Last month, we began a journey along the winding roads of Equine Activity Liability Laws (EALLs) and discovered how those complex paths can often lead to litigation. As mentioned, EALLs, adopted by all but a handful of States, are laws intended to limit the liability of those hosting or sponsoring equine activities for injuries caused to individuals participating in those activities.

The main confusion stems from the fact that each State has its own EALL and, while similar in many respects, there are also many differences from one State to another. Our previous article considered how “participants in equine activities” are defined under the EALLs, and we found that whether a person is considered a participant or not depends in large part on the wording of a State’s particular laws and how the Courts interpret those laws. The same is true for our next topic, namely, how “equine professional” and “equine sponsor” are defined. The good news is, there is greater consensus as to the definition of these terms as compared to the definition of “participants.” However, the definitions are still broad enough to leave room for plenty of litigation.

What is an Equine Professional?

“Equine professional” is generally defined as any person who receives compensation for either (a) instructing a participant or renting to a participant any equine animal for the purpose of riding, driving, or being a passenger on the equine animal; or (b) renting equipment or tack to a participant.

The equine animal doesn’t have to be a horse; it can also be a pony, donkey, mule, etc. The compensation doesn’t necessarily have to be monetary, but can be anything of value. In addition, the person claiming protection as an equine professional doesn’t have to be engaged as such on a full-time basis. So, if Joe Smith works as an Engineer during the week, but on weekends, he runs trail rides, he will be probably be protected as an “equine professional” if he accepts compensation for those rides.

Some States have extended the protection of the EALLs to include veterinary and other such professionals (i.e. breeders). For instance, Alabama’s EALLs define an “equine professional” to include anyone “examining or administering medical treatment to an equine as a veterinarian.” Alabama also defines equine activity to include boarding, breeding, shoeing and administering medications (Alabama Equine Activity Statute, Code of Ala. § 6-5-337 (1994).

As with the definition of “participant,” some States have broader definitions than others. Again, if you are involved in any type of equine-related activity, it is best to become familiar with the EALLs of your State to determine whether you fall within their definition of “equine professional.”

What is an Equine Activity Sponsor?

The definition of an “equine activity sponsor” is broader than that of an equine professional. Basically, an equine activity sponsor includes any individual, group, club, partnership, or corporation who sponsors, organizes, or provides facilities for any type of equine activity, such as horse shows, hunt clubs, classes, therapeutic riding programs, educational programs, auctions, clinics and general entertainment. Typically, it doesn’t matter if that sponsorship is done for profit or not.

The definition of “sponsor” is intentionally broad so as encourage individuals and companies to provide and promote equine events without fear of liability backlash. However, the broad nature of the definition has also created a large swath of gray area. For Instance, if a local church holds a carnival in which they have, as one of their attractions, a pony ride, do they fall under the EALLs umbrella of protection as a “sponsor?” If Mary Jones injures someone while hanging up posters for a community horse show, is she protected from liability as a “sponsor?” There is no easy answer to gray area questions such as these, and most depend on the particular circumstances, the wording of the State EALLs, and whether any of the exceptions apply. Thus, although the EALLs may help reduce litigation on one hand, they have created a whole new branch of litigation on the other.

Blurred Lines

Some States have attempted to simplify matters by doing away with the any delineation between “equine professionals” and “equine sponsors.” For instance, New Jersey’s EALLs use the term “operator” in lieu of either equine professional or equine sponsor, and define an “operator” as:

[A] person or entity who owns, manages, controls or directs the operation of an area where individuals engage in equine animal activities whether or not compensation is paid.

Some states expand upon the scope of their EALLs by including as protected not only equine professionals and  equine sponsors but also “any other person,” involved in equine-related activities. For instance, Tennessee’s EALLs provides that “(any) equine activity sponsor, any equine professional, or any other person … shall not be liable for an injury to or the death of a participant resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities.”

As you might expect, the inclusion of such broad language has opened the door to litigation testing its limits. For instance, in the South Dakota case of Nielson v. AT & T Corp, AT&T dug a trench across a bridle path, and when someone riding a horse on that path was injured, AT&T claimed immunity under the State’s EALLs as falling within the definition of “another person.” The Court ruled that AT& T was not directly involved in equine activities and therefore did not fall under the protection of the EALLs. In Gibson v. Donahue, a case out of Ohio, a rider was injured when someone’s dog ran into a horseback riding area and spooked the horse. The dog owner tried to claim immunity under Ohio’s EALLs as “another person.” Again, the Court found that the dog owner was not directly involved in equine activities and therefore did not fall under the protection of the statute.

Overall, the protections afforded by the EALLs are intended to be broad but not without limits. As a general rule of thumb, anyone who is genuinely providing or promoting equine related activities or events will likely fall within the scope of the EALLs. Still, given the exceptions afforded by many of these laws, it certainly doesn’t mean that person is bulletproof. That is the topic we will address next month.

Mati Jarve is the managing partner of the Marlton, New Jersey law firm of Jarve Kaplan Granato, LLC. He is certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Civil Trial Attorney and the National Board of Trial Attorneys as a Trial Advocate. Licensed in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Arizona, he maintains a national practice in civil litigation, including equine related issues. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice.

If you have a specific legal question or problem you should consult with an experienced and knowledgeable equine law attorney. Questions, comments or suggestions can be emailed to, by visiting

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