As an attorney, I am often asked by newcomers taking horse riding lessons, what are the buyer’s legal rights when they buy a horse. You are governed by contract law which is defined in your state. It is imperative to have a written contract so that your agreement is less ambiguous and easier to define.
Generally speaking, and one of the most important horse riding lessons is that the buyer purchases a horse “AS IS”, meaning that the duty is on you, the buyer, to examine the horse prior to the purchase. Any defects gone unnoticed and found after the purchase are not a cause of action for a law suit against the seller. It is truly a “buyer beware” situation!
Of course, any agreement can change the “as is” nature of the transaction. You may include in your purchase contract, for example, that the horse is 8 years old and suitable for a child to ride. If you later find out that the horse is actually 15 years old and was used by the seller as in gymkhana events, you may very well have a cause of action against the seller!
1. The more you can get in writing, the better. At a minimum you should expect to receive a Bill Of Sale in which the horse is identified by name, age, breed, color, sex and any other identifying traits that distinguish him from another horse. If any of those elements of the contract are later found to be untrue, you may have a cause of action if the breach is material. For example, if the horse is said to be 6 years old and in fact he is 5 years old, you may not be damaged in the eyes of the law. If the horse is said to be 6 years old and he is in fact 18, you would be damaged because you are buying a horse whose lifespan is significantly less than you expected.
2. If you can prove (that’s the hard part) that the seller engaged in fraud, you can overcome a written contract just as in other civil contract cases. Fraud is difficult to prove, however, because it requires that you show the seller made an intentional misrepresentation designed to make you buy the horse. For example, if the seller knows the horse has navicular disease, yet tells the buyer he is totally sound, the buyer has a cause of action if he can prove the seller’s knowledge of that fact.
3. Besides the written contract, look also at the advertisement the seller may have published. The ad could contain specific statements that could be interpreted as part of the bargain. For example, a buyer who purchased a horse advertised as having “no vices” could likely successfully sue the seller if, immediately after the purchase, the horse turns out to be a terrible cribber. Even if the contract says you are buying the horse “as is”, the written ad would likely give the buyer recourse anyway.
4. If the seller has a higher, specific duty to you, then you may have recourse as well. If the seller was also your instructor, he or she has an affirmative duty to help you buy the right horse above and beyond the normal seller’s contractual obligations.
5. Determine whether the seller is subject to the UCC? The Uniform Commercial Code governs the sales of goods from “merchants”. In the horse business, a merchant would be someone who makes a regular income with horse transactions, like breeders and livestock agents. If the UCC applies, then the transaction will come with two implied warranties: merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. This will mean that, regardless of the contract, the horse must be reasonably sound and healthy as well as suited to the buyer’s purpose. These can only be excepted if done so in writing in the contract. So, look for that language!
Do not lose your head when it comes to buying a horse. This is the first horse riding lesson everyone should learn! Think things through and get it all in writing!