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Livery disputes were the third most common subject of calls to the BHS members’ legal advice line in 2017. One of the most complex issues to resolve occurs when a horse is abandoned on a livery yard.

With livery costs often outstanding and costs mounting up as the abandoned horse needs to be fed, stabled and looked after, what ideally needs to be resolved quickly can frequently end up being a drawn-out and complicated process.

“Shouldering unpaid livery fees in addition to the ongoing cost of housing and caring for an abandoned animal can potentially pose a significant financial risk to a livery business,” says Oonagh Meyer, BHS Head of Approvals.

“We would always recommend that yard owners ensure their livery contracts are drafted with professional assistance in order to minimise this risk.”

Livery agreements

Having a livery agreement in place can make the procedure considerably easier for all parties concerned. Under the agreement, the livery owner can (if livery goes unpaid for a specified period of time) take possession and ownership of the horse after the time specified in the contract, providing s/he informs the owners in writing that this clause has been enacted.

“Not all livery yards have agreements but it makes life much easier and offers more protection for both parties if one is in place,” explains Jacqui Fulton from Jacqui Fulton Equine Law. “If nothing is in writing then that makes life very difficult.”

Rosie Lewis, Equine Litigation Paralegal for Harrison Clark Rickerbys Ltd, adds: “By terminating the agreement and serving notices under the ‘Control of Horses Act’, a yard owner takes the risk that the owner simply removes the horse from the yard without paying any outstanding fees, leaving the yard owner out of pocket.”

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Abandoned

If a horse has been abandoned on your land, for example in the case of fly grazing, then the ‘Control of Horses Act 2015’ gives the landowner the right to take possession of the horse once an abandonment notice has been served.

“The abandonment notice needs to be served upon the owner of the horse(s) or placed somewhere visible, like on a gate, and specify that the landowner has the right to take ownership of the horse after four days or 96 hours if the horse is not removed,” continues Jacqui. “After this time has passed, if the horse is still on the land the landowner has the right to sell or destroy the horse(s) and keep any monies earned.”

One obstacle to selling abandoned horses can be the lack of the horse’s passport. Legally however passports should be kept at a horse’s yard.

If a horse is abandoned on your yard and you have a livery agreement in place then the following steps should be taken:

  • Inform the owners in writing that unless the horse is removed from the yard and any outstanding monies are paid by a certain date (the time frame which is specified in the contract) the livery owner will take possession and ownership of the horse as per the livery agreement.
  • If the horse is still at the yard following the date specified in the letter to the owners, the livery yard owner can sell the horse and take from the purchase price the unpaid livery fees plus costs of sale. Any money in excess of this must be paid to the owner.

If no livery agreement exists:

  • Take legal advice upon whether the Control of Horse Act 2015 applies and an abandonment notice should therefore be served.

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