Our equine law columnist Kjirsten Lee brings us the scoop on the agricultural or stablemen’s lien, detailing in what circumstances a horse becomes collateral for unpaid board or other fees.
Boarding horses can be risky, both for the horse owner and the barn owner. The horse owner takes the chance that something could happen to their horse that they can’t prevent: illness, injury, or stable management practices that might not be what the owner would do. The barn owner, along with the risks inherent in the horse industry related to potential damage caused by horses, takes the same risk as any business owner: they might not get paid. Like any other business owner, a barn owner has potential legal remedies for if and when a boarder falls behind.
Boarding contract provisions
A well-run boarding business will have a boarding contract. The contract will include a provision for what happens if a boarder falls behind. There will typically be a late fee, followed by more severe penalties. In extreme cases, the boarding contract may discuss filing a lien on the boarder’s horse to make up the amount owed.
Almost every state in the U.S. has laws specifically giving lien rights to boarding stables. These are often referred to as “agister’s lien laws” or “stablemen’s lien laws.” A lien is a legal claim to hold onto or sell someone else’s property. The property is referred to as “collateral.” In the horse boarding business, a lien makes a horse collateral to secure payment of board or other fees, such as farrier bills, veterinary bills, training bills, and so on. Someone with a lien can hold onto the property and keep it from being sold, transferred, or moved. While the specific law varies from state to state, most of them provide for the following:
- Whether a stable can have a lien on a boarded horse
- How the stable can secure their lien
- How far behind on board a horse owner can be before the barn owner can enforce their lien rights by selling the horse or sending notices announcing a sale
- Whether there are any steps the stable must take before the horse can be sold to satisfy the debt
- Whether the stable can insist that the boarded horse stay at the facility until the sale
- What, if anything, the stable must do following the sale if the proceeds exceed the amount of the debt
For barn owners, it is essential to follow any steps laid out in the law. This means providing notice to the horse owner after a certain period of time and following any necessary procedures related to publicizing the sale and the sale itself. If the barn owner sells the horse without following the steps required by law, the sale may be declared void and the horse returned to the original owner, leaving the barn owner potentially without payment and with an upset would-be purchaser.
As with all transactions, it is important for both a barn owner and a horse owner to read and understand their boarding agreement. They should also both be aware of and understand any lien laws in their state which may apply, as well as any horse registry rules pertaining to ownership transfer following a lien. For example, the American Paint Horse Registry has very specific rules regarding recognizing a stableman’s lien and the resulting new ownership.
In some cases, if a boarder falls behind, they may reach an understanding with the barn owner for making payments or otherwise satisfying the debt over time. In this situation, there should be an additional written agreement stating how the debt is to be satisfied and that the barn owner agrees not to pursue any lien on the horse so long as the horse owner continues to make payments.
In the end, the question of “can the barn owner sell my horse” can only be answered by careful analysis of your specific fact situation, any agreement you have with the barn owner, and any applicable laws. If you think you might have a legal claim regarding a lien law, contact a knowledgeable attorney.
For more of Kjirsten’s articles on equine law, 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.