Boarders vs. Barn Owners

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When it comes to horses, we frequently have to roll the dice and hope for the best. This may make you think of buying a horse or finding a trainer, but one of the biggest gambles of all is boarding your horse.

In most cases, the rights of the barn owner are stacked against those of the horse owner, and the old saying that ?the house always wins? will apply. THere's a good reason for this.

The ?house? (the boarding facility) doesn't belong to you. It belongs to an individual or a company which, in exchange for money, has opened its doors to provide care and shelter to your horse. More often than not, boarding is a business, and the rules of the boarding game usually favor the stable owner.

However, the law holds that anyone who boards horses for money must provide a reasonably safe environment and must use reasonable care in boarding your horse. The legal definition of ?reasonable? is a standard for what is fair and appropriate under usual and ordinary circumstances?in other words, the way a rational and just person would act (a nebulous definition to be sure and one that is debated in virtually every negligence lawsuit ever brought to court).

In the legal world. horse boarding falls into bailment. A bailment is the act of placing property (your horse) in the custody and control of another, usually by agreement in which the bailee (the stable owner) is responsible for the safe keeping of the property.

If the bailment is gratuitous (not for pay), the standard of care may be that the stable owner would face liability only if grossly negligent. If the bailment is for pay, the stable owner owes an affirmative duty of ordinary, reasonable care.

For boarding, the ordinary reasonable care standard is a low threshold and basically requires a safe environment, with adequate feed and water. Few horse owners would agree that is sufficient to quality horse care. Thus, a more detailed written agreement that spells out in precise, thorough terms the parameters of care and the duties of both parties is essential to protecting you and your horse when boarding.

The failure or refusal of a barn manager to present you with a written boarding contract to review should serve as a red flag that the boarding establishment may be lax and unprofessional.

THE BOARDING CONTRACT. Before entering into a boarding contract, do your homework. Ask friends what they know about the stable. Visit the barn prior and meet with the barn owner and manager.

Inspect the barn and pastures for safety and cleanliness. Check for ?No Smoking? signs. Look for other potential fire hazards.

Inspect hay, feed and storage. Look at the appearance of the other horses and assess their general nutritional and health status. Inquire about the personnel and their training. Observe the manner in which they interact with the horses. Ask about vet and farrier services. Additionally, ask if the barn has insurance, and try to get a feel for the financial stability of the facility.

Before signing anything, make sure that you're dealing with a person who has the authorization to enter into a contract on behalf of the stable. A good boarding contract legally binds and commits to writing the agreement between the stable owner and horse owner as to the care, feeding and protection of the horse. It should include provisions regarding fees, payments, feed, facilities, services, standard of care, liability, rules of the barn, right of lien, storage of property on premises, emergency care, changes and termination of the agreement and jurisdictional enforcement.

The preamble of the contract should include the names, addresses, cell and land phone numbers, and e-mails of both the boarding facility owner (and stable manager if it is a different person) and the boarder. The effective date of the contract should be stated. The horse's full registered and nickname should be stated along with a description, including its breed, age, sex, color and other distinguishing markings.

The contract should clearly state the exact cost of the board as well as any additional fees that will be incurred for such services as feeding supplements, blanketing, or turnout. The contract should state whether the board is to be paid weekly or monthly, on what day the payment is due, who can accept payment, whether there is a grace period and the amount of late fees.

Most stables will also include in their contracts a provision concerning the enforcement of a lien in the event of non-payment of board.

The contract should also address liability of the parties in the event of injury, sickness or death of your horse. Usually, the contract will disclaim any liability on the part of the stable owner for such events in the absence of negligence.

it's not mandated for the stable owner to carry general commercial liability and care, custody and control insurance policies, so boarders are advised to carry their own liability, major medical and mortality insurance policies. Most contracts have a ?hold harmless? clause that protects the barn owner from damage or injury caused by your horse.

Of particular importance is a contract provision regarding emergency care for your horse when you can't be reached. The stable owner and horse owner should clearly plan for this situation by stating in the contract who is authorized to secure emergency veterinary care, what veterinarian will be contacted, and how the veterinary care will be paid. The contract should also have explicit provisions concerning euthanasia.

The contract should include provisions for how routine care such as vaccinations, farrier care, deworming and dental services will be provided and how they will be billed to the horse owner. Ask ahead to determine if the stable adds a surcharge to these fees.

Finally, a boarding contract should spell out the rules and regulations of the barn and the hours of access and facility use.

BOTTOM LINE. While contracts are considered the written manifestation of the meetings of the minds, an agreement that is mutually beneficial to both sides, if you read your boarding contract carefully, you will notice that aside from providing a basic, ordinary, and reasonable standard of care for your horse, there are few rights ascribed to you as the horse owner. We have a sample contract available, which is posted with this article online at www.horse-journal.com. See?BOARDING AGREEMENT.

?Article by Contributing Writer Susan Quinn, Esq.