Equine Law: Donating Your Horse To a College Program
Kjirsten Lee breaks down the process.
College equestrian programs provide students with opportunities to compete in equestrian events as their primary sport and can also introduce newcomers to the horse world with the opportunity to hone their skills. Most college programs thrive on donated horses — they may not have the budget to purchase animals. If you may be considering donating your horse to a college equestrian program, here are some things to consider.
Reasons for donating
For a variety of reasons, people every year decide to donate their horse to a riding program at a riding school or university. It might be because the horse wasn’t selling and the owner needed to find it a new home, or it could be because the owner had outgrown the horse and did not want to look for a private seller. The first thing you should consider is why do I want to donate my horse? Is it just because I can’t find a buyer, or do I think it would thrive in the school horse environment?
Whatever your reason, you will probably want to do some research on the institution to which you want to donate. Look into a few things:
- How long have they had an equestrian program?
- Does the program have a good reputation?
- Do the horses appear to be well cared for?
- How much work does the average school horse do on a daily basis?
- What qualifications do the staff have?
- Is the program strictly riding lessons, or do they offer some sort of horse management education as well?
- How long do they keep horses in the program?
- What happens when horses can no longer be used in the program?
- Is there a possibility to get the horse back when it can no longer be used by the institution?
Of course, if you are already familiar with the organization (let’s say it’s your alma mater), you might not have to do the same amount of research. But if you’re coming in cold, it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting your horse into.
The donation process
Every institution will have its own procedure for donating horses. For example:
- Albion College: http://www.albion.edu/about-albion/held-equestrian-center/donate-a-horse
- Lake Erie College: https://www.lec.edu/equestrian/donate
- Mount Holyoke College: http://athletics.mtholyoke.edu/facilities/equestrian_center/donating/index
- University of Findlay: http://www.findlay.edu/sciences/equestrianstudies/english-equestrian/How-to-Donate-a-Horse
Most donations to colleges and universities are tax deductible, so be sure to keep all the paperwork and mention it to your tax advisor when preparing your taxes. Before the program you choose will accept a new horse, you will likely have to fill out an application form.
As part of the application, you might have to get your horse appraised by a certified equine appraiser. Here are some things the appraiser might consider:
- Fair market value – what similar horses are priced at in your area
- Show record
- Awards and prize values
- Offspring records (if any)
- Breed & type characteristics
When hiring an equine appraiser, look for someone with experience with your type of horse and riding. Ask for references and resumes from appraisers before making your decision. When you decide on an appraiser, be sure to have a contract with all the details: when the appraisal will take place, where it will be, how much it will cost, whether the appraiser will provide additional photos for your records, how many copies of the appraiser’s report will be issued and what the report will be based on.
Once you’ve gotten an appraisal and your application has been approved, the institution might take your horse on a trial basis. This is a good thing! It means that they are making sure your horse fits with their program. If your horse goes on trial, make sure you get an agreement in writing stating how long the trial period is for, how the horse will be transported to and from the facility, what the institution will do with the horse during the trial period and when they will let you know if they have decided to keep the horse or not.
If the institution decides to accept the horse after the trial period, you will once again be asked to fill out some paperwork to transfer title & ownership of the horse. You will also need to give them any registration papers you have for the horse: breed registrations, USEF cards, passports, and so on. When you transfer title and ownership make sure you carefully read the agreement! There are many horse owners who have donated their horses to institutions, only to learn later that their horse was resold for a comparatively small amount of money. Don’t put yourself in a position where you regret your decision – make sure you ask any questions you have and are fully informed.
Keep in mind: this is not a private sale. When you have a sales contract between private parties you will have some control over the provisions of that contract. When you donate a horse, however, you will be bound by the agreement that the institution provides, which is most likely one that was written up by the legal counsel for the institution. It is meant to protect the institution and its fiduciary interests and you will not be able to make changes. Remember that riding programs deal with many horses at a time and they cannot have individualized donation agreements for every horse that they take. That being said, one thing you might want to pay particular attention to in the agreement is a “right of first refusal” clause. Such a clause states that the donor will have the first option to take the horse back, should the institution no longer have a use for the horse.
After you donate
Once the donation process is complete, make sure you keep copies of all the paperwork: the appraisal, the trial agreement, and the donation agreement itself. Bring copies to your tax professional for use in filing taxes. If you want to have the option to take the horse back, it’s not a bad idea to check in with the staff on a regular basis to see how the horse is doing and to remind them to please call you first. Most institutions won’t mind – in fact, they’ll appreciate that you take a continuing interest in the horse.
Donating a horse can be a hard decision. Be sure to find the best possible match for your horse, and take all the proper precautions. Also remember that in most cases, by donating your horse you are providing people with the opportunity to ride and learn from your horse – people who might not otherwise get the chance.
For more of Kjirsten’s articles on equine law, click the #EQUINE LAW hashtag at the top of this page, or click here to open a list.
Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an equine attorney with rb LEGAL, LLC, in Golden Valley, MN. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses, as well as general legal issues that horse people may encounter. You can follow her on Twitter at @KMLee_Esq. Kjirsten and her OTTB, Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by reading and/or commenting on this post. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.
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