What I am about to say, most horse-people would not think twice about – until it happens to them ☹
It is unique to the horse-world because there is nothing quite like a horse that gets bought and sold and leased and loaned and claimed back and retired and then re-purposed to another discipline and then given away again - over its 30+ years of life. Our equine friends live a long time and their caregivers will change many times, for many different reasons. That is why this question of ownership causes problems.
Why does horse ownership change a lot?
It is because we love them; or maybe we don’t get on with them? Or maybe our lives change, and we can’t look after them properly anymore? Or for a while, maybe their health and soundness go up and down and their future looks uncertain? For so many reasons, horses move from rider to rider and place to place under a whole range of different deals.
The problem is that when we do deals with cars, with houses, with electrical appliances – we get paperwork from the seller, or the hire company, or the lessor.
But what do we do with horses? We here in New Zealand just seem to go on a handshake. We trust that because the other person seems to be nice and honest, that they are nice and honest. We do not generally put paperwork in place around our horse arrangements because we think we do not need to with the nice honest people we are dealing with.
And because of that, we have conflict between equestrians about one of the most basic things in our horse deals and that is the question of ownership. It distresses me.
What people need to ask themselves
Unfortunately, ‘ownership’ a significant source of conflict in the equine world. The right-thinking person says they have bought or been ‘given’ their horse. So, it belongs to them. End of. But… it is not always that simple.
Consider this horse ownership court case in Australia.
As of October 2019, this case was still dragging on through the High Court process.
Leading Victorian trainer facing $20million lawsuit over horse ownership.
Trainer Ciaron Maher in the Queensland Supreme Court
"A man claiming to be the rightful owner of Group One winner Azkadellia has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against leading trainer Ciaron Maher in the Queensland Supreme Court. William Duffy lodged documents on Monday seeking $8.5 million in lost earnings and $11.5 million in damages.
Azkadellia was suspended from racing in late 2016 when Racing Victoria stewards opened an investigation into the bona fides of her ownership.
Her registered owner was Ben Connolly, Maher’s racing manager at the time but RV stewards found convicted con man Peter Foster was in fact the likely owner.
Maher was suspended in 2017 for six months after stewards found him guilty of conduct prejudicial to racing in that he should have been aware there was a question over who owned Azkadellia and four other horses in his stable.
Connolly was disqualified for his involvement.
Azkadellia was sold to bloodstock agent Sheamus Mills at an Echuca auction last week for $615,000 under the Agistment Act.
While she has not been able to race, her new owners will be able to breed from the mare."
How horse ownership becomes a nightmare
Horse ownership answers - you cannot sell what you do not own
The general rule is that sellers cannot give better title (let us call that ‘ownership rights’) than they themselves have.
So, if B sells a horse to C, when in fact A is the true owner, the sale between B and C cannot deprive A of her ownership of the horse.
But there is still a contract as between B and C. Poor C does not miss out completely.
Since B does not have a right to sell the horse, C may sue B for breach of the implied condition that B is entitled to sell. C may therefore get her money back – if B has any money.
And A gets the horse back – if A can prove the horse belongs to A.
Does the innocent horse buyer always lose out?
Not if the horse is bought from a person in the business of buying and selling horses- a trader.
If a horse owner gives a horse to a ‘mercantile agent’ or ‘trader’ (an equestrian in the business of selling horses and there are many of them) who instead of schooling the horse as agreed, sells the horse to a good faith purchaser, then the purchaser becomes the owner.
Put another way, say person A runs a business of buying, and selling horses, perhaps with a schooling or agistment business on the side. Another person B gives their horse to A for schooling rather than sale. But instead, A sells B’s horse to C who buys it honestly. C gets good title to the horse and gets to keep it.
In that case, the true owner B can only sue the horse-trader A to recover their loss. They cannot get the horse back from C because this exception gives C better title than A.
Thus, it makes good sense to buy a horse from a horse-trader, because the purchaser (provided they honestly believed the horse trader had the right to sell) gets better title than when buying from a non-trader.
My blueprint for successful horse arrangements
Get your paperwork done. Record your horse sale or purchase in a sound legal agreement. Record the horse that is given to you in a sale and purchase agreement for $1.00. Pretty simple right? Not too difficult for a ‘free’ horse.
Click here to have a look for free
Simplify horse ownership
Take the potential stress out of your horse sale or purchase or gift by having your paperwork sorted.
But do not choose any old horse agreement that you may find on the net. Many of them create more hassles than they solve. There really are some incompetent risky documents out there.
I humbly recommend and genuinely believe that my horse agreements will help you avoid problems.
Your investment in a quality document from FairPlay Equine only equates to the cost of a horse rug yet the security you achieve is almost beyond what money can buy. It makes so much sense, so just do it.
Best wishes for happy horse ownership - for as long as you decide.
NB This article is intended as a general guide, and not specific legal advice. For advice relevant to your circumstances, you need to seek independent legal advice.
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For more helpful tips on buying a horse download my guide ‘10 Mistakes Made by Horse Buyers’.
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