What do you need to know about boarding contracts? Kjirsten Lee, J.D. shares barn advice from a legal perspective.
Folks who have been reading my column regularly (thank you!) know that I’m a proponent of having things in writing. Of course, this goes completely against what 99% of horse people are accustomed to. In the horse business, more than almost any other profession these days, business is done on a handshake. It’s easier and less complicated, but also leaves everyone in the dark as to who is supposed to do what. More importantly, if something goes wrong it can leave the injured party without a legal remedy – they’re simply, and sadly, out of luck.
Consider this: Bobby Boarder brings his horse Gemstone to Pleasant Pastures, a retirement boarding facility owned by Onna Owner. Bobby does not sign a boarding contract but pays the required amount due, always on the first of each month. Five months later, Onna asks Bobby to leave without giving any reason for her request – she simply tells him he needs to take his horse and go within 72 hours. Bobby scrambles to find a new barn, and the only barn that will take him costs twice as much as Onna’s. Bobby asks his lawyer if he has any legal rights or remedies.
Sadly, Bobby is probably out of luck. A boarder’s rights are generally dependent on what the boarding contract says, unless you are in a state with hefty case law on the subject. Aside from being a good legal tool, a good boarding contract informs the boarder and the facility owner of their rights and obligations, and provides a basis for dispute resolution. So what do you need to have a good boarding contract?
The army says name, rank and serial number; horse people say name, breed, color & markings. Your boarding contract should clearly identify the horse that it pertains to. For example: “Alwaysabridesmaid. Chestnut TB. Mare. 16.0 hands. Stockings on both hind legs and left front. Blaze. Lip tattoo.” Tattoos, brands and scars can be particularly useful in identifying a horse, so make sure you note them in your description.
Next, the contract should state the name and location of the facility: “Green Acres Farm, 772 Westwood Lane, Lexington, KY.” It also should state who owns the facility and who is the barn manager, if different from the owner.
Terms & Conditions
What is a contract but a legally binding list of people’s obligations to each other? The contract needs to spell out what each party (horse owner and barn owner) is expected to do for the other party, such as the following:
- Dates: what date the contract take effect, and how long it will be in effect, whether it is a contract for a month of board, a year, or any other period of time. Additionally, the contract should state whether it automatically renews at the end of each contractual period. For example: if you sign a monthly contract that automatically renews, then you don’t need to sign a new contract every month and will continue to be bound by the terms of the original contract until the contract is terminated.
- Fees: boarding, blanketing, trailering, holding for vet & farrier, etc. Spell it all out.
- Feeding: what is provided and what the owner will have to provide themselves. Some barns provide only a set poundage of feed, and if the owner wants to feed more or feed a different type of grain or roughage (i.e., alfalfa, sweet feed, etc.,) that’s their responsibility. Supplements are almost always up to the owner to provide.
- Stall: if a stall is provided, how big the stall is, what kind of bedding is used, if a salt block is provided in the stall, and how often stalls will be cleaned.
- Turn-out: when are the horses turned out and what the turn-out situation is. This can include how many horses are turned out together, what the fencing is, whether there is pasture or dry lot, and so on.
- Blankets: whether or not boarders are required to provide blankets, and if so, where are they to be stored, and if the barn will blanket and change blankets. Boarders, make sure to ask if there will be an extra fee for blanketing!
- Access: when the horse owner will have access to the horse. Many show barns are closed on Mondays, and boarders need to be aware of whether that applies to them. There may also be certain hours during which the facility will not have a staff member on site, so they will close during this time.
- Emergency communication: who will be contacted and when.
- Who: List the owner and an alternative emergency contact as well as the horse’s veterinarian and farrier. If the barn has one veterinarian they use, that veterinarian’s contact information should be listed in the contract. The same goes for farriers.
- When: This gets tricky: if a horse is colicking, should the first call be to the veterinarian or the owner? Add in an insurance company and you’ve really got some questions to navigate.
- Health & vaccination requirements: what vaccinations the facility requires, including a negative Coggins test; whether the facility has a deworming program.
- Termination: who can terminate the boarding contract and when. Will the barn owner require notice before the horse owner removes their horse? On the other hand, will the barn owner have to give notice before asking a boarder to leave? Remember Bobby from earlier in this post!
- Liability release clauses:
- Risk of loss: horse owner assumes specific risks associated with leaving horse in facility’s care.
- Hold harmless: horse owner agrees to release facility from liability associated with any injury to horse, horse owner, or anyone the horse owner brings to the barn. If required, note that horse owners and their guests will be required to sign additional liability releases.
- Stable rules: asserts that the horse owner has received a copy of the stable rules and agrees to abide by them.
- Insurance: if the horse is insured, the owner should provide the contact information for the insurance company and instructions on when to contact the company.
- Special instructions: the horse owner can note any special instructions. If there will be an extra cost, the facility owner should note those costs in this section as well.
- Lien rights: note that the stable can legally exercise its lien rights, if available in the state. Check your state!
- Arbitration clause: consider having a clause requiring arbitration or mediation before litigation. If there is a dispute, arbitration or mediation can be a quicker and less expensive tool for resolution.
- Choice of law clause: what state’s laws will apply to a dispute. This is particularly important for barns serving clients from multiple states.
- Attorney’s fees clause: if there is a dispute, who will pay the attorney’s fees. These can be immensely costly, so it helps to state who is responsible for paying them.
A contract is only enforceable against the parties who agree to be bound by its terms and conditions. A boarding contract must be signed by the horse owner and the facility owner and/or manager.
Remember that what I’ve laid out here is just a list of suggestions. Boarding contracts should be individualized to fit a particular facility’s needs. To have a contract custom-made for your facility and program, contact an equine attorney.
This post is purely informational. Remember that nothing in this post or any other posts on Horse Nation constitutes legal advice. No lawyer-client relationship has been created between the reader and the author or the reader and Horse Nation.
Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an attorney in Memphis, TN. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses. Kjirsten and her OTTB, Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.