The Law Shop is now closed. Please click here to find out more.

Livery and Stabling Agreements

Many horse owners entrust their horse's care to a livery stable. The proprietors of these businesses have a number of responsibilities to the horses they look after.

Most people who purchase or set up a livery stable have chosen to make this investment because they enjoy the fulfilment of working with horses. However, it is vitally important to always bear in mind that a livery stable is a business, not merely a hobby undertaken as an excuse to interact with horses, and that it is necessary to ensure that a robust and comprehensive contractual framework is in place to govern your relationship with clients and to ensure that your business dealings run smoothly. This may sound less interesting than horses, but, read on.

Leaving aside failures in service standards, most business disputes arise because there is a difference of opinion between the parties to the business transaction about the terms of the deal, and exactly what each party’s rights and obligations are. Minor differences in expectations can easily lead to misunderstandings which at best result in a cooling of business relations, or at worse escalate to legal disputes of heroic proportions.

In order to attenuate these risks, it is advisable to base every business relationship on a professionally drafted contractual document which is clear and concise, but which anticipates all likely eventualities and issues. This will ensure that both parties involved in the transaction in question will be aware of their responsibilities and rights under the terms of the agreement.

Specific to stabling businesses, there are a number of disputes which frequently arise between horse owners and the operators of livery stables over differing expectations, and in many cases these disagreements could have been prevented by a well-drafted contract setting out the terms of their dealings and how any issues should be settled. Frequent disputes between horse-owners and stable owners include:

  • Disagreements over the level of exercise with which the livery stable will provide the horse. This is an important consideration for many horse owners when choosing a livery contract, particularly for owners who are unable to visit the horse regularly in order to exercise it themselves. A failure on the part of the stable in this regard can have serious consequences, particularly where the horse is for racing.
  • Misunderstandings about the degree of responsibility which the livery stable will take for monitoring the horse’s health whilst it is stabled, and whether the horse owner or the livery stable is responsible for routine veterinary check-ups and inspections. Again, failure on the part of the stable here can have dire consequences.
  • Disputes about the degree of security which the livery stable must provide, and liability in the event of the horse being stolen. Horses are valuable assets. Many burglars will ignore gold and jewels and opt instead to go straight for horses. Livery stables should make sure that horses in their care are kept safe and secure. These disputes may also centre around misunderstandings about who is responsible for insuring the horse.
  • Differences in opinion over what should be included in the price of standard livery, and what are optional extras for which the horse owner will have to pay additional fees.
  • Allegations by the horse owner that the charging structure was never made clear to him and that he was ever warned of additional fees which might become payable.

If you are running a livery stable, it is vital to ensure that these points are made clear to customers. If you are a customer of a stable which failed to set out in plain terms the nature of your agreement, you may be able to claim for negligence.

Breach of contract & horse stables

Many people who own horses do not have the facilities or time to take care of the horse themselves on a continuous basis, and will enter into a contract with a livery stable which will look after the horse on their behalf.

Depending on the range of services and facilities offered by the livery stable, livery fees can be very substantial. Because of this, many horse owners will be keen to get exactly the service that they are paying for. When the livery stable fails to meets the obligations under the contract and fails to provide an adequate level of service it will have breached its contract. In breach of contract claims, the horse owner is entitled to recover all losses which flow from the breach. As well as compensation for the difference between the value of the service which the owner was offered and the service which was delivered, the horse owner will be able to claim compensation for any damage which is caused to the horse as a result of the livery stables failure in service standards.

Breach of contract is a complicated area of law which often involves a detailed consideration of past legal precedents and the application of convoluted rules of construction and interpretation. In many cases there is no dispute about the facts, but there is substantial disagreement of the correct interpretation and application of the contract. Whilst is possible for a party to an equine law contract dispute to represent himself, it is certainly not advisable and legal assistance should be sought from a specialist contract solicitor.