Options available for your horses when you can no longer keep them

Jane Doe got a bonus from work and indulged her dream of owning a horse, spending the extra money on a beautiful mare. She soon realized, however, that the monthly expenses and time commitment of horse ownership were more than she could handle.

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Joe Smith takes good care of his horse, spending plenty of time riding him. But Joe was injured and can no longer ride or properly care for his horse.

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Mary Brown’s father passed away, leaving behind his treasured horse. Mary lives in an apartment in the city and cannot care for the horse.

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Whether due to poor planning, a change in circumstances, or some other reason, there are instances when a horse owner is simply unable to keep their beloved horse and must consider other options.

Last month, we took a look at horse abandonment, which often happens when a person is unwilling or unable to care for a horse. There are many legal and moral complications involved with horse abandonment and it is certainly not the recommended option when a person can no longer care for their horse.

There are better options to consider, each has its own pros and cons.

Selling Your Horse

When unable to keep a horse, the private sale of a horse is probably the first option that comes to mind for many. However, the sale of a horse is a major business transaction and must be done properly in order to avoid liability and fees that can be imposed if something goes wrong.

The laws governing the sale of a horse vary from state to state. The sale of a horse is generally covered by the state’s Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) as well as consumer protection acts. Typically, you must be able to provide or make available all relevant paperwork (including veterinary records and registration papers), and you must have a written bill of sale that includes certain language and conditions as required by your particular state. In addition, you need to diligently disclose all issues regarding your horse’s condition and temperament to avoid any legal backlash should problems arise down the road. You should also take time to question and evaluate any potential buyers to make sure that your horse will be well cared for.

Practically speaking, the sale of a horse can take time, and during that time you are still responsible for the care of the horse. Thus, while the private sale of a horse may seem appealing, it can have its drawbacks.

Livestock Auctions

Unlike private sales, livestock auctions are relatively quick and free of complications. Thus, due to time and financial constraints, many horse owners will consider taking their horse to a livestock auction for sale. However, the disadvantage—and it is a big one—is the lack of control over who purchases your horse. Livestock auctions are often frequented by buyers looking for horses to sell on the foreign slaughter market. The horse, if purchased by one of these buyers, will be handled in what many consider a cruel and inhumane manner up to and including the time of slaughter. Even if an auction house assures you that the horse will not be sold to one of these slaughterhouse buyers, you generally have no way to determine if that is true, and no legal recourse if that “promise” is broken.

Leasing Your Horse

Leasing your horse can ease the time and financial burdens of horse ownership. Generally, a lease involves having someone (called the “lessee”) pay a portion of the expenses for upkeep of the horse in exchange for the right to spend time with the horse on certain agreed-upon days. A lease should not be entered into lightly. The terms of the lease must be carefully considered and committed to writing. Among other things, the liability of both the owner and the lessee need to be firmly established. For instance, if the horse causes injury to another person’s property while the lessee is out riding it, who is responsible, the lessee or the owner?

While leasing a horse may help financially, the lease is usually only a temporary fix. Thus, plans should still be made for the care of the horse once the lease ends.

Donating Your Horse

A number of organizations (i.e. therapeutic riding centers, park police, and equestrian education programs) are more than willing to accept donated horses. Of course, you won’t be compensated for the horse, but the value of the horse may be tax deductible. The advantage is that you are not only finding a solution to your situation, but you are also helping those in need. However, before you decide on donation, you should do your research to make sure the place to which you are donating the horse is not only legitimate but suitable for your horse’s temperament and fitness level.

Horse Rescue or Sanctuary

Not all horse rescues are the same, but most will provide a temporary refuge for unwanted horses while they try to re-home them. Rescues vary as to intake requirements and length of time they keep a horse. Although most rescues try hard to re-home the horse, their resources are limited, and many rescues find it necessary to euthanize horses that they are unable to re-home. Many rescues are operating at capacity and it may take time and research before you are able to find one with an opening.

Keep in mind that, while most rescues attempt to screen potential adopters carefully, there are never any guarantees. Slaughter middlemen have been known to pose as legitimate adopters.

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In addition to these options, you might consider contacting the previous owner or breeder to see if they are willing to take the horse back. Some organizations, such as the AQHA’s Full Circle Program, or the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Connect Program, maintain a database of previous owners who want to be contacted if a horse they bred or owned needs a new home.



            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 e-mailed to mjarve@nj-triallawyers.com, by visiting www.nj-triallawyers.com.



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