Q: I have three ponies that were bought for my two sons, who have decided to do other sports. I don’t wish to sell the ponies, so I keep them at home, where I run a retirement livery yard.
Four girls, aged between five and nine, share the ponies one, two or three days a week. They take responsibility for the ponies on their own days, feeding and mucking them out. I was giving one sharer a regular weekly lesson and the others occasional holiday lessons. I also gave lessons to four other girls, whose parents have neither the experience nor time to take on a share.
I did not make a profit from the lessons, just enough to cover some costs, while being ridden stopped the ponies being bored in the field. I never advertise and if anyone rings up I refer them to a local riding school.
I have been reported under the Riding Establishments Act for not having a licence. At present, I have stopped teaching, but the sharers are continuing to borrow the ponies, look after them and pay a contribution towards their keep.
Is this acceptable as long as I don’t teach? Can I continue to teach these people (in the best interests of my ponies, so they stay fit and healthy and are not ruined by poor riding) as long as I take no payment?
Some parents of the children who have lessons have offered to buy shares in the ponies because I would be permitted to teach people on their own ponies. Could they do this without having their names on the passports and would being a part-owner of a pony allow me to teach them?
Many people use their own ponies to teach a few friends; surely there must be an alternative to having to apply for a licence?
A: While you were accepting payment for giving riding lessons, you did fall within the requirement to have a licence. The Riding Establishments Act is very broad and defines a riding establishment as “the carrying on of a business of keeping horses to let them out on hire for riding, or for use in providing instruction in riding for payment, or both”.
You were likely to be viewed as a riding establishment because you are keeping horses for use for riding lessons and are receiving payment in return. Even if you do not provide lessons, you may still be considered as hiring the ponies out for payment under the act. The law does not differentiate whether the payment you receive is for profit or merely a contribution towards the upkeep of the ponies.
This would be the case whether you own the ponies or not, as the act stipulates that you merely have to be “keeping” them, which you are because they live at your home. Transferring ownership to any of the sharers will still normally mean that you do need a licence if you are receiving payment. If you do transfer part-ownership to others, their names must be on the ponies’ passports.
If you do not receive payment, but provide the ponies for free, you will not normally need a licence under the Riding Establishment Act. However, your local authority may take a different view from this and we would advise you to liaise with them.
You may still need a licence in the long-term, particularly if you decide to transfer part-ownership of the ponies to others. Secondary legislation is being proposed to come into place once the Animal Welfare Bill has been passed that may bring in licensing for all livery yards that provide stabling for other people’s animals.
You should also seriously consider taking out public liability insurance if you do not already have it. This will cover you for any accidents that might happen, particularly to sharers while they are on your premises.
If you do decide to become a licensed riding establishment, you also need to consider whether or not you will need planning permission for change of use. Your local authority should be able to advise you on this.
For legal advice, contact Laytons Solicitors (tel: 0161 834 2100) www.laytons.com
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