Most often, the bill of sale marks the completion of the sales transaction, with the buyer getting the horse anticipated and the seller receiving consideration. The thought of litigation is not the foremost of considerations. But the potential for a buyer feeling duped and the seller feeling vulnerable to suit exists and basic measures could be taken to minimize the risk to both parties.

The purchase of a horse can involve significant sums of money, and carries with it the rider’s hope of success, whether measured in the competitive show arena or a more relaxed setting of enjoyment with the horse. When dealing with horses anything can go wrong, from an unanticipated injury, exacerbation of a pre-existing condition, development of a new illness, or incompatibility of horse and rider, just to name a few. These basic guidelines may help avert a claim of non-disclosure and fraud against a seller, maximize the buyer’s knowledge of the horse’s health prior to purchase, and ultimately assist in avoiding the incurrence of legal fees if problems materialize.

Vet the Horse
A pre-purchase exam can be advantageous to both buyer and seller. The exam can alert a potential buyer to undisclosed and unknown medical conditions that may or may not be problematic. A pre-purchase exam can also protect the seller from claims of undisclosed risks. If a buyer decides not to perform a vet exam to save costs, because of familiarity with seller, or otherwise, insert in the bill of sale that the seller permitted the buyer to perform a pre-purchase exam with a vet of their choosing, and that the buyer elected to purchase the horse without a veterinarian examination.

Try the Horse
Trying a horse before acquiring ownership may sound obvious, but for a host of reasons, some purchases are made without doing so. A seller should offer a trial period, or a more informal opportunity for the buyer to try the horse on at least more than one occasion. Depending upon the seller’s familiarity with the prospective purchaser, the seller may offer a trial for a finite period at the buyer’s barn, offer for the buyer to return to seller’s barn to try the horse again, or offer to take the horse to another facility to be tried. If a trial period of some sort was performed or offered and rejected, specify all details in the bill of sale. Doing so may serve to protect the seller against future claims ranging from horse and rider incompatibility to that of pressuring the buyer into a quick purchase.

Obtain Prior History
Request the veterinarian records from the seller. This disclosure allows the buyer to review the horse’s written medical history and treatment. From the seller’s perspective, offering vet records can protect against future claims of non-disclosure. If the seller rejects the buyer’s request to review the records without explanation, the buyer may have a heightened sense of circumspection before completing the transaction.

If concerns still exist as to the horse’s health after review of records and a pre-purchase vet exam, ask for permission to speak with the horse’s current veterinarian. The pre-purchase examination, combined with the perspective of the existing veterinarian familiar with horse’s health history, maximizes the buyer’s knowledge before making a purchase, provides optimal disclosure, and helps to avert litigation in situations where a buyer regrets the purchase of a horse.

Retain an Independent Veterinarian
Get fresh eyes to examine the horse. Most commonly, buyers use their current veterinarian to perform the pre-purchase examination, but often times, horses are bought and sold within the same barn. A veterinarian without prior experience treating and evaluating the horse may offer the most unbiased evaluation of the horse. Sellers should identify the horse’s existing veterinarian and offer the buyer to select a vet of their own choosing. Insert this information into the bill of sale.

Be Realistic
There is risk in any transaction, and the above tips are intended to minimize the potential of both parties becoming embroiled in costly litigation after the sale and purchase of a horse. The acquisition of relevant medical history and compatibility with the horse is only one aspect of the potential purchase, to be put into context with other relevant factors. The asking price, the goal of the purchase, the horse’s age and proven record, and the potential complications that may arise from pre-existing health conditions are all relevant considerations.

Avoiding litigation is in the best interest of all parties to the transaction. Making an informed decision prior to purchase and disclosing information prior to the sale is one way to help achieve this goal.

By Jessica E. Choper, Esq.