It's easy to tick off a list of very expensive horses who clearly ought to be insured: million-dollar racehorses, Olympic-caliber sport horses, elite breeding stallions. The annual premiums are small price to pay to offset the financial losses that would be involved if these horses were injured or worse. It also makes sense to insure a seasoned hunter, a promising young cutting horse and a productive broodmare; these horses represent years of investment and effort, and even if they are not a major source of income, you'd probably feel the loss in many ways if anything should happen to them.
But where do you draw the line? Is it wise to insure your "weekend warrior" who picks up a few ribbons every summer at local shows? What about your backyard trail horse? Or your daughter's Shetland? Does equine insurance make sense for horses who aren't or may never be worth large sums of money? Many people would answer "Yes," says Jorene Mize, an independent insurance agent from Lancaster, California. "You'd be amazed at the number of $2,500 horses that are insured. A horse is a major financial investment, regardless of purchase price. The ongoing upkeep and maintenance is costly too, and people want to protect their investments."
The number of equine insurance policies available to horse owners can seem overwhelming, ranging from loss of use to international transit coverage. Some insurers even offer policies to protect a horse owner's tack. For those who operate equine businesses, the list of available policies is even longer: liability for trainers, property and liability coverage for farm owners, even insurance to cover a stallion's or mare's fertility.
However, the basic types of equine insurance coverage purchased by most horse owners are mortality and major medical policies, which roughly correspond to life and health insurance for people. Generally, mortality insurance reimburses a horse owner if the horse dies. Depending on the policy, the owner may receive payment for the full or partial value of the horse. Medical and surgical policies cover the costs associated with treatment of an injury or illness. An owner can purchase mortality coverage alone, but medical and surgical policies are generally available only in combination with mortality.
Given how time-consuming it can be to research different equine insurance policies, it may be tempting to simply gather a handful of quotes and pick the policy with the lowest premium. If you do, however, you'll risk overlooking some key differences among the equine insurance options. "Every insurance company and policy is unique," says Rich Maggard of West Coast Equine Insurance Services in Central Point, Ore. "You're not comparing apples to apples, so you can't rely on premiums alone to make a decision."
That's where an insurance agent can help. A good agent will be able answer your questions and help clarify the sometimes confusing language found in policy statements. Some agents work for a single insurance company; others operate as independent brokers representing a large pool of carriers. Many agents sell a wide range of consumer and commercial insurance policies, but some concentrate on equine insurance. Whatever an agent's professional specialization, experience with horses is crucial, says Mize. "I'm a horse owner, and I know that's partly why a lot of people choose me as their agent. The layperson isn't going to know the terminology if you start talking about navicular or founder. They're not going to be able to interpret your show records."
Whether you're working with an agent or doing your own legwork, it's wise to educate yourself on the basics of equine insurance. Here's a general overview of common types of coverage, exclusions--circumstances under which a policy will not pay--and procedures, along with some guidelines for evaluating different policies and determining how best to protect your interests.
Every horse has value. Though not pleasant thought, it's important to consider what it would cost to replace your horse if he should die. Are you prepared to pay the cost yourself, or do you need an equine insurance policy that will help to bear the burden?
Most mortality policies cover virtually any cause of death, including natural occurrences such as colic as well as fatal injuries resulting from accidents, fire, lightning and other causes. Frequently, humane destruction and theft are also covered. Some policies even protect against freak accidents, like a horse being fatally injured by wild dogs or by falling debris from an airplane. Although age limits vary by provider, full mortality coverage normally is available to horses as young as 24 hours and as old as 17 years. When evaluating a policy make sure the exclusions are clearly spelled out. A company might be reluctant to pay, for example, if a horse dies due to real or perceived negligence or other human error.