. Understand that policies differ. Make sure their coverage was issued by a reputable insurance company, with limits that are acceptable to you, and that the policy specifically covers the activities in which your horse will be used. (Keep in mind that those listed as additional insureds under liability insurance policies usually cannot make claims of their own against the policies; discuss this with a knowledgeable insurance agent.)
• Insist that the Instructor Use Acceptable Waiver/Release Documents (Where Allowed by Law) – If you and your lawyer approve the instructor’s release of liability, ask the instructor to amend it to specifically include you in the section where the signer agrees not to sue certain listed people and entities. Consider asking students to sign your own waiver/release document, in addition.
• Abandon the Arrangement – Risk-averse horse owners should decline the arrangement altogether, especially if no protections are in place for their benefit. If the instructor is the horse’s trainer or boarding stable, horse owners can require the instructor to confirm that the horse cannot be used in lessons or ridden by others.
• For Instructors •
Riding instructors who use horses belonging to others can consider several options, including:
• Protect Horse Owners – Add the owners of your lesson horses to your liability insurance policies as “additional insureds.” Your insurance agent can explain the process and details. If you use liability waivers/releases (where allowed by law), determine how to include the horse owners within the list of people the signers agree not to sue.
• Learn About the Horses Used – The horse conveniently loaned to you for lessons might actually be unsuitable based on unique propensities or problems. Ask questions about the horse, and evaluate its suitability. In several states with equine activity liability acts, those who provide horses for others to ride (such as instructors) could potentially become liability targets. For example, the Texas Farm Animal Activity Liability Act states that a “participant” might have a claim when a “person provided the . . . [horse] and the person did not make a reasonable and prudent effort to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the … activity … and determine the ability of the participant to safely manage the [horse], taking into account the participant’s representations of ability.” Texas Statutes and Codes Annotated, Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Title 4, § 87.004(2)
• Conclusion •
If the horse owner and instructor agree on the use of the horse in lessons, subject to conditions and requirements, both parties have every incentive to confirm their agreement in writing that covers details such as insurance, releases, restrictions on amount and type of use, required equipment, compensation, termination, and several others.
This article does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable insurance agent or attorney.
• About the Author •
Julie Fershtman is one of the nation’s most experienced Equine Law practitioners. A Shareholder with Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC, based in Michigan, she has successfully handled equine cases in 17 jurisdictions nationwide and tried equine cases in 4 states. She has drafted thousands of equine industry contracts and is a Fellow of the American College of Equine Attorneys. Her speaking engagements span 29 states. For more information, visit www.equinelaw.net and www.equinelawblog.com.