"Can I ride your horse?" This is a question that horse owners receive regularly from friends, fellow boarders, and relatives. However, before saying "yes," it's important to take into consideration what can happen if someone gets hurt. While what follows is usually a fun and pleasurable experience, there are times where the opposite is held true – someone is hurt and a lawsuit follows. Horseback riding is an enjoyable sport and those who are lucky enough to own and "lend out" horses should be able to share this experience with others. However, before doing so, it's important to learn what you can do to protect yourself from an equine lawsuit.
When allowing someone else to ride your horse, you are a prime target if the horse should injure the person riding the horse. For example, if horse throws your friend, your friend could now claim that you knew or should have known of the horse’s unusual propensities to throw riders. Another example could take place if a friend falls, and your horse runs loose onto a highway and collides with a car. The injured motorist and passengers might claim that you, as the horse owner, are responsible.
How to reduce your risk of legal or financial liability
Liability Insurance – There are insurance policies out there that protect horse owners from claims that are brought against them involving the actions of their horses. Sometimes even a homeowner's liability insurance policy might protect you in such a case.
Liability Waivers/Releases – A properly drafted and signed liability release is a powerful tool that can help you if someone files a lawsuit against you. These waivers/releases state that the rider understands the risks of horseback riding and is signed by both the rider and a witness. These should be written by an attorney experienced in equine law to ensure they are properly drafted.
Informed Decisions – Use good old common sense to match people to the horse they are riding. Keep in mind the horses' history, disposition, and training, as well as the age and experience levels of the rider or handler.
The only way to be completely protected from an equine-related lawsuit is to avoid allowing others to "borrow" or ride your horse. However, liability insurance, waivers and releases, and using informed decisions can help reduce your risk.