Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Horses and the Law: Tough Choices

 Minnesotra State Troopers shot two horses, Frenchie and Roper, when they got loose this last Sunday night near Faribault, MN. They nearly caused several accidents on a 70mph highway.  The horses belonged to Suzette Clemens, and had broken out of their pasture 3 miles away. The Troopers said they'd tried to contact local residents to find the owner, and also tried to contact local vets, but when no one came forward, they made the decision to put public safety first. Clemens is very upset with the troopers, saying that her horses are normally very calm, and that more should have been done to capture them or get help before the officers resorted to shooting.

I see both sides of the issue. It was a tough choice. I wish police officers had more training when it comes to animals, both in identifying neglect cases and in handling loose animals. On the other hand, even if this situation had involved the most well-trained cops and calmest horses in the world, the result might have been the same. Horses can and do panic and can't be caught, even by their owners. It's so scary. This sort of thing makes me want to paint my phone number on my horses and build 8 foot high solid concrete fences around my pasture. Cops shooting loose animals isn't rare, by the way-- it happens to tons of dogs all the time, and just last December, Minnesota troopers shot another loose horse on a public highway.

Speaking of scary brushes with the law, here's a legal decision you should know about. Let me sum up for you:

 So gal A was letting gal B ride her horses. Gal B brought her mother-in-law out to play with the horses. Gal B had her mother-in-law hold a horse while she blanketed and saddled it. The horse moved and stepped on the mother-in-law's foot, causing her to fall and break her hip. The mother-in-law is now suing both her daughter-in-law (gal B) AND the horse's owner, gal A. And she may win.

First, let me express just how pissed-off this makes me. Some assholes can't just have the good grace to say, "Well shit, bad stuff happens, let's move on." Nope, they have to go and sue someone. I could understand if the lady's daughter-in-law had put her in real danger-- like, say, asking her to ride a known bucker. But this was sheer accident, and a small one at that. How much of a bitch do you have to be to sue a family member over a totally innocent accident?

At first the court ruled that gals A and B were protected under that handy-dandy equine immunity statute, section 895.481. It's a law in several states which a lot of us horse owners have posted on those big white plastic signs, and the gist of it is that working with horses is inherently risky, so if you agree to work with them in any way, you can't sue us. (Though this probably only protects "equine professionals.")

However, the court decided later that gals A and B can't be protected under that law because of THIS:

 "[Equine professionals can't be protected if they provide] an equine to a person and fail to make a reasonable effort to determine the ability of the person to engage safely in an equine activity or to safely manage the particular equine provided based on the person's representations of his or her ability."

The mother-in-law agreed to go with her daughter-in-law to do horse stuff, and took the horse's lead rope of her own free will, but apparently that's not enough.Well that's crap on toast, because it theoretically means that before I allow anyone anywhere near my horses, I have to give them a fucking questionnaire asking about their abilities. Is this what the world is coming to? What's next, a required questionnaire for anyone who wants to anything even possibly remotely dangerous?

What about personal responsibility and common sense? If you agree to be around horses, or go water skiiing, or go walking in a lightening storm, or even cross the damn street, you should know what you're getting into and accept the consequences. It's called adulthood.

Obviously, people should be protected from those who purposefully hide the fact that something might be dangerous. But no law should require anyone to babysit a grown person.

This kind of decision by the courts, and the behavior of people like this mother-in-law, negatively impacts us all. It leaves us wondering whether we should be demanding that our friends and families sign waivers before petting our horses or getting a pony ride.

Just recently an acquaintance of mine expressed interest in riding with me. My first thought was, "Hey, cool, someone to ride with and show off my babies to!" But this lawsuit-happy society we live in also made me cringe at the possibility of riding with someone I don't trust 110%-- and that's unfortunate. We need more new people interested in horses, because only new blood will keep the horse industry viable. We need more butts in saddles, more dollars at events, more donations for horse rescues. *sigh*

Here's an horseback riding liability waiver you might want to copy. You may also want to look into liability insurance if you frequently have riders at your place.


  1. Why were tranquilizers not used, that is what I would be asking.

  2. OK, but I have a question- I'm not at all inclined to sue anyone, and I'm all for the equine liability law. HOWEVER, if I'm riding at the barn, have a fall and break my leg, I KNOW my insurance company is going to sue my trainer's insurance company to pay the medical bills. So then I wonder, what's the point of the liability waiver?

    1. A waiver isn't about preventing insurance settlements. A waiver is there to help protect people from personal lawsuits. So if your trainer had you sign one, would have more trouble sueing her for pain and suffering, negligence, etc, for cash.

      Waivers aren't foolproof even here though, because they have to work within your state's law and be worded precisely. Read more here: http://mytevisjourney.blogspot.com/p/issues-you-must-be-aware-of.html