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Q: I have two ponies, one of whom I allow a 14-year-old girl to ride up to three times a week. I accompany my daughter when she rides — she is 11 — but am not always there when the 14-year-old rides.

The yard owner doesn’t want the 14-year-old there alone, as he says she needs to be 16 before he is cleared of any liability. However, he says that if she were my daughter, and therefore technically the pony’s owner, it would be ok.

Is there a minimum age or time limit for a child to be left alone with a pony? Is this any different if the child does not own the animal? If the parents of the 14-year-old sign a declaration to say they are happy with the current situation, would this be OK?

A: According to Laytons Solicitors, while there is now a considerable amount of legislation in force to protect children, there is no specific legal minimum age for leaving children or youngsters unattended with horses or ponies.

It may be either a condition of the yard owner’s insurance, or simply that they do not want unaccompanied under-16s on the premises for more general health and safety reasons. So we would advise that you speak to the yard owner and find out if there are any age-specific conditions they wish people to abide by.

Stuart Farr of Laytons says: “Yard owners have to face a considerable number of safety related legal issues nowadays, including occupiers’ and public liability, health and safety and animal welfare issues. Yard owners must now be conscious of the risks people face when visiting their premises and take reasonable steps to mitigate those risks as much as possible.”

We spoke to Shearwater Insurance Services and were told that its policies do not have a minimum age limit in respect of public liability cover.

A spokesperson stated: “Whether or not there are age restrictions would also depend on where the liability cover for the pony is held, such as on the pony’s insurance or through a society membership. The owner would need to check with her specific liability providers to see if they have age limits or guidelines or cover anyone handling/riding the pony with permission, irrespective of age.

On the drawing up of a declaration, Stuart Farr adds: “The giving of some form of written consent presents certain difficulties in that context. At the very least, the relevant insurer would need to expressly agree with the yard owner that it will continue to provide cover in those particular circumstances. Even then, the insurer might ask the yard owner to pay a proportionately higher premium in return.

“There is also a risk that such forms of ‘consent’ or ‘disclaimers’ will not hold up in court because, by implication, it would probably allow the yard owner to exclude his/her liability for any personal injury or death caused to the child. As a matter of public policy, such arrangements have generally been frowned upon for some years and therefore if you are intent on entering into such an arrangement it is highly recommended that you first seek detailed advice on your legal position.”

  • For equine legal advice call Stuart Farr at Laytons Solicitors (tel: 0161 834 2100)
    www.laytons.comThis Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (28 December, ’06)