FREE BOOK CHAPTER: Deciding to Become a Horse Owner (from ‘Practical Horse Law: A Guide for Owners and Riders’ by Brenda Gilligan)

CHAPTER THREE
DECIDING TO BECOME
A HORSE OWNER

There are three basic rules to remember when buying a horse:

  1. The perfect horse is out there. Unfortunately, it is perfect for someone else.

  2. If someone seriously sets out to deceive you they will and there is very little if anything you can do to prevent it.

  3. Be prepared to walk away.

When selling a horse, the three rules are:

  1. Your horse is perfect. Except in the eyes of the buyer when it is also overpriced.

  2. There will be at least one potential buyer who arrives with lots of friends who know even less than the buyer does. They will not buy your horse.

  3. Be prepared to refuse to sell your horse to someone if you don’t think they are the right owner. You might avoid trouble later on by doing so.

The case of Turff v. Light (1997) (Horse Law (1997), Vol. 2, Iss. 4) nicely illustrates the third point. Mr Turff bought a horse called Bronze Knight for his 15 year-old daughter from a well known dealer, Mr Cyril Light. The purchase price was apparently in the region of £31,500 and the horse was bought as a showjumper for the girl. Unfortunately, Miss Turff fell off the horse several times and Mr Turff decided to claim against Mr Light, saying that the horse would not jump. He had paid part of the purchase price, but refused to pay the balance. The horse was sold to Germany. Evidence given in court suggested that there was nothing wrong with the horse except that it was too strong for Miss Turff; she was ‘over-horsed’. An experienced rider would have had no problems with it and video evidence was supplied to this effect. Judgment was given in Mr Light’s favour, but it is worth noting that the costs of the action were in the region of £50,000 and this was a long time ago.

Whilst it is not technically the seller’s job to assess riding ability and equine knowledge, responsible owners will do this as they want to try and ensure the best home possible for their horses on sale. But horses do change in a different environment. If you think the rider is not suitable, then diplomatically say so. The loss of the sale will be more than compensated for by not having the inconvenience of a disgruntled owner constantly in contact criticizing the horse, potential legal costs and the stress of possible court proceedings.

It is a decision really for the seller, but sometimes a buyer asks for help with a horse they have bought, more often from a private seller. Sometimes a horse or pony has a small “quirk” that the new owner doesn’t understand, but that the old owner will be able to put right as they know the horse or pony well. But the other side of the coin is that the seller becomes more involved than they wanted to be and it becomes obvious that it is something the buyer has done that has caused the horse or pony to develop problems. This can be some time after the purchase. The seller risks being accused of knowing the horse had the problems at sale and held that information back and there was therefore ”misrepresentation”. It is a natural reaction to want to help, after all he was your horse once and you want to see him happy, but consider whether the best thing, if you know you sold the horse honestly, is to politely refuse to get involved as you have sold the horse on and it is someone else’s responsibility now. Much depends, as ever, on the individual circumstances and sellers have been known to just buy the horse back to save further irritation. Difficult if you don’t have the funds, though.

Horses are, in the eyes of the law ‘goods” and property and are therefore the same as a washing machine, car, sofa bed or whatever. Washing machines do, however, come with guarantees and repair warranties for when they break down. Horses usually don’t. They also have a curious ability to change character overnight on change of owner, while a washing machine usually remains a washing machine after you bring it home from the shop. The law in this area has changed with the coming of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 which will be referred to later.

One of the first things to decide is whether you want to buy a horse or try to loan one. There are good reasons, and benefits and drawbacks, for both.

Another thing you need to look at is whether to buy from a commercial seller – a dealer, or buy from a private seller. Again, it is worth looking at both.

Working out your requirements

In buying (or indeed loaning) a horse, try to protect yourself as much as you can before the purchase (or loan). Console yourself with the fact that everyone buys the wrong horse at least once (some people never buy anything else) and there is nothing you can do that will protect you 100% and guarantee you the perfect purchase or loan horse. This book is as much about preventing legal arguments as it is about how to sort them out once they arise. However, there will be times where the best option is to cut your losses and put it down to experience.

Make sure you really want to own a horse and are committed to all that goes with it, including the cost, which is substantial. If you are, then be honest with yourself and a vendor as to your needs and abilities. If you are 5 ft 1 in you may want a 17.2 hh horse but you don’t need one. If you buy one and he gets strong with you, it may not be that the vendor has mis-stated his well-schooled nature; it could just be that he doesn’t realise someone’s on his back! You may not have the experience to take on a young horse, although these are often cheaper than older ones. It will almost certainly turn out to be a false economy unless you have the experience to bring such a horse on.

Make a list of your requirements – quiet/forward going, mare/gelding, youngster/schoolmaster, native/thoroughbred, colour, cost, etc. Horses with problems are frequently cheaper, but what constitutes a problem differs from rider to rider. There is an anecdote of a visitor to a famous showjumper’s yard noticing one of the top horses “weaving” madly. This is a vice and a “weaver” is normally to be avoided. Somewhat surprised, the visitor mentioned it to the showjumper. ‘I know,’ said the showjumper, ‘As long as he does his job in the ring, I don’t care what he does in his spare time.’

When buying a horse, bear in mind that the seller does not have to tell you everything about the horse, good or bad, without being asked, but should give honest answers to specific questions. If, however, a horse has a very obvious problem, which is immediately apparent or apparent on inspection or would be if you bothered to inspect, then the vendor need not mention this at all. If, for example, a horse only has one eye, you could not buy the horse and then expect to take it back saying that the vendor did not tell you the horse only had one eye, as this would have been apparent to you anyway – or should have been.

Where to buy

Buy from a trusted known source or a reputable dealer if you can. Word of mouth is usually the best source. Social media such as Facebook will contain many comments about “good” and “bad” sources, mainly but not always relating to dealers and commercial sellers, but these have to be considered carefully to take into account merely disgruntled buyers who have just chosen unwisely, or pure personal spite. The level of vitriol on media sites does seem to escalate very quickly, probably because the comments are often anonymous and say things that would not be contemplated on a face to face basis. You may have a totally different experience either way.

Technically speaking, animals should not be sold directly on Facebook according to its Terms and Conditions. There seems to be an element of tightening up on this. It is possible that you may still be able to advertise say, a stud or a stallion, but not actually offer any individual horses for sale. An individually tailored website would be better.

There is no minimum number of horses that someone needs to sell before being treated as a dealer. One might be enough. It is an issue that is very fact specific. If there is a pattern of buying and selling, returning a profit, then this might indicate a commercial dealer. There are fewer remedies against a private seller, but there are also many stories of what are colloquially known as “dodgy dealers”. Whilst it is worth making enquiries about dealers and their integrity, do remember that just because one person has had a bad experience with one, this does not mean that you will. Good dealers will want to protect their reputation for return business and word of mouth recommendations.

Rights and remedies differ greatly between purchasers from commercial sources and between individuals. Buying from auctions is generally reckoned to be quite risky, but in some areas of horse buying and selling it is the norm – racehorse sales for instance, but these will be attended by experienced buyers. Even embryos can be sold at auction. At most large auctions there will now be facilities for pre-sale inspection and post-sale vetting, with a time limit in which to return the horse post-sale if it proves unsuitable. You would need to study the auctioneer’s terms and conditions of sale carefully and see if this is available. The auctioneer will usually be selling as an agent of the vendor and anything the auctioneer says about the horse may actually be imputed to the seller.

Catalogue descriptions at auctions are generally supplied by the vendor and can sometimes amount to warranties – a sort of guarantee. Actual warranties will be noted, but you will also see “Sold without warranty”. This could be just the seller being cautious and the horse is perfectly fine, but it could be a red flag for a problem. Be careful if you discuss the horse with the owner prior to it going through the auction ring. The owner might say something at odds with the catalogue description or what the auctioneer has to say, and what they say may override the other descriptions.

For auction purposes, the buyer is not a consumer under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Advertisements

Look closely at advertisements. Some advertisements can contain wondrous claims for the horse but will not necessarily form a term of the eventual contract. These are called “mere puffs” and is wording designed to catch a buyer’s eye such that they make enquiries. Detail can be supplied later to an interested purchaser. Be sure to keep actual adverts in case of a later dispute.

Advertisements frequently have the letters “POA” in them. This means “price on application”, but there is a cynical perception that it actually means “You can’t afford it”. It can be embarrassing to phone about such a horse to hear that it is well out of your price range. It may also deter prospective buyers in the first place. Similarly, phrases such as “Sensible/realistic offers invited”. A seller’s idea of what is a sensible or realistic offer may be completely different to a buyer’s.

If you do contact a seller about a horse, many do not like to be contacted by text, especially if “text speak” with all its abbreviations is used. Some advertisements will specify no texts. If not, then a seller should not get annoyed if text is used. If you are giving a mobile number, then it is wise to specify which area of the country you are in. It is disappointing to be in Kent and see what looks like the horse for you – in Inverness.

Try not to ask questions that are answered in the advertisement already. It irritates sellers. If you do need to clarify something, then explain why – you need the pony to be definitely under 13.2 hh for showing classes, so ask whether the pony is measured out at 13.2 hh or whether it is believed 13.2 hh. The height can be checked before purchase, or you can decide not to even take the risk.

In the case of Davis v Metcalf, Mr Davis bought a horse in order to progress his dressage skills. Mr Davis alleged that the horse was not suitable for him and had been misrepresented to him. He alleged he had to give the horse away. He therefore sought damages from Mrs Metcalf, who was the original owner of the horse, though he actually bought the horse through selling agents at a commercial yard.

Mr Davis did not succeed in this part of his claim, but where he did succeed was in his allegation that the horse actually measured at 17.2hh and he said he had specifically wanted a horse no more than 17hh in order for it to fit in one of his two boxes. Recorder Khan found that this was a breach of contract under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, which was the law in force at the time of his purchase, and Mr Davis was awarded over £14,000 plus costs.

It would have been a simple matter to have the horse measured before sale, by the sellers if necessary to protect themselves and avoid an expensive court case.

The horse world also has its own particular language and phrases. For instance, horsy people would have a certain understanding of the phrase ‘perfect gentleman’ or ‘genuine schoolmaster’, but it is quite difficult to describe with any precision exactly what a horse so described would be like. A schoolmaster is generally thought to be a horse with a lot of experience able to teach you more than you can teach it. “Sold from the field” can mean literally that. You get what you see in the field or stable. It usually describes a horse that has had very little work, handling or training for a period of time. Some will be easy to bring back into work, some won’t. Some may make brood mares or companions. The horse may look scruffy, untrimmed and unfit when viewed. The seller is really making no comment at all about the horse and it will largely be up to you to decide whether you want to take the risk with it. There is likely to be little prospect of any comeback in buying a horse so described, but there are bargains for those with a good eye for what’s underneath.

Factual descriptions are much easier. If a horse is described as a 15.2 hh grey gelding, then that is what it must be. It must be 15.2 hh, grey and a gelding. See Davis v Metcalf above and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

You will often see advertisements that say, for instance, ‘100% box, shoe, catch and clip’. Has the advertiser merely forgotten the word ‘traffic’, or can the horse only be ridden in indoor schools? ‘Forward going’ – how far forward and how fast? ‘Brought on slowly for the last 2 years’ – why? Has it been lame for 18 months of the last two years or is it incredibly stubborn (or dim)? An advertisement has to tread a fine line between making the horse sound attractive and stressing its good points, but not making claims that are incorrect or that the horse does not live up to. Most people will take the wording of an advertisement with a pinch of salt, but it is possible for a purchaser to argue that they were induced by the wording of an advertisement to buy the horse. This is especially so if a horse is bought unseen, although this is not a recommended way to purchase. Advertisers should try and avoid terms such as ‘potential eventer’ or ‘will go far in the right hands’. That very much depends on the events and the hands. It would be safer to say something like “Eventing pedigree” or “By successful showjumping sire X” and leave the purchaser to assess the horse’s potential for themselves.

It helps when selling a horse if you have competition records, breeding, photos or videos of the horse doing what you claim it can do – but as a buyer, remember the horse may have been able to do that then and with that rider, but will not necessarily be the same with you. Many sellers now post videos on YouTube.

It will usually be apparent from the look and wording of the advertisement if the seller is a dealer or selling in some professional capacity, but if it is not, look for a ‘T’ at the end of the advertisement indicating ‘Trade’. Also, look for one advertisement offering a number of horses, or several advertisements all apparently offering only one horse in each, but with the same address or contact numbers. The advertisers may be dealers trying to conceal the fact. It is now quite easy to track these using the internet. You have more rights against a commercial vendor than a private one, using the Consumer Rights Act 2015 in particular, which has replaced the Sale of Goods Act 1979 for all sales and purchases after 1 October 2015 where one person is a “trader” and the other a non-trader, or “consumer”. If in doubt, ask a direct question as in “ Is this horse being sold in a commercial/business/trade/professional basis, or are you selling on a private basis?”. You could also ask whether they actually own the horse and have the legal right to sell it, or whether they are selling in on behalf of someone and if so, why.

Vices

You will frequently see the words ‘no vices’. Vices are specific bad habits or behaviour which a horse has and which may affect its health or its suitability for some types of work. They may not necessarily make it unsound for the purpose a buyer wants it, but could help or hinder its value, depending on whether you are buying or selling. There are two old cases which define vices and unsoundness. In Coates v. Stevens (1838) (2 Mood & R 157) unsoundness was described as:

If at the time of sale, the horse has any disease which either actually does diminish the natural usefulness of the animal, so as to make him less capable of work of any description, or which in its ordinary progress will diminish the actual usefulness of the animal, such an animal is unsound.’

A vice is described in the case of Scholefield v. Robb (1839) (2 Mood & R 210) as:

‘……a defect in the temper of the horse which makes it dangerous or diminishes its usefulness, or a bad habit which is injurious to its health’.

So a horse with say, navicular disease, making him suitable only for light hacking, would probably be unsound, but still possibly attractive to a buyer, whereas rearing would be a vice, being a ‘defect in the temper… making it dangerous’. An experienced rider may still accept this – at the right (low) price – in a horse which is otherwise what they are looking for, as they may well be able to cope with whatever the vice is.

A vice can however render a horse unsound – possibly a crib biter will damage its wind. A temporary unsoundness may not mean the horse is ‘unsound’, but it can constitute unsoundness at the time of sale. The seller may say it is curable and may even have veterinary evidence to that effect, but who knows? You pays your money, you takes your chance.

As a seller you will have to decide, when advertising, whether to disclose that the horse has a vice or other problems, or not. There is no legal requirement for you as the seller to do so at this stage, but if you do then at least your eventual purchasers cannot say they didn’t know about it. You will have to declare a vice at some point.

If the vice would be obvious to anyone who views or tries the horse – chronic weaving, a severe napping problem or an obvious physical defect for instance, then you might as well disclose it and have done with it, reflecting the problem in the price, otherwise you will waste a lot of potential buyers’ time, to say nothing of your own. Be truthful. Some buyers will not in fact mind the vice. There have been cases where vices have ceased in a different environment or under a different rider. If this happens then someone will have got a bargain, but usually the seller will have disposed of a potential problem horse.

When does a vice become a vice? Does a horse count as a rearer because it reared once, twice, several times but always in the same circumstances, e.g. when frightened by a dog? Does rearing to avoid going in the trailer count? It can be difficult to decide. If a vice manifests itself after purchase, an unscrupulous seller could easily say, ‘Well he never did that with me, it must be your riding/feed/lack of exercise and he will probably settle down’. It will be very difficult for the buyer to disprove this without enquiring deeply into the horse’s history and gathering evidence from people who have known the horse in the past. You may find that they are reluctant to comment or get involved. If you buy from a dealer, then even the most reputable dealers can only pass on the information they have been given about a horse on taking it to sell, or that they have noticed while the horse is in the yard. However, sometimes enquiries are not made too deeply! This can amount to reckless misrepresentation. If the horse has not shown evidence of a dangerous vice to the dealer, then he or she could even get round a specifically asked question, as indeed could a private seller, by saying something like ‘I’ve never seen it do that’ or ‘Not to my knowledge’.

You should also ask whether the seller is selling on their own behalf as owner, or whether they are acting as an agent for someone else. This can be in a private or dealer capacity. The law of agency is complicated and if something goes wrong where you have bought from someone acting as, or purporting to act as, an agent, it is best to take legal advice on the specifics of any potential dispute or claim. The main thing is that both the owner and the seller could be liable and much depends on what the actual owner has told the seller about the horse. It could be implied that the actual seller and agent has the same knowledge as the owner. It might make a difference as to who you decide to make a claim against if you do. The owner may be in financial difficulties, hence selling the first place, so any judgment may be unenforceable as there’s no money. A commercial dealer and seller as agent might have insurance that could meet a claim.

In Habton Farms v Christopher N Nimmo and another [2003] EWCA Civ 68, an appeal case, the details are quite complex, but it was found that the first defendant, Christopher Nimmo acted as an agent to sell a racehorse to Habton where he had no apparent or ostensible authority to do so. The case was concluded by Habton being awarded £70,000 in damages for breach of warranty of authority.

Another case to look at on agency is John Palmer v Patricia Muir [2014] EWCA Civ 309, again an appeal, where the judgment in the first case was confusing. The case was sent back to the County Court to be sorted out.

Another important thing to watch is that the seller, agent or owner, has the ability to “pass title” on sale. “Title” is the legal term meaning that you do actually own the horse in law, not just as a physical object and that you have the legal right to sell it such that the new owner actually legally owns it. You “have title”, which you can pass on and then the new owner will “have title”. An agent may be authorized to legally sell the horse for someone and have the authority to “pass title”.

If you don’t have title, you cannot legally pass it. Title is not passed in theft for instance, as the thief does not have it. There is another important example. If you legally have a horse on loan, then it will still belong to the owner and you cannot legally sell it and pass title, as you don’t have it. As the horse is legally in your possession in the first place, then this is not theft, but it is something called “conversion”. Theft is taking property from someone else with the intent of permanently depriving that person of it. Conversion is a civil, not a criminal matter. No matter how many times the horse is sold on after the first sale, title still remains with the legal owner. If the owner discovers the horse has been sold and tracks it down, they can legally take the horse back, with no obligation to compensate the “owner”, who is not, of course, the true owner as they do not have title. Thus, the last “owner” can be out of pocket, though they do have the right to seek compensation from the previous “owner” and so on to the point at which the “conversion” took place.

A case on conversion is (1) Joelle Triplot (2) Mercedes Destine v Joan Whetter [2011] EWCH 931 (QB), which discusses what someone claiming conversion has to show to have the horses returned. It was deemed sufficient for the owners to show they were in lawful possession at the time the horses were allegedly “stolen”. They did not have to show they were legal owners; that the horses had in fact been stolen or that a particular thief had been identified.


Other defects

What about the phrase ‘sold as seen’? If a defect is obviously there to be seen, then you may well be assumed to have seen it, particularly if you have been given the freedom to check over and try the horse as you like and/or have it vetted. If you notice something and comment on it, then if you go on to buy the horse, you could be deemed to have accepted it with the defect unless you have been misled. If it is something not obvious, even on inspection, or something only the vendor could know and hasn’t said, then the phrase may not protect the vendor. The law is unclear on this point, but it is doubtful if writing these words on a receipt will absolutely protect the vendor where there is a problem with the horse that really should have been disclosed.

As a buyer, be a little wary of evasive answers. Although “caveat emptor” or “buyer beware” is not always applicable in law (it is mainly used in private sales), as a buyer it is wise to assume it does. There are some horses which are just so dangerous that they are morally not safe to sell on unless the buyer is extremely experienced and knows exactly what they are taking on and the problems are reflected in the price. In some cases it is best to have the horse put down rather than sell it on. You may even be able to claim recompense under your insurance policy if you have to do this.

Questions to ask when buying

As a prospective buyer, make a short-list of the qualities of the horse you want. Then throw it away and make a sensible list of the qualities of the horse you need. Look at the advertisements to make a short-list of the horses that match the requirements from your list. Contact the ones that seem suitable in terms of height, type, cost, etc. and ask a few more questions such as what is the horse’s experience, the reason for selling, how long have they owned the horse, is it presently in regular work if not obvious from the advertisement.

Videos

Videos of horses are becoming quite a common selling tool, but do remember that they are a video of a horse at that time in a certain environment and with a certain rider, and it may not be the same for you. Ask when photos or videos were taken. They can at least, however, be evidence that the horse does have the level of capability or attributes claimed. They can also be helpful if a problem comes to light following purchase, such as lameness. The video can be scrutinized to see if there is any evidence of it being there pre-purchase. This helps when trying to argue that a defect was pre-existing.

Viewing the horse

If the horse still seems suitable, arrange to go and see it. Take a written list of questions with you, as you will always forget to ask something. Below are examples of the type of questions you might want to ask, but these are not exhaustive and you must always have in mind what is important for you:

  • Is there any independent evidence of the horse’s age? Horses are required to have passports, but these can be “lost” when it comes to selling or have been changed.

  • Does the horse have a height/age certificate if that is important, and can you see it? See Davis v Metcalf above. It is really your job to verify information of this nature and not the vet’s job at the time of vetting. You will need to ask specifically for this to be done, though the vet may not want the responsibility. Has the horse been shown in height classes and there has been no objection?

  • Does the horse have papers if they are important, and can you see them, particularly originals, not copies?

  • Is the horse fully vaccinated? This may be important if you want to compete; if vaccinations are not up-to-date, you may have to start them all over again and thus there will be a delay before you can compete. At vetting, the vet will not necessarily pick up this point.

  • Watch if he has shoes on or not. He may be deliberately “barefoot” in which case his feet should look well looked after nonetheless, but is it a sign of a foot/shoeing problem?

  • What has the horse been doing? If the advertisement says ‘Has competed at medium level dressage’, when did it last do so? How many times and where placed? Are there any photos, competition records or videos available? Can hunts verify he has hunted with them?

  • Is the horse fit and ready to go, if that is what you need?

  • If the horse has had a long period off, why?

  • How long have the vendors had the horse and why is it being sold? Does the reason seem plausible?

  • Is the horse presently insured? Has insurance ever been refused, a claim made, or are there any exclusions?

  • Is it a ‘loss of use’ horse? Watch out for a freeze marked ‘L’ on the horse to indicate an insurance “loss of use” write-off, although not all horses are yet so marked. A loss of use horse may only have lost its “main” use, but still be able to perform to a useful level. If you buy a loss of use horse, you should not use it for the reason it was so downgraded, as this could mean the insurance money might need to be paid back if the loss was not genuine.

  • If a mare, has she bred any foals? Can they be seen? An obvious question in buying a brood mare, but helpful if you are thinking of breeding.

Ask specific questions. ‘Does he get strong when cantering out?’ Try him out on this in due course – safely. ‘Is he easy to handle in the stable?’ Again, test this out. Lead him in and out of the stable, pick his feet up, brush him over, tack him up, etc. ‘You say he is good in traffic. Do you mean he is all right with everything or are there some things he is not too keen on, tractors for instance?’ Take him onto the road, but be careful. Does he hack alone or need company?

Check that the horse really is good to catch, box, etc. by asking to see this done if possible and doing it yourself if safe to do so. Arrive a little early to view and see if the horse is already in and tacked up. This could indicate problems with both. Is the top of the stable door chewed if he is in his usual box – this could indicate crib biting, which is a vice. This could be hidden under a rug placed over the door, so check under it and ask if chewed!

Checking whether the horse is good to clip and shoe may be a little more difficult. If they are clipped neatly in appropriate weather for their use, it is probably a sign of good horse management, but you could ask directly whether they need any sort of restraint or sedation for clipping.

You can ask any direct questions you like. Note the replies to your checklist and tick as you go through.

Finally, you can ask the all purpose question, ‘Is there anything you should tell me or that I should know about this horse that might affect whether I buy it or not?’ You may be met with an amused silence. The seller might say: “Well, I’ve no idea what would affect your decision!” However, as a seller, if you are totally open with a prospective buyer, there is less prospect of them being able to return the horse if they discover problems later – see the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and misrepresentations.

It is not always the sellers who are the bad guys. If you as a seller know or genuinely believe that you have sold a good horse honestly described, then if someone tries to return it for what you think is a spurious or invented reason, or they threaten to sue you, you may be inclined to let them try. If you are on sure ground, you will often hear no more about it, but if they are foolish enough to pursue it, you will likely have a good defence.

Trying out the horse

As a buyer, always give the horse as much of a test run as possible before buying. Let the seller ride the horse first, so you can get an idea of whether it looks an easy ride or whether the seller looks to be struggling or riding in an unorthodox fashion. If they refuse, or have some excuse, note this as a warning sign to be checked out. If the horse looks to be somewhat unsafe, or you have any doubts, this may make up your mind there and then without the need for you to ride. But if you do then try the horse out knowing or suspecting that it is or might be unsafe to ride and there is an accident and injury, you may not be able to make a claim against the seller, or you may be at least partly responsible yourself. It is also the case that most riders are fully aware that any horse can misbehave in the form of rearing, bucking, spooking or similar for no reason. At some point along the line, you are going to actually get on the horse if you intend to buy it for riding and not just to admire in a field! Even well known show jumper Tim Stockdale has been injured trying new horses, so it can happen to anyone and is not always someone’s fault. In Tim’s 2017 fall, the horse tripped on landing over a fence and Tim’s collarbone was broken.

Kara Goldsmith v Robert Bradley [2012] EWCA Civ 183, was an appeal from an unsuccessful Animals Act 1971 claim by the claimant, Ms Goldsmith. She had been riding a horse, “Red”, who was in the care of Mr Patchcott, who was the keeper, with a view to buying him or taking him on. She tried him several times and on the last occasion, he bucked and Ms Patchcott was thrown and injured. Red was not known to buck previously, though he was said to require an experienced rider, which Ms Patchcott said in evidence she was and used to riding “challenging” horses. As such, she knew that horses could buck and/or spook for no apparent reason.

In Court, she was asked that knowing horses could do this:

“…….in going up there [getting on the horse], you were really accepting the risks that are involved in riding horses, weren’t you?”

To which she replied:

Well, as I said, you take a risk riding any horse”

She contradicted herself at the appeal and said she hadn’t been aware of the risk of the horse rearing and bucking violently and she would not have got on it had she known. However, the damage seemed to have been done as she lost her appeal as well.

But if the horse does have a definite tendency to misbehave in a certain way, over and above what any horse might do unexpectedly from time to time, as a seller, it is probably wise to make this clear so the potential buyer cannot argue lack of knowledge. It will not bother some people; if it does, it’s not the horse for them anyway, so it saves the arguments later.

Some vendors will not have facilities for you to do as much as you would like, but do not accept excuses such as, ‘The saddle has gone for adjustment’, ‘He has just had his tea and shouldn’t be ridden’, or ‘I daren’t let you out alone and I don’t have anyone to accompany you’. The seller knows you are coming and should have thought of this.

You are going to be handling and riding the horse and you must be satisfied that it suits your needs, or the needs of the person you are buying it for. You are looking for a willingness on the part of the seller to give you as much opportunity as possible in the circumstances available to assess the horse for yourself. This protects the seller as well. If you have been given every opportunity to satisfy yourself that the horse is what you want, there is less chance of a comeback later. Do be prepared to say thank you but the horse is not for me, if you have any doubts. There will be other horses.

Take with you an experienced person who knows your level of riding and horse experience, unless you are experienced yourself, but even then an objective eye can be useful. Your riding instructor would usually be suitable. They can also act as a witness to what was said and how the horse went, in case of a dispute, though they may not be considered independent. An honest seller may also want a witness available, for the same reason. On the other hand a seller who may have been inclined to be less than honest might be put off selling to you if you appear to be well organised, know what you want and are prepared to try the horse out thoroughly. They would prefer to sell to someone more gullible.

Do not turn up with your best friends who just want a free ride. This will not bring out the best in the seller.

Unless you are absolutely sure at the time, sleep on it before you buy. If need be, leave a deposit to reserve the horse. You may lose the deposit if you don’t proceed with the purchase, so make a clear agreement with the seller whether the deposit is refundable or not and in what circumstances, such as a failed vetting. A relatively small loss is better than a hasty and regrettable decision in buying the wrong horse, or losing what could be your perfect horse.

Vetting

In all cases it is recommended that you get the horse vetted and have a blood test and possibly x-rays or scans taken as part of the vetting procedure. It costs more but it may deter someone from selling you a horse they have drugged or sedated, and it is extremely useful evidence afterwards if you are trying to show that you were misled.

Trial periods

Some sellers, private or more usually commercial, will allow a trial period, or they will allow you to return the horse within a given time for specific reasons or even if you just change your mind. This would be in addition to your rights in actual law and does not displace them, but be careful you do not let the time limits on your legal rights lapse whilst arguing the seller’s own terms and conditions. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 allows 30 days to return goods for a full refund. Don’t spend two months arguing with the seller, as you may well lose those rights. Such an agreement will form part of the terms and conditions of sale. Many dealers only allow a replacement, which can cause difficulties if the dealer doesn’t have or obtain a suitable replacement within a reasonable time. You may remain without your money or a horse, especially if there are no grounds for a refund or exchange in law, such as you’ve just changed your mind.

Private sellers will be more reluctant to allow a trial period, which is understandable. Trial periods can in themselves be subject to certain conditions and during the trial period you will be required to take proper care of the horse so as to be able to return it in the same condition as it came to you. In either case, private or commercial, ensure that you have appropriate and adequate insurance for the trial period, however short and have a contract drawn up as to the terms of the trial. A seller can offer a trial on the basis that the horse stays with them, but the potential buyer can come and see the horse again at any reasonable time for up to a certain date. This works best if you have good trial facilities and hacking. It is not recommended that the potential buyer is allowed to compete or go hunting on trial, as the risks then increase probably beyond a “reasonable” level.

Concluding the deal

Try to decide whether to purchase or not as soon as you can, so that the seller knows they can continue to market the horse or not. You will see the phrase “time waster”. One person’s time waster is another’s buyer being cautious and careful before parting with possibly a large amount of money for a horse they hope to get pleasure from for many years.

Once you have decided to purchase, try to close the sale as soon and as simply as possible. There have been instances where, for instance, buyers are looking for horses in a period before they are going on a 3 week holiday. Of course, if the perfect horse pops up coincidentally, there is nothing much to be done, as it wasn’t planned. But otherwise, why not wait until after the holiday, which then removes the need for complicated “holding“ arrangements with the seller, during which time anything could happen?

Pay the purchase price with the minimum of fuss. The horse becomes yours only once the price is paid over. Until that point it remains the property of the owner and usually their risk, unless agreed otherwise. The horse should remain insured during this time, with an insurance policy in place for when the new owner takes over. Most people will require a cheque to clear, or a BACS transfer to appear in their account. If you can pay cash, this might pave the way for some negotiation on price; similarly if you can take the horse quickly.

Agreeing to payment by instalments is not recommended, as anything could happen to the purchaser and their finances during the payment period. Full or part exchanges might be a possibility, but there should be written evidence, signed by both parties as to just what the agreement is and what money, if any, has changed hands, to avoid arguments later.

It is possible to pay by credit card. If you do and something goes wrong, such that you may have a claim in breach of contract or in misrepresentation, then under s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, you may be able to obtain a remedy from the credit card company if the horse cost between £100 and £30,000. This is a complex area of law and may not apply in your specific circumstances, but it is worth investigating further if you think it might be of use. Basically, the seller and the credit card company can be equally liable.

In Blass v Randall, Dr Blass seems to have made life a little difficult for herself in terms of proposed payment. This was her suggestion:

Just to confirm our conversation, I will buy Pinky subject to vetting which is being carried out on Monday [13 June 2005] by Sarah Randall. I will insure him Monday and I will treat him as one of mine once he has passed the vetting. I will not, however, pay for his livery until Woody [another horse of Dr Blass] is sold which is anticipated to be in the next 2 weeks.

In consideration for Pinky, I will pay you a £10,000 cheque, assign you my lorry R369 UMO and give you the money from selling Woody. Depending on how much we get for Woody, I will also pay you a maximum of a further £5000 in January 2006 (if we get £15k for Woody, then you take 10% sales fee and £3.5k towards the January payment; if Woody only fetches £10k then that will be the contribution towards Pinky at the moment).

If Woody does not pass the vet then it had better be serious as he is insured, but I will look into cashing an investment to raise the further £10k but this will delay this part of payment by 3 months. However, given the amount I have spent getting Woody checked out to no avail I fully expect him to pass the vet!

Regarding saddler, Pinky’s Ideal saddle will come with him and I will give you Picasso’s Jaguar as soon as I am able to buy him another saddle (waiting on Gary so I can try the Elevator. This is a priority for me so I am not playing for time here).

In summary- the purchase price is £25k plus the lorry (payment in instalments) and at no time will I end up paying for the livery of 4 horses. Hopefully on Monday I’ll be giving you the keys to the lorry (and documents) and the first cheque”

All clear?

Passports

Since 2009, under European Commission legislation 504/2008, the Horse Passports Regulations 2009 and the Horse Identification (Scotland Regulations) 2009, all owners have been required to obtain a passport for their horses, ponies and donkeys by either 31st December of the year they were born, or within 6 months of birth, whichever is later. They must also be microchipped at the same time, which has to be implanted by a vet, with the passport and microchip number being registered on the database of the passport issuing body. There should also be a national database, but this is not yet implemented. The idea was that any horse not so passported will be certified as unfit for human consumption, as the passport should contain details of medicines given to the horse and thus any with drugs in their body which could be injurious to humans can be identified and kept out of the human food chain if necessary. The passport can also be endorsed and signed as “Not intended for human consumption”. Vets should check the passport as to whether a horse is so certified as it could affect the way they treat the horse. Under the Regulations, horses with passports issued after 2009 will be considered available for the human food chain unless the endorsement is completed. If the endorsement is present, then the medicines given to a horse need not appear on the passport itself, as self evidently, the horse will not – should not – be considered eligible for the human food chain anyway.

You will need the horses passport on purchase and should be a little cautious about horses sold without them. They may be described as “lost” or to be sent on, but it is best to see the actual passport before actually buying.

On purchase, the buyer has to send the passport to the authorized Passport Issuing Organisation which originally supplied the passport within 30 days of purchase with details of the new owner, see www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/id-move/horses/horsepasport.htm. Failure to do this is an offence and can incur a fine. There can be only one passport, though it can be “overstamped”, indicating registration with another organisation or society. Horses may not be moved without their passport and you can be asked to produce it.

Keepers with “primary responsibility” for the horse, such as people with a horse on loan or where a horse is in full livery or in racing training would be expected to have the passport. This should be kept securely, possibly in a fireproof safe and available for production. The owner should obtain “certified copies” of the original, endorsed as such by a solicitor and these will sometimes be accepted as valid copies of the original where the original is lost or stolen (though it will need replacing) or to be sent to an insurer if the horse is on loan. It can be an offence for such people to keep a horse that does not have a passport.

You will also need to obtain any other papers or documents that the horse has, such as a pedigree, or registration with a breed society, the latter needing to be amended to show new owner details.

As a buyer, once you accept that you will never buy the 100% perfect horse 100% of the time you are being realistic. Most sales and purchases of horses go through with no problems. Most sellers are honest and genuine people selling for a good reason or in the course of their business. Dealers do get a bad press, but the good ones will know that reputation is all and they will want repeat business.

If anyone in any sphere sets out to deliberately deceive, they will sometimes go to lengths that seem unbelievable.

In June 2016, horse dealers Aniela Jurecka and Charlotte Johnson were found guilty after a 14 week trial in Maidstone Court of “conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation”. They were later sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment, half in a prison and half on licence out of prison. Sentenced at the same time was vet David Smith who had colluded with the two women in selling ill, injured and dangerous horses in what was called a “large scale fraud”.

Not only were they literally putting customers lives at risk, but there were welfare issues in selling such horses. Mr Smith was in complete disregard of his veterinary oath in passing the horses as fit. He also supplied drugs for the horses to make them appear placid and even tempered, plus masking health problems. Some of the horses even had to be put down after sale to new owners due to the nature and extent of their illnesses and injuries.

Text messages were used in evidence showing clearly that the parties were selling these horses in full knowledge that they were not as represented to prospective buyers and showed a complete lack of concern for welfare issues. The judge in the case remarked:

The animals were said to be like unexploded bombs…..but they had been advertised, presented and certified as docile and suitable for beginners. That was wicked and dangerous and criminal”

He also highlighted how the case damaged the public’s perception of dealers, vets and the equine industry as a whole.

Not all of the horses sold were at rock bottom prices, which might have been a warning bell.

The case was reported in Horse and Hound at www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/aniela-jurecka-charlotte-johnson-david -smith-guilty-543362.

A further case, again by coincidence in Maidstone County Court is that of Karen Ruston who pleaded guilty to 11 offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, plus passport offences. She sold horses under similar circumstances and her conduct was described as “repellent….and an exploitation of people who love horses”. Again, the case was reported in Horse and Hound in March 2016.

It is difficult to see how a genuine buyer can protect themselves against people who will go to such lengths. You can avoid problems to a large extent by considering the following points:

  • Do your preparation and homework before buying. Don’t be rushed into buying something you are not sure of. There is always another horse out there.

  • Be realistic as to your ability and needs. If you overhorse yourself you will get problems, but they will not necessarily be the seller’s fault.

  • Do listen to your instincts.

  • Don’t pay out more than you could comfortably afford to write off if everything goes completely wrong. In particular, do not put yourself into debt unnecessarily to purchase a horse. Horses are worth what people will pay for them. If you have a nagging feeling that you are paying more for a horse than you either wanted to or you should be, then you probably are. If this doesn’t matter to you, then go ahead and stop worrying. It’s your money, you can do what you like with it. If it will worry you for years afterwards that you might have paid ‘too much’ for a horse, or you can’t really afford it, then don’t pay it. The horse that is right for you will be worth its price.

  • Do be aware that any sort of litigation with what might be termed the ‘average’ horse can be uneconomic and sometimes you will have no other option than just to lose money and put it down to experience.

  • Don’t fall in love with a horse just because of its four white socks/long mane and tail/ability to eat a mint from its owner’s mouth. Do try not to buy out of sympathy, unless you understand fully why you are buying the horse and you have the time and the facilities to sort it out. Equally, don’t take on a horse such as a rehabilitated thoroughbred just because you think it will be a cheap way of getting a well-bred horse. It won’t, and those who are involved in the rehabilitation and rehoming of rescued or problem animals are in the main extremely fussy about where they go.

  • Buy as far as you can from someone with a reasonable and widespread reputation who has been in the business for a while and can offer such things as a money back or exchange scheme and a trial period, or if you are buying from a private individual buy from someone recommended. This will not always be possible and in practice most people rely for their purchases on advertisements in the many horse publications or in their local saddlery.

  • Do try the horse as far as possible and get it vetted. This is an area of horse law where prevention is easily better than cure.

Horse and Hound itself and other horse magazines such as Your Horse, Horse and Horse and Rider run regular articles on buying and selling horses.

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