You have just purchased your dream horse, he’s arrived and you begin to plan your future for him. However, you have only had him a short time before things start to go wrong, such as:

  • He was sold to you as a talented eventer, but suddenly stops jumping and you find out he has an underlying condition which means he should not be jumping.
  • The horse you bought was sold as a five-year-old, but turns out to be 15!
  • You have bought your child their first pony, which was described as ‘bombproof’ and a ‘perfect confidence giving first lead rein, but before you know it the pony has started to bolt and buck your child off.

These types of scenarios can be endless; therefore it is essential to know where you stand legally if things do go wrong. It is also necessary to be aware of what you should consider before a purchase is made.

Prior to purchase:

  • When you first go to try the horse make sure that you take someone knowledgeable with you, such as your instructor or trainer.
  • Always ensure that the owner rides the horse first, before you try the horse yourself. Ask to see the horse ridden at all paces and if applicable, over jumps. If you turn up and the horse is already being lunged or ridden, then alarm bells should start ringing! Ideally, you want to see the horse tacked up, straight from the field or stable.
  • Ask about the age, history and temperament of the horse and ask to see it in different situations, such as out in traffic, alone or in company. What is the horse like to load, shoe and clip?
  • Ask to take the horse on trial for a short period. Or, ask to see the horse again in a few days to a week’s time.
  • Do not put a deposit down until the horse has been vetted by your own, or an independent vet, and you have decided to make the purchase. Any form of deposit makes matters legally binding, where you are obliged to then buy the horse.
  • Ensure that the vet is made aware of what purpose the horse will be used for.
  • Ask the seller to confirm in writing that the horse is what he has been described as and ask them to set down what this description is. Keep the written advert and all written bills of sale etc.
  • A horse dealer should have no issue with taking a horse back if it turns out to have behavioural or other problems and should either offer an alternative horse or refund the price paid. Do not allow them to sell it on your behalf as you would be responsible for any issues the purchaser encountered.
  • If there are problems, take advice immediately and make the issues known to the seller in order to retain a strong legal position.

It is important to be aware that the legal position differs where the horse is bought from a dealer, as opposed to a private individual.

Purchasing from a dealer:

Where the seller is a dealer in business, then you will be better protected as The Sale of Goods Act 1979 will apply to the transaction – if issues arise which mean it is unsuitable, then you could be entitled to a refund of all or some of the price paid. This Act implies that there are conditions of sale – these are known as your statutory rights.

  • The horse must be fit for the purpose described by the dealer and for the purpose you have advised it will be used for – for example a horse to be used by a hunt master, who turns out never to have left the field.
  • The horse must be of satisfactory quality – for example, the earlier described eventer who is unable to jump owing to an underlying lameness condition – unless of course you bought him with knowledge of the problem.
  • The horse must be as described – for example the five-year-old, who turns out to be 15.

Purchasing from a private individual:

This is where the position becomes more complex. The position is very much ‘buyer beware’ and it is even more important in this situation to ensure that the horse is vetted. Speak to your vet about the different stages of vetting available.

If a dispute arises, you must be able to prove misrepresentation by the seller. This essentially means that you have to prove that the seller was aware or ought to have been aware of the issue and either did not tell you, or made representations and remarks which described the horse inaccurately. You must have relied upon these representations and as a consequence, this has been to your detriment.

In these types of situation you would be looking to sue the seller for breach of contract. You may have the right to claim your money back for the cost of the horse, any expenses incurred and possible additional compensation.

These cases can be extremely complex, time consuming and costly. The courts would consider the facts of each case and a decision would be based essentially upon which party’s side of the story was the most credible when looking at the facts.

It is therefore essential, whether purchasing from a dealer or private individual, to ensure that you obtain a bill of sale and a full written description of the horse, with the seller confirming that it fits the description and purpose for which it has been sold.

Of course, each individual scenario will differ considerably and it is also important to factor in that as horses are such complex animals, behavioural issues which do arise after purchase can also be attributed to new surroundings, a change in rider and routine or a change in the way that the horse is being fed or managed. It is therefore essential firstly to speak to the seller to try and iron out any issues and to take legal advice to find out where you stand.