Equine Inherent Risk Law: Find Out How It Affects Your Practice

December 09, 2022 5 min read

Equine Inherent Risk Law: Find Out How It Affects Your Practice

Horses are majestic and powerful creatures. They’ve helped us reach our civilization’s most important milestones across thousands of years. Along the way, we were blessed to have created such strong bonds with them, and later on  these special connections gave rise to equestrianism and therapeutic riding. 

While these graceful creatures are generally peaceful, we as humans still need to respect their boundaries, as horses are physically stronger. In the wild, they’re also easily spooked–a behavior that they carry even today, and even within the safety of stables. Due to this, there is always the risk of injury when dealing with equines. 

That’s why we’ve got the Equine Inherent Risk Law in the U.S. This legal principle acts as a safeguard for owners, riders, and the general public that deals with horses. 

How well do you know the Equine Inherent Risk Law? In this article, we’ll give you a general overview of what it is, as well as how it affects your equestrian lifedata-style:

 

The  Equine Inherent Risk Law and horseback riding lawsuits

People riding horses—and especially those who own them—have a responsibility to keep themselves, their steeds, and the people around them safe. As horses are considered a huge part of people’s lives whether it be for sport, for agriculture, for transport, or for therapy, there are safeguards that help protect the public from intentional or unintentional harm caused by regularly interacting with them.

The Shouse Injury Law Group explains the Equine Inherent Risk Law the simplest way possible: Horses are still legally considered to be dangerous animals, and while people who work with them  should assume the natural risks of doing so, owners can still be held liable for any injuries that their horses may cause if it’s proven that they were a result of negligence or that harm was done with intention.

Before getting into equine litigation, it’s important to first know what kind of injuries can be subject to liabilities:

  • Head injuries, including concussions and traumatic brain injuries

  • Injuries to the face/disfigurement

  • Injuries to the eyes that may or may no cause reduction or loss of vision

  • Scarring

  • Bone fractures and breaks

  • Crushing injuries

  • Muscle damage

  • Nerve damage

  • Paralysis

  • Death

These injuries can be caused by different incidents, including but not limited to:

  • Being bitten by a horse

  • Being stomped or kicked by a horse

  • Being thrown off a horse

  • Being run over by a horse

The injured party can sue the horse owner, the owner of the property where the incident happened, the trainer or the caretaker, the riding club, or those who are in charge of equine-related activities where the incident happened; however, it’s also important to understand that in an unintentional act,  the injured party must not be an active participant to the situation. This means that they must not have intentionally been in the situation they were in or that they didn’t do anything to cause the horse to unintentionally harm them. If they were an active participant, it can be considered that they’re also liable for their own actions, as they should know the inherent risk of being near or working with a horse.

One example would be a case in Michigan cited by the Michigan State University’s College of Law, where the plaintiff was bitten by a horse as she walked  through a stable. The plaintiff tried to sue the stable owner for liabilities, but the court determined that the plaintiff’s injury was caused by an inherent risk from an equine activity she participated in, and that the stable owner was declared free of liabilities.  


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Your horse is your responsibility, so be sure to stay on top of their safety especially around others.

 

What are Equine Activity Liability Acts?

In general, Equine Activity Liability Acts (EALA) are a collection of statutes of different states that limit the  liabilities from equine-related activities. As the Michigan State University College of Law explains, it aims to encourage the growth of responsible equine initiatives by affording certain limitations to how much an individual injured by such activities can sue owners, sponsors, and clubs. As previously noted, this rides on the consensus that horses are still considered dangerous animals, and that people who interact with them must understand that there are risks involved. 

EALAs are not to discourage injured parties from pushing owners, sponsors, and clubs to take responsibility for any horse-related  incident that happens in their stables, ranches, or arenas. It does,  however,  deter people from filing cases especially when they are partly responsible for their own injury (e.g. spooking a horse, encroaching on a horse’s space, etc.).

States that adopt an equine activity act have statutes that differ from each other—that is to say, the act of one state doesn’t necessarily apply to another. There are even some states that don’t have an equine activity law.It’s always a good idea to get familiar with your own state’s terms on the subject. Read on and we’ll see what you’ve got.

 

Equine activity law per state

As of 2022, Michigan State University lists the following states has having an Equine Activity Liability Act: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

California and Maryland do not have Equine Activity Liability Statutes.

These states have similar EALAs with  different focuses, depending on the culture and needs of each state. For example, the state of Utah’s EALA focuses not just on equine activities related to sports and leisure, but also activities that relate to agriculture. Their EALA encompasses other animals used for farmwork, as well as livestock. It also has a more detailed list of exceptions, which say that an equine/livestock activity sponsor/professional is not liable for injury or death due to inherent risks unless the said sponsor/professional provided the equipment or the tack, the equipment or  the tack caused injury, and the failure of the equipment or the tack was due to negligence in the part of the sponsor/professional.

On the other hand, the  EALA of Pennsylvania is slightly simpler and focuses only on equine activities. It also notes that immunity from liabilities is only applicable when a sign “at least three feet by two feet” is set up in the premises of  horse stables, training grounds, arenas, and venues where equestrian sports and other equine activities take place. The sign should read, “You assume the risk of equine activities pursuant to Pennsylvania law.

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While we're pretty sure that horses don't eat children, it's best to keep an eye on them when they get nibbly.

 

How do Equine Activity Liability Acts affect you?

Equine Activity Liability Acts basically surmise that there are always risks in engaging in equine activities and that this should push you to be a more responsible rider. As a horse trainer, partner, and/or owner, it also encourages you to educate people who enter your stables and other equine-friendly venues on how to deal with horses to avoid mishaps and accidents.

As much as possible, anyone who interacts with your equine partners should be given a few pointers about them. To start, it’s important to teach them how to approach a horse. PennState Extension highlights that one should never run towards a horse. Instead, walk calmly and encourage newbies  to hold out their hand. Speaking quietly to a horse can also help. Never approach a horse from behind or when it moves away. Always make sure that they’re steady before walking towards them again.

Learning where to stand is also important.  PennState Extension goes on to explain that a horse handler should stand at the horse’s “near side” or the left side, between the head and the shoulder. Horses have blind spots directly in front and behind them, so it’s important to remind first-timers to  never stand in those areas. When standing still, instruct them to always face the horse and to maintain eye contact as much as possible. 

Instruct first-timers to never lead a horse by its halter, and to never wrap the lead rope around their hands or any part of their body. Why? A sudden jerk from the horse can cause them to get sharply pulled the opposite direction, and this could result in injury. Remember that horses respond to perceived threats in a split-second; accepting that this is their nature can help newbies understand their behavior and respect the horse’s space more.

Aside from educating people in your vicinity, it’s also a must to use the right tools to avoid injuring your horse and hurting others in the process. Kavallerie has an array of tack and equipment to keep you safe and your horse comfortable. Gel bit guards work with most bit types, and can help keep your horse’s mouth from chafing as they are soft and flexible. Kavallerie’s polo wraps/leg bandages can offer additional leg support and protection while still remaining breathable. Gel saddle pads not only keep your saddle from sliding off, but also help distribute weight on your horse's back properly so as to avoid injury and to keep them happier and more comfortable. 

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Be prepared for anything. Read up on ways to soothe your horse when the going gets rough.

This was a pretty long ride and your brain must be loaded with new info, but we’re proud of you for taking the time to get familiar with these important aspects of horse riding! Education and responsible horse care are needed to avoid any horse-related incidents. Knowing what to do around horses, using the right tack to keep them comfortable, and being aware of the law can lessen the chances of accidents. You can create a calm learning environment where people can be safe and horses can thrive. Ride on in tack that's comfortable for you and your riding partner, Kavallerie crew! 

Click here to view our selection of high quality horse tack!