Buying and selling horses: legal rights and obligations

By The Equine Law Firm

For many of us, horses represent an investment of time, emotions and money. When the sale of a horse goes well, it is rewarding for all parties, when it doesn’t, it causes a great deal of distress.

It is important that both buyers and sellers of horses are aware of their legal rights and obligations, and they that they bear them in mind when buying or selling a horse.

If a written contract or agreement was entered into, that document will be the starting point if a dispute arises. If it has been drafted well, it will provide for the terms on which the buyer wanted to buy and the seller wanted to sell the horse. There are other terms which will also be implied into certain contracts by law, whether or not a written contract exists.

If a buyer is buying from a person acting “in the course of a business or trade”, (i.e: a dealer or a producer), the law provides that the horse must be:-

  • Of satisfactory quality
  • Fit for purpose
  • As described
  • In accordance with any information provided before the sale was agreed

Accordingly, if you are selling a horse in the course of a business, you are responsible for ensuring that the horse meets with those standards.

There are certain exceptions to those standards, for example if any vices are specifically brought to the buyer’s attention before the purchase, or if any faults or defects are plainly and clearly obvious, and the buyer has examined the horse before purchase. Another example of an exception (specifically to the requirement for goods to be fit for purpose) is if the buyer uses the horse for a purpose which was not made known to the seller.

If a horse bought from a trader does not meet with the standards set out above, the buyer has the following options:-

Within 30 days of delivery of the horse, the buyer has a right to reject the horse and request a full refund. In this instance, the buyer is entitled to treat the contract as at an end, and receive a refund, but the buyer must make the horse immediately available for collection.

  1. Alternatively, within the first 30 days after delivery, the buyer can request a “repair or replacement” of the horse. This may be another horse which the seller has, or some treatment or training to address the issue with the purchased horse. If the buyer elects this option over option 1, the 30 day period which the buyer has to ultimately reject the horse is paused, and they will have a minimum of 7 days to finally reject the horse on its return, if the repair or replacement isn’t satisfactory.
  2. If the buyer discovers the problems after 30 days of delivery, they must give the seller one opportunity to “repair or replace” the horse. If this is not possible, the attempt to do so fails, or the replacement is also defective, then the buyer will have a final right to reject the horse, or to agree a price reduction.

If a buyer buys from a private individual, fewer legal rights will apply. Put simply, the buyer is entitled to take the horse in accordance with how it was described by the seller before the sale. When buying from a private individual, it is therefore very important to ensure that any key requirements (such as height or temperament) are recorded in writing before the sale.

In both situations, the best way for the buyer and seller to protect their position is to agree the terms of the sale in writing. Evidencing the terms of an oral contract after many weeks or months have passed is difficult. Memories will fade and misunderstandings arise as to what was said or agreed at the time. A signed written agreement will not change over time, and both parties will have a point of reference to minimise the prospect of any dispute.

If a dispute arises, we set out below some key tips to help bring about a swift resolution:-

  1. Remember that anything you say (particularly by text message, e-mail or instant message) could eventually be read by a Judge deciding your case. Think carefully about what you commit to writing. Try to avoid responding to messages in anger or frustration. Take care with social media posts and comments.
  2. Do not say anything that could be construed as a concession, an admission, or which could undermine any argument which you may wish to make.
  3. Preserve any evidence which you have available. Keep hold of any text messages or e-mails. Take photographs or videos to evidence your position, if required. Remember that online adverts may disappear quickly.
  4. Think at an early stage about what your objective is. Your actions and efforts should be centred around a practical objective, rather than trying to get revenge or justice.
  5. Seek independent advice from a qualified legal advisor before taking steps to bring a claim at Court. It is important that you are aware of the strength of your case before investing significant time and money in pursuing it.

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