Horse Business And Laws

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Horsemen are traditionalists, but sooner or later we’re all going to have to face the reality that the world around us is changing rapidly and our traditional methods of operation won’t always serve us in the future.

Land is being closed to foxhunters and trail riders. New subdivisions don’t want manure piles next door. Legal documents replace gentlemen’s agreements. Government agencies don’t understand the concerns of horsemen and don’t care.

A prime example is the experience of the urban-area riding stable in Delaware that traded chores for riding lessons (see page 23). The local children loved it and so did their parents. The stable’s management was thrilled to offer an opportunity to kids to learn to ride who couldn’t have afforded it otherwise.

After many years of operating this way, the state department of labor stepped in and said the operation violated child-labor laws. The state considered the stable a recreational facility, like a golf course, and not a farm. The working student program was cut back.

Many states allow leeway in labor laws for agricultural operations, but horse operations aren’t always legally considered “farms.” A simple barter system of trading labor for lessons or boarding isn’t so simple when the issues of workman’s compensation and insurance are thrown in.

Just who’s an employee and who’s a volunteer becomes a serious issue when you’re dealing with for-profit businesses rather than true non-profit organizations. A business that is in operation to make a profit usually isn’t allowed to use “volunteers.” This could mean a for-profit farm that holds a horse show must pay minimum wage and have papers for everyone who helps out at the show. Or if a boarder wants to pick out her own stall, she may not be allowed to do so by local law. Many people couldn’t afford to hold horse shows, clinics or even have boarders if there were laws like this in their state, but they do exist in many areas.

Most stables and horse farms run on a narrow margin of profit, if any, and that’s with long hours of labor. State and local laws that affect such facilities vary widely and change often. It’s tough to keep up and even tougher when new license fees are added on top of higher insurance rates and rising property taxes.

Horsemen, however, often fail to understand that those not involved with horses may regard them as elitist and their horses as big pests.

If horse operations are to survive and prosper, they must not take the attitude that they are immune to population and bureaucratic encroachment. They need to be aware of plans to change laws and local zoning that will unfairly affect them and could put them out of business.

Horsemen must also be aware of all existing state and local regulations and tax laws that already cover them. If these laws are violated, however innocently, the penalties could be overwhelming. Then the price of ignorance could put them out of business.

’Til Next Month,

-Margaret Freeman