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Why you need legal cover when lending your horse

Owner and equine lawyer Sarah Jordan explains the value of written legal agreements and why a handshake is not enough when loaning out your horse.

Somerset horse owner Rachel Atwell has successfully settled a claim against the police for serious injury to her horse while it was in their keep. Mrs Atwells horse Yogi went on trial to the North Wales Mounted Unit in September 2009. During the trial the horse suffered a serious stake wound to his chest, which resulted from admitted negligence by the Mounted Unit. The horse was hospitalised, subsequently on box rest, and unrideable until recently. 

Equine lawyer Sarah Jordan, of Daltons Solicitors, said that the injury to Yogi caused the horse a lifelong scar. Liability was accepted early on by the Mounted Unit, who took full responsibility for veterinary fees. Mrs
Atwells associated costs had to be negotiated. The monetary award she received included factors such as payment for the loss in value of Yogi, keep and travel fees, and contribution to re-schooling fees.

The key to the successful settlement, Sarah Jordan explained, was a formal written loan agreement between Mrs Atwell and the Mounted Unit.  This included the value of the horse at the date of the loan. Arguments by the police during the negotiations to reduce the value of Yogi failed because the loan agreement was there in black and white.

This case is a prime example of the importance of getting agreements in writing, Sarah added. Far too often agreements are made in the equine industry by handshake only. Nothing is recorded, and there is no paper trail to rely on in the event of a dispute.

Mrs Atwell expressed her thanks to her equine law specialist Sarah Jordan and she stressed the importance of having legal expenses insurance cover for a horse out on loan. I would like to stress the importance of using a specialist equine lawyer for claims,” Mrs Atwell said. “Sarah Jordan was able to relate to my position, and use her practical knowledge of horses to my advantage.

My settlement goes some way to soften the blow, but I am still at a loss as to how a nationally recognised body such as the Mounted Unit allowed procedures to lapse causing the injury to Yogi.

This experience means I will  never loan out a horse again. Although I had a formal loan agreement, the stakes are still too high when something goes wrong; and the borrower has the right to return the horse to its owner.

I am very lucky to have been able to pursue my claim. I maintained an insurance policy with the NFU for Yogi during the loan period, which included legal expenses cover. Without this cover, I would have struggled financially to bring the claim and may not have received the settlement that was negotiated by Sarah Jordan.  

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