Are Horses 'Innately Vicious?'

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A Connecticut Supreme Court will hear an appeal today about a boy bitten by a horse in 2006, according to an Associated Press story in today?s paper.? The story says that the boy tried to pet the horse, and the horse stuck his neck out from behind a fence and bit the child on the cheek.

Apparently, the initial ruling, in 2010, was that ?the child's father, Anthony Vendrella Sr., failed to prove the owner knew of previous incidents of aggression by Scuppy (the horse).?? The horse was not known to bite anyone before, so there was no foreseeable reason to believe the horse was vicious and, therefore, no case. But then began the appeals process.

In 2012, an Appellate Court over-ruled the 2010 decision, stating that the owner of the horse demonstrated that ?Scuppy belongs to ?a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious.?" Therefore, the owner of the horse was responsible. Yes, you read that right: Horses are naturally inclined to be vicious.

Of course, I cannot believe that was what Scuppy?s owner meant in his testimony, but it's what the jury believed. Now, it's at the state Supreme Court in an appeal to return it to the 2010 ruling. Mercifully, usually Supreme Court decisions are sensible.

it's scary, though. If the 2012 ruling is allowed to stand, Connecticut will become the first state to consider horses inherently dangerous.? That is very bad for those of us who own horses, starting with our ability to obtain affordable equine liability insurance or, potentially, any insurance policy that doesn't exclude horses.

If you don't believe me, talk to dog owners. Insurance-coverage problems dog owners experience include higher premiums and/or exclusions related to dog incidents, meaning you're not covered if your dog bites someone (and a scratch can be classified as a ?bite?). ?Of course, owners of ?known aggressive breeds,? like Akitas, Malamutes, Chow Chows, Dobermans, German Shepherds and Pit Bulls, are usually targeted, but every dog owner should read his or her homeowner?s policy carefully before signing.

Is that justified' I don't think so. I believe I would point to the stupid owner, not the dog. it's unfair to categorize responsible dog owners in the same group as idiots who think it's cute to have a dog that growls.

Still, the American Humane Association?s website states there are 8 million dog-bite incidents a year, with insurances paying out more than $1 billion per year due to that problem. Approximately 240 incidents per year are fatal, with over 25 different dog breeds involved. It makes you see the insurance underwriter?s point.

I couldn?t find what I considered a reliable site for horse-bite incidents. The information I readily found for horse-related injuries seemed old to me, although tHere's a widespread belief that approximately 20 people are killed by horses each year (heavily due to riding accidents). And about 78 million of us visit the emergency room for an equine-related incident each year.? One chat room insisted that there is a 20% chance that you'll be injured by a horse. That seems high, and they didn't define ?injured.?

I've been stomped on my right foot so many times that I'm sure if I had an X-ray, the radiologist would be horrified by my mangled foot bones. I never went to an emergency room for any of the stomps, so even if someone was counting, it wouldn?t have been known. (I did go to the ER for a potential head injury, of course.)

While horse people will continue to be a tough lot, too busy to ?waste? time in medical care (?I'll be fine. it's a long ways from my heart!), those who do wisely seek medical help will likely become a statistic next year. (Yes, it's ALWAYS wise to seek medical help any time you're injured, no matter how small the problem or how busy you are! Otherwise, you have put yourself at risk.)

On the near horizon, tHere's a change that may help. The federally mandated World Health Organization?s 2014 medical diagnosis codes will include subsets for how people are injured. It will track what you injured, how it happened and even if it's the first time you?ve been seen for such a problem or if it's a second incident, i.e. is this the first time you?ve been bitten by a horse or did it happen before'

it's believed organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) will use this information for tracking injuries and illnesses, disease control, research and education of the medical community.

Without getting into that looming ?invasion of privacy? issue, the good news is that I believe it should help prove that horses are not ?innately vicious,? in that most accidents are the result of someone doing something stupid and the horse reacting in an unexpected manner.

Whichever way this case goes, ?nothing excludes our responsibility as horse owners to do our best to ensure that people who visit our property conduct themselves in a safe, sensible manner to avoid potential unexpected incidents. ?Because, unfortunately, in this liability-driven world, we could find ourselves facing mega legal expenses, even when the incident was not foreseeable and well beyond our control.