Buying a horse: your rights

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If you’re planning to buy a horse, make sure you know what your legal rights are first to avoid any disputes arising.

Buying from a horse dealer

The Sale of Goods Act applies only if you buy an equine from a person classified as a ‘dealer’. Buying from a horse dealer can offer the best protection.

If you find your new horse has a problem, making him unsuitable for the purpose you bought him, you’re entitled to your money back — even if the horse dealer denies knowledge.

The Act implies certain conditions of sale — your ‘statutory rights’.

These are:

1. The horse must be of ‘reasonable’ or ‘satisfactory’ quality — for instance, free of defects such as lameness — unless you have prior knowledge and accept the condition.

2. The new horse must be fit for the purpose for which it was generally sold, or any purpose made known at the time of the agreement.

3. He must be ‘as described’. If your new eight-year-old horse turns out to be over 18, it’s a breach of trading standards.

If one or all of these criteria are not met, you may be entitled to a full refund or the difference in value between the horse you thought you were buying and the one you got.

Buying privately

Buying privately is a different matter. The law ‘caveat emptor’ (let the buyer beware) exists.

If the horse has a problem, you must be able to prove the seller knew, or ought to have known, about it in order for you to get a refund. And suing for breach of contract can be difficult, lengthy and costly.

NFU legal/technical adviser, Nicola Cook, says: “If you innocently rely on the vendor’s comments, such as believing the horse to be vice-free when it turns out to weave, then you have the right to your money back, including the full cost of the horse, compensation and other expenses incurred.

“But you have to be able to prove that the seller represented the horse wrongly or inaccurately. In court, that could simply come down to your word against theirs. For this reason, you should get a written representation from the seller when you buy a horse.”

Buyer’s checklist

Minimise the risk of being taken for a ride with Nicola’s advice checklist.

1. Always take another person with you to act as a witness.

2. Get the horse vetted by your own or an independent horse vet. Tell the equine vet what activities you want the horse for.

3. Try the horse out at least once and watch it being ridden by its current rider. Watch how he responds when being tacked up and in the stable.

4. Face the horse with different scenarios: hack him out alone, in company and in traffic. If it’s important he can jump, try him out over fences and coloured poles. Also, it’s a good idea to see him being loaded.

5. Get something in writing from the vendor that confirms the horse is what they say he is. This helps to avoid confusion and provides some signed evidence to back up your claim in court, should it come to that.

6. Reputable horse dealers will agree in writing to take a horse back if it has a physical or behavioural problem and either refund the purchase price or offer an exchange. Don’t let the horse dealer take the horse back to sell it on your behalf. You, and not the dealer, could be sued by the next owner if you fail to disclose a problem.

7. Ask to have the horse on loan for a week’s trial period to see how he reacts in unfamiliar territory and give you time to make up your mind. You will need toinsure the horse first.

8. If there’s a problem, act straight away. The longer you leave it, the more you risk losing your right to a full refund, although you’ll still be able to claim damages.

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Originally published on horseandhound.co.uk