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The Abandoned Horse Problem — Solve it Quickly

Owners of farms boarding horses are placed squarely in the horns of a dilemma when the horse owner defaults on board fees. Obviously, the farm owner cannot stop feeding the horse because of concern for the animal's well being as well as animal cruelty laws. In addition, the laws that cover abandonment of personal property typically require a lengthy period of abandonment before any action can be taken to claim the property. This is because, in the eyes of the law, horses are goods, just like an armoire or a lawn mower. The law recognizes that personal property can be abandoned, and does offer a scheme whereby, after a certain lengthy period of time, someone else can claim that abandoned property. However, these laws don't help horse farm owners much because a horse is a piece of property that also eats, must be cared for, and must be cleaned up after. Therefore, things can get expensive as the horse eats on the farm's dime while awaiting the abandonment period to pass. Further, there are other laws on the books that punish horse caretakers that let horses get too skinny or fail to feed them.

Recognizing that the business of boarding horses places farm owners into this "catch-22" situation, many states have laws on the books to deal with these kinds of issues. The laws allow farm owners to go to court when a boarder defaults on board fees. The farm owner can petition the court to sell the horse in order to cover the cost of its food and care. Because this petition must be performed through the courts, it requires the hiring of an attorney. But it is money well spent because it allows the farm owner to limit his financial risk and pursue a viable method of remuneration. Therefore, the petitioning process should be commenced as soon as the boarder defaults. These laws allow for a lien to be placed on a horse that is boarded under a boarding contract. This further allows for petitioning the court to sell the horse for its food and care costs almost immediately without having to prove the other side has defaulted and awaiting the resolution of a lengthy abandonment case.

IMPORTANT: Notice above that I said this process requires the horse be under a boarding contract. The requirement of what defines a "boarding contract" depends on the laws of your particular state. In some states, it MUST be a written agreement; in others, they may recognize a verbal contract. However, a written contract is almost always easier to enforce because it stipulates in permanent and specific form the actual agreement to which the parties have agreed. Therefore, I recommend that you maintain properly written and executed boarding contracts with all of your boarders to avail yourself of the financial relief afforded by these laws should you need it. And there are also many other reasons and issues that can better be dealt with to protect your interests if you have a properly written contract in place with each boarder.

So, the lesson to be drawn is that help can be had and it will just require a trip to court. Believe it or not, court is not that bad a place — sometimes, it can even help.

Kathleen A. Reagan, Esq. is an equine attorney practicing in Braintree, MA, available at www.kathleenreaganlaw.com, has developed a course in equine law at www.concordlawschool.com, and is co-founder and Vice President of QueryHorse, the largest horse information resource on the Internet.

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