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Q: Over the past two years, the standard of care at my livery yard steadily declined. I decided to give one month’s notice, as required in the contract, but one evening discovered my horse in a dirty stable without hay or water and the owner away until morning. I removed him from the livery yard the following morning. Am I able to recoup the month’s livery costs I paid upfront?
PC, Hampshire

It is reasonable to terminate your livery contract where a fundamental breach has occurred.

“It seems that there has been a string of failures in this case, culminating in a serious breach,” said Richard Brooks, partner at solicitors Withy King. “There is every indication that such breaches would continue and, in the circumstances, you are entitled to your money back.

“It goes without saying that there are two sides to every contract — if you pay your money in return for a promised service, then you expect and are entitled to receive the promised service in return.

“The livery yard has failed in its part of the bargain, and cannot therefore demand that you keep your part of the bargain by paying during the month’s notice period.”

Mark Charter, head of the agriculture and equine team at solicitors Blake Lapthorn, added that the relationship between the reader and the yard owner is still regulated by the livery contract, despite the fact that the reader terminated the contract during the notice period.

“While much will depend upon the exact terms of the livery contract — whether it is a verbal agreement or in writing — one would expect an agreement to impose an obligation on the livery yard owner to feed and water a horse,” said Mark. “Consequently, the failure to do so adequately would be a fundamental breach of contract.

“Following the yard’s breach, the reader was entitled either to treat any future obligations under the agreement as discharged, and claim damages for the breach. By removing the horse from the yard, the reader treated the agreement as ‘at an end’.

“As such, subject to any express terms of the agreement, it appears the reader is entitled to recover the cost of stable and livery services paid from the point of the breach, which on these facts, coincides with the removal of the horse from the livery yard.

“In all likelihood, however, any claim by the reader will fall within the jurisdiction of the small claims court. Consequently, if the livery yard owner does not repay the reader the livery costs in question, and the reader has to sue the livery yard owner, the reader will not recover in that process any fee incurred in taking advice from solicitors,” said Mark.

“There is no reason why the reader could not claim such an action without the involvement of solicitors — however, as in all matters such as these, the economics of pursuing the sum in dispute can ultimately outweigh the sum itself.”

Information

Withy King, tel: 01672 514781 www.withyking.co.uk

Blake Lapthorn, tel: 02380 857116 www.bllaw.co.uk

This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (23 April, ’09)

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