• You take your friend on a trail ride, but an hour into the ride the saddle slips and your friend falls off. He sues.
  • Two hours into a scenic trail ride, a horse provided by a public riding stable walks up a hill, but the saddle slips and spooks the horse. The guest falls and files a lawsuit.

If any of these incidents occurred in a state with an Equine Activity Liability Act (“EALA”), could the injured rider base his or her lawsuit on the “faulty tack or equipment” exception? *

Over the years, courts have examined the issue of what qualifies as “faulty tack or equipment.” In these two cases, the courts were convinced that a loose cinch or girth does not.

In a 2014 Georgia case, the defendant allowed the plaintiff, his friend, to ride one of his horses on a trail, but the saddle slipped, and the plaintiff fell. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant failed to securely cinch the horse and cited the “faulty tack or equipment” exception in Georgia’s EALA. The trial court disagreed, and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed. In its opinion, the appellate court wrote that it was “not persuaded that [improper tightening] constitutes ‘faulty tack’ within the meaning of [Georgia’s EALA]." It explained: “We decline to construe that exception as encompassing tack that is inadequately secured but otherwise in good working order.”

In a 2009 Massachusetts case, the plaintiff, an inexperienced rider, test-rode a retired Thoroughbred race horse at the defendant’s stable but was thrown when the horse broke into a gallop and the saddle slipped. The trial court dismissed her case based on the Massachusetts EALA, and the appellate court affirmed as to the “faulty tack or equipment” exception. It found that a slipped saddle does not necessarily amount to “faulty tack.”

States laws can differ, and not all courts agree. This blog post does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

*Although all EALAs differ, an example of a “faulty tack” exception in an EALA can be found in Ohio’s law. It states, in part: “the immunity from tort or other civil liability conferred by [another section of the law] is forfeited if any of the following circumstances applies: (a) An equine activity sponsor, equine activity participant, equine professional, veterinarian, farrier, or other person provides to an equine activity participant faulty or defective equipment or tack and knows or should know that the equipment or tack is faulty or defective, and the fault or defect in the equipment or tack proximately causes the harm involved.” [Ohio Revised Code § 2305.321.]