As an equine trainer and competitor for over 35 years here in the United States and Australia, I highly recommend liability waivers, hold harmless agreements and liability releases for the protection of trainer, rider, competitor, stable owner and show facility. These waivers should be drafted by a knowledgeable attorney and updated every few years as the laws in your state may change.
These agreements are widely used by equine facilities, equine businesses and individuals who allow others to be near to, or to ride their horse and provide protection from potential litigation in the event of an accident, but there is often misunderstanding as to the protection they provide may provide. Be sure to seek the advice of an attorney as every circumstance is different and the attorney can draft the waiver to best suit your particular need and circumstance.
First and foremost, waivers do not provide a blanket protection to possible litigation. I have come across users, including facility managers who mistakenly believe that a signed waiver means they are fully protected from any possible legal repercussions. This could not be further from the truth. Generally, a waiver may be useful in the event of an accident due to an “inherent risk”, however an act of negligence, omission or disregard for a person’s safety is unlikely to be covered.
What does “inherent risk” mean?
Inherent risks as they relate to horses are those relating to a horse’s naturally unpredictive behavior, such as reacting to a sudden loud sound or unfamiliar object, the natural possibility of a horse to buck, kick, nip or bolt, or the herd bound instinct of a horse. The potential for litigation arises when an accident occurs that might otherwise have been avoided, or a reasonable person would know, or should have known better than to have acted. For instance, simply because we know a horse can spook, doesn’t mean it is ok for someone to knowingly allow a set of circumstances they should know might cause a horse to spook.
For example, knowing there is a flapping tarp in the area of riders, failing to fix it, and an incident occurs causing harm or injury. Another cause for a negligence-based case would be to allow someone to handle a horse unsuitable for their level of experience which results in harm or injury.
So, what do you need to know regarding waivers? You should be fully aware of what Federal and State legislation requires. Some states require specific language to be included, use of signage, and other features to be detailed in the waiver, which is why you should have the waiver drawn up by a legal firm experienced in these matters. You should ensure every participant sign a waiver, which is kept in an organized and secure way for a minimum of three (3) years. A well-constructed waiver is one of those documents a business or individual hopes it never needs but will be thankful to have if they do!
Jenni Fugate is a team member of The Equine Expert LLC, a multi-discipline equine expert witness and consulting firm offering legal expert witness and consulting services in court cases, legal matters, appraisals and business affairs. Jenni is an expert in Arabians, Teaching, Dressage and Biomechanics. She is a native of Australia and has been working with horses since she was a child. She now lives in Utah on her farm where she trains and teaches. For more information on Jenni visit www.theequineexpert.com or you may contact Jenni at Jenni@theequineexpert.com. The opinions expressed are those of Jenni as an expert equestrian, and not that of an attorney.