A specialist equine barrister is urging horse owners to scrutinise their insurance closely after learning that many policies do not cover third-party liability when a horse is being cared for on a livery yard, by a visiting practitioner or by a horse-sitter.

Insurance companies are this week looking at their policies after the issue was highlighted by Hull-based lawyer January Scott.

Policies vary, but a number of companies admitted to H&H that their third-party liability does not cover horses when they are being looked after by a third party in all instances, but instead rely on the professional having their own insurance.

Pet-sitting company Animal Aunts said the situation was becoming “a nightmare” because its insurance does not cover employees riding clients’ horses.

Animal Aunts administrator Gill Cross said: “Our ‘aunts’ are self-employed so some are covered by their own insurance, but our blanket policy only insures them while they are on the ground, lungeing or caring for the horse.

“We have to ask clients to check their own policies and, if they are desperate for the horses to be exercised, perhaps pay for extra cover while the aunt is with them.”

Rebecca Lapwood of Middlewick Farm livery yard in Southminster, Essex, said that while all its liveries are asked to hold third-party insurance, it does not stipulate who it must cover.

“It’s something we have not really thought about,” she admitted.

Barrister Ms Scott came across the subject while researching a case.

She said: “I checked my own Petplan policy and felt rather stupid that as an equine lawyer I was not covered in every incidence.”

Although Ms Scott has written confirmation from Petplan that she would not be covered in certain circumstances while her horse was at livery or being “sat”, a spokesman for Petplan said it was still reviewing her enquiry.

“We welcome customer feedback and take comments very seriously. Our senior managers are meeting this week and will respond to the customer as soon as possible,” said the spokesman.

South Essex Insurance Brokers said there was no quick answer to the question and it would look at its policies.

Dan Parry at KBIS said its cover depended on whether the fault of an accident lay with the horse-sitter, livery yard owner or the owner himself.

“We exclude the livery yard’s liability to its staff, but would cover your liability to the livery yard,” he said, citing an example where a horse on full livery was being clipped by a third party. The horse reared and injured the groom holding it. She sued her employer, not the owner of the horse.

Jo Sowley at NFU Mutual said it would not cover injury caused by a horse to a person dealing with the animal on a professional basis, like a livery yard employee or horse-sitter.

“They should have their own insurance cover on which they would claim,” she said.

“But if a horse was being cared for by a friend, the owner would be covered.”

Ms Scott added: “I think everyone should have a close look at their insurance policy and check if they are fully covered.

“Just because individuals or establishments should have appropriate insurance does not mean they do. Claims can be brought under the Animals Act against the owner of the horse — particularly if there is nobody else with any money against whom to bring the claim — even though the owner has not been negligent in any way and may not even have been present when the accident occurred.”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (16 July, ’09)