A couple ordered to pay substantial damages to a teenager who fell off one of their ponies are warning that the case will have serious repercussions for the horse industry.

Last Friday, three judges at London’s Appeal Court ruled that even though Matthew and Georgia Stokes were not negligent, they were “strictly liable” and must pay Aimee Welsh’s damages.

At the time, Aimee was a 17-year-old trainee at the couple’s yard in Cornwall. She suffered serious head injuries when their nine-year-old pony, Ivor, reared, threw her off and fell on top of her (news, 28 June).

“I’m very disappointed,” said Mr Stokes. “But until the law changes, it will keep happening.

“I now have to inform my new insurers — they knew this was pending — and it will probably make it harder for me to get my employers’ liability insurance.”

In October last year, Judge David Tyzack QC said Ivor was a “sensible horse with no history of misbehaviour or vice of any kind” and dismissed claims that the Stokeses had been negligent.

The judge considered she was competent to ride a sensible horse like Ivor and the Stokeses could not have forseen the accident. Nevertheless, he ruled that the Stokeses were “strictly liable” to pay compensation under the terms of the 1971 Animals Act.

The couple challenged that ruling at London’s Appeal Court in June, but last week their case was dismissed. Unless terms are agreed beforehand, the amount of Aimee’s compensation will be assessed at another hearing.

Read this news story in full in this week’s Horse & Hound (2 August, ’07), on sale now