As a horse trainer you should consider several ways to protect yourself from liability exposure. Whether you are training horses (or their owners) at your own facility or training at other locations, you should always have liability insurance, a well-written contract, and waivers and/or releases as well as posting the standard liability signage per your state’s equine laws. Consider setting up an LLC or corporation for the business so that all business activity falls under the business entity rather than the trainer personally.
Types of insurance for horse trainers includes (but is not limited to) commercial equine general liability insurance, equine professional liability insurance, care, custody, or control insurance, and bodily injury and property damage to others which may be covered under the general liability. It may also be a good idea to have an umbrella policy as well. An insurance provider will be able to provide more comprehensive details regarding the types of insurance coverage needed depending on the types of training activities and training location. In addition, trainers may want to require horse owners to carry sufficient insurance to cover their horses for potential liability arising from training, guests, riders, veterinary care, barn/stable rules, safety, and state specific equine laws.
Let’s face it, there are no guarantees when training a horse. If your horses are anything like mine, they have a mind of their own no matter how sweet and talented (or not so sweet or a bit feisty as mine can sometimes be). Clearly defining expectations in the beginning can help to reduce conflict down the road. A well-written trainer contract should cover more than just payment terms. There should be a description of the training methods and services, who will perform the training and services, and the frequency and/or length of training time and schedule. It should allow the trainer to use their best judgment in her sole discretion in accordance with generally accepted professional standards as each horse is unique and may require the trainer to alter her training methods from time to time. It is also important to include terms of indemnification and limitations on liability of the trainer. The contract should also include terms for default and the trainer’s remedies in the event of a breach of contract by the horse owner. The contract should address if the horse owner pays, if the trainer pays, or if there is a joint payment of some set fee for damages caused by the horse. What happens if the horse causes injury or death to another animal or a person? It is a good idea to include a risk of loss or injury section in the contract that requires the horse owner to assume these risks. If the horse is being stabled at the trainer’s facility the contract should also contain terms pertaining to the trainer’s barn/stable. It should include specifics related to the trainer’s premises including vaccinations, feed and feeding schedule, bedding, exercise, timing and frequency for cleaning stalls and paddocks, veterinary care, injuries and/or illness, special or emergency care, and decision making when the horse owner is unavailable or absent. The contract should include details regarding the types and policy limits for insurance policies covering the trainer and the trainer’s facility and covering the horse. A trainer may require the horse owner to provide a warranty regarding the horse’s health. This warranty may require that a horse be free from diseases whether infectious, transmissible, or contagious prior to boarding. This warranty also requires the horse owner to notify the trainer if the owner has any reason to believe the horse has been exposed to or becomes sick from any such diseases.
No matter how prepared or no matter how well written a contract, disagreements can arise between trainers and horse owners so it is important to include some type of dispute resolution section in the contract such as mediation, arbitration, or some other terms for resolving disputes.
Liability Waivers and Releases
Waivers and release agreements (also known as hold harmless agreements) for horse training typically cover the rules and risks related to riding or handling horses and who is liable in the event of injury or death. These agreements can be meant to protect the trainer or the owner. These agreements can also be a combined agreement that addresses both trainer and owner waivers and releases. It is important to know what purpose you need and have your attorney draft an appropriate agreement. For example, an owner may wish to have the trainer sign a waiver stating that the owner is not liable if the trainer is injured or dies as a result of training the horse. However, a trainer may wish to have the owner waive liability for injury or death to the horse. Each state has statutes governing the liability and assumption of risk for equine activities that should be included in a waiver or release agreement. For any training services, it is important to know your state’s laws and the rights of the trainer and the owner when considering any waivers and releases.
Liability waivers and releases can be useful in providing strong defense if the trainer or owner is sued and can assist in dispute resolution situations. In addition, they might discourage a person from filing a lawsuit. However, no waiver and release or contract can prevent a person from filing a lawsuit. It is important to have the proper insurance coverage along with well-written and enforceable contracts, waivers and releases that are in compliance with your state’s laws and specific to the boarding facility and the types of activities at the facility.
Remember to always contact your attorney to make sure you have the proper contracts, waivers and releases and that you understand your legal obligations and risks.
Crystal McDonough is an attorney and founder of McDonough Law Group, a regional law firm with offices and attorneys in many states. This is the first of a series of articles where Crystal discusses succession planning, estate planning, and probates and estate administration. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-776-3311.
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