As a lawyer, I am often asked by newcomers taking riding lessons what the buyer’s legal rights are when buying a horse. You are governed by the contract law that is defined in your state. It is imperative to have a written contract so your agreement is less ambiguous and easier to define.
Generally speaking, and one of the most important riding lessons is that the buyer purchases a horse “AS IS”, which means that you, the buyer, have a duty to examine the horse prior to purchase. Any defects that have gone unnoticed and found after purchase are not grounds for action to sue the seller. It really is a “buyer beware” situation!
Of course, any agreement can change the “as is” nature of the transaction. You can include in your purchase contract, for example, that the horse is 8 years old and suitable for a child to ride. If you later find out that the horse is 15 years old and was used by the seller as in gymkhana events, it is quite possible that you have a cause of action against the seller!
1. The more you can get in writing, the better. At the very least, you should expect to receive a bill of sale identifying the horse with its name, age, breed, color, sex, and any other identifying traits that distinguish it from another horse. If any of those elements of the contract are later found to be untrue, you may have a cause of action if the breach is material. For example, if the horse is said to be 6 years old and actually 5 years old, you may not be harmed in the eyes of the law. If the horse is said to be 6 years old and actually 18, you would be hurt because you are buying a horse whose lifespan is significantly shorter than you expected.
2. If you can prove (that’s the hard part) that the seller committed fraud, you can overcome a written contract just like other civil contract cases. However, fraud is difficult to prove because it requires you to show that the seller made an intentional misrepresentation designed to get you to buy the horse. For example, if the seller knows that the horse has navicular disease, but tells the buyer that it is totally healthy, the buyer has a cause of action if he can prove that the seller is aware of that fact.
3. In addition to the written contract, also look at the ad the seller has posted. The ad could contain specific statements that could be construed as part of the deal. For example, a buyer who bought a horse advertised as “no vice” could probably successfully sue the seller if, immediately after purchase, the horse turns out to be a lousy screener. Even if the contract says that you are buying the horse “as is”, the written advertisement would probably give the buyer a recourse anyway.
4. If the seller has a higher specific duty to you, then you too can appeal. If the seller was also your instructor, you have an affirmative duty to help him purchase the correct horse beyond the seller’s normal contractual obligations.
5. Determine if the seller is subject to the UCC? The Uniform Commercial Code governs sales of goods by “merchants.” In the horse business, a merchant would be someone who makes a regular income from horse transactions, such as breeders and livestock agents. If the UCC applies, then the transaction will come with two implied warranties: merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. This will mean that regardless of the contract, the horse must be reasonably healthy and sound, as well as fit for the purpose of the buyer. These can only be excepted if this is done in writing in the contract. So, look for that language!
Don’t lose your mind when it comes to buying a horse. This is the first riding lesson everyone should learn! Think things through and get everything in writing!
For more information on contracts, visit http://www.horsebacklessonsguide.com or http://www.equestrianriderguide.com