Warmer weather means the possibility of sharing your horses with friends and family — but regardless of a rider’s relationship to you, a release form is still important. Kjirsten Lee explains why.
Spring has sprung around the country! For many horse owners, warmer weather and daylight savings means more time and opportunity for horsey endeavors. It also means that more of our friends and relatives might ask if they can come over for a pony ride or a trail ride. Before you saddle up Ginger and Merrylegs to hit the trail or give a pony ride, consider requiring helmets for everyone under 18, and having all adults sign a liability release.
As horse people, we know that falling off or getting stepped on isn’t a question of “if” so much as “when.” When you let other people handle your horse, you want to protect yourself in case that “when” is serious enough to require medical treatment. A well-drafted liability release does a few things:
- Educates. Your release should inform your friends, neighbors, or relatives that horseback riding is what the legal world calls “inherently dangerous.” Risks include being stepped on, thrown, bitten, bucked off, kicked, and more. Your release should also have a statement about helmets. While you might not require adults to wear helmets while mounted, your release should recommend the use of a helmet and state that a rider who chooses to get on a horse without a helmet assumes the increased risk of head injury that comes with mounting up helmetless. No one under 18 should be allowed to get on a horse without a helmet.
- Gets informed consent. Signing the release is like giving informed consent for medical procedures. The person signing understands that what they are doing is risky, and they choose to do it despite the risk.
- Releases you from liability. Your release should have a paragraph specifically releasing you and your family from any claims by the person signing the release. This paragraph should also waive their right to bring any claims in the future that might be linked to any horse-related activities they take part in on your property.
Why should my family sign a release?
You might be concerned about someone balking at signing a liability release, especially family members or friends. While you might be pretty convinced that your family or friend won’t sue you if they fall off your horse and break their arm, chances are that their health insurance company won’t be so understanding. I suggest that people present the release as a document protecting them from insurance companies, rather than individuals. For example, you can tell Suzy, “I’m not worried about you suing me. I’m worried about your insurance company suing me.”
Who should sign the release?
Anyone who is going to be riding or even working with or around horses should sign a liability release. This includes parents whose children are riding – both for themselves and on their child’s behalf. If you have someone taking care of your horses while you are out of town, you might also want them to sign a release in case something happens while you are gone.
Where can I get a liability release?
You can contact an equine attorney in your state to have a liability release drafted that will fit your particular situation. For example, if you have animals other than horses on your property, you may want to be covered for any mischief that those animals might cause.
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.