Strict liability is liability which is imposed without the claimant having to prove that the defendant was at fault. In both cases the claims were made under section 2 of the Animal Act 1971 – damage caused by a domesticated animal. There are varying degrees of damage depending on the usual characteristics of the animal in certain circumstances.

In Goldsmith, the claimant was riding a borrowed horse when she fell off after the horse spooked and vigorously bucked. She suffered serious facial injuries when the horse stepped on her on the ground. The defendant had previously warned her that the horse required an experienced rider, which he relied on as a defence under section 5 of the Act as the claimant had “voluntarily accepted” the risk associated with riding the horse.

While the claimant conceded she had voluntarily accepted the risk of the horse bucking if it was frightened, she argued that she did not voluntarily accept the degree and violence of the bucking so that even an experienced rider could be injured. The judge rejected her argument, holding the claimant could not voluntarily accept that the horse might only buck to a certain degree.

A similar judgement was passed in Bodey v Hall. The claimant was helping out with a friend’s pony and trap when the pony spooked, throwing both the claimant and defendant out of the trap. The claimant was not wearing a helmet. She suffered serious injuries and brought a claim under section 2 of the Act and a claim for contributory negligence. The judge applied the same principals as in Goldsmith, the claimant was an experienced horsewoman and would know that a horse could spook violently when frightened. She had voluntarily accepted the risk so a defence was available under section 5 of the Act. The judge decided that there was no contributory negligence from the defendant’s failure to insist that the claimant wore a helmet. The claimant was experienced enough to know that a helmet was sensible if not habitual for drivers and grooms out in traps.

Although both claims were dismissed and are circumstance specific, the advice for anyone contemplating sharing, loaning or just offering a casual ride is to be completely upfront and honest about the horse’s nature so as to allow the rider to make a decision whether or not to proceed. Riders should be honest about their own ability and aware of the dangers because by voluntarily accepting the associated risks they accept the full range of a horse’s reactions, from the gentle to the uncontrolled and violent.