Once you have found an equine insurance policy that meets your needs, your research is nearly done ? but not quite. Now you'll want to make sure your prospective insurance carrier is a reputable, financially sound company and that you understand its claims process.
Ask how long the carrier has been in business -- there are exceptions of course, but in general the longer a company has been around, the more financially stable it is likely to be. If possible, check the carrier's standing with an independent rating agency. A.M. Best Company, Inc., rates insurers based on financial resources and ability to meet obligations to policyholders. A.M. Best publishes a guide to its current ratings with an explanation of its system of analysis and also has a Web site, www.ambest.com. On the site, some of the information is available for free, some pages require users to register, and other types of reports are available for sale.
Once you've made sure you're dealing with a financially sound company, ask about its procedures for filing equine insurance claims. Timing is often crucial, and you don't want to have to learn the fine points of a process during a crisis.
You will likely find that communication is important: Many insurers require that they be notified if a horse is injured or ill. If you keep the company informed, you'll save yourself from having to provide documentation in a hurry should surgery become necessary or if a complication arises months after an initial illness.
So when is it appropriate to call the claims adjuster? Insurers usually suggest that you notify them of any problem that's serious enough to call a veterinarian. In fact, it's wise to call your insurer when the veterinarian is still with you, if possible, since the adjuster may want to speak with him as well. Most insurance claims adjusters can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If an emergency occurs at 1 a.m., they want you to wake them up. That's their job.
"We would like to know of any issues right away," says Andy Beauchamp of Equine Insurance Specialists in Muncie, Indiana. "However, I own eight horses, and I'd never ask my clients to do what I wouldn't do myself. In an emergency situation, of course, they should keep the animal's best interest at heart and do what needs to be done first." If you're in doubt about the timing of your claim, check the wording in your policy. It should spell out exactly how much time you have before you must file your report.
A clear understanding of policy terms and the requirements for filing a claim will help you avoid unpleasant surprises when you're dealing with insurance companies. And, for most horse owners, the time spent learning the fundamentals of equine insurance is an investment of time well made
After all, your horse probably provides you with enough surprises. And you know you can't protect him from all of life's illnesses and accidents, but with a properly chosen insurance policy you can make sure that finances alone won't prevent him from getting the medical care he needs. As with any other type of insurance, the best benefit simply may be peace of mind.
Gretchen Ditto specializes in freelance writing and corporate communications. She lives in Thousand Oaks, California, where she does a little eventing in her spare time.