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Q: OUR neighbouring horse owners choose to “herd” their horses with arm flapping and chasing, rather than leading them in and out of the fields. Our schooling ring borders their land, so when this happens, it can be distressing for us and our horses. We have asked the neighbours on numerous occasions to stop, but they say they can’t lead more than one horse in at a time. If they caused an accident could they be held responsible?
GT, Glos

AS solicitor Richard Brooks, partner in racing and bloodstock at law firm Withy King explains, giving a definitive answer in this case is difficult.

“There are two conflicting principles recognised in law. First, a man’s home is his castle, and he should not be told what to do there. Second, a man owes a duty of care to his neighbours,” he says. “This is a tricky case, and not one I would like to take all the way to trial because I can see arguments on both sides and judges are not entirely predictable.

“There is nothing inherently wrong in the neighbour’s behaviour, and it is questionable if it can be characterised as a breach of their duty of care towards the letter writer. However, if I were the ‘herder’, I would be worried to find myself in the situation of having been warned that my actions were at risk of causing an accident, only to carry on and see an accident happen. The neighbour could be held responsible for an accident caused by their actions, but the case is far from black and white,” Richard concludes.

Stuart Farr, equine specialist at Laytons solicitors, adds: “It is difficult to characterise your neighbours’ behaviour as unlawful.

“It is unlikely to be classed as a nuisance in tort law [that provides a range of circumstances in which a person may be held liable for certain types of civil wrongs].

“Nor are their actions likely to fall foul of the Animals Act legislation, or constitute a breach of duty as an occupier of land.”

“If an accident were to occur, you may be able to claim against your neighbour if their actions were the principle cause. Such a case would be decided on its particular facts and merits, and success would by no means be a certainty. It would be sensible for you to take practical precautions on your own premises to avoid the risk of an accident and to make sure that your own insurance is adequate.”

Information

• Laytons Solicitors www.laytons.com Tel: 01618 342100

• Withy King www.withyking.co.uk Tel: 01225 425731

This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (9 October 2008)