Q: I have loaned a mare for four years and our formal agreement expired in October. Two years ago, I offered to buy the mare, but the owner wouldn’t sell her. The owner has since moved away and rarely contacts me.

Early in 2008, I asked to cover the mare, and thus extend the loan period, to which I didn’t receive a reply so didn’t go ahead. I have since heard nothing from the owner apart from a brief phone call in September.

I would like her to take the horse back, but will keep her if I have to. I intend to write to the owner, but where do I stand? Can I start charging her a livery fee? If she doesn’t pay, can I sell the horse to recover the debt? Could I put her on loan to someone else?
SH, Staffordshire

This is a complicated case so you should contact a solicitor immediately. However, Elizabeth Simpson, senior solicitor with Yorkshire law firm Andrew Jackson, has some advice.

The first point is in regards to breeding from the mare, which you were correct not to proceed with, as “the mare does not belong to you and you will be liable if anything goes wrong,” explained Elizabeth. “There will also be a dispute as to ownership of the foal.

“While you continue keeping the mare, you are required to take reasonable care of her. You should keep a record of expenses. But you should not loan her to anyone.”

You could sell the mare, but must first notify the owner in accordance with the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, allowing sufficient time for collection.

“You should also set out any claim you may have for payment of expenses incurred in maintaining her,” said Elizabeth. “If the owner does not contact you, or if you cannot find her, you can sell for the best price reasonably available. The sale proceeds are due to the owner, but you can deduct costs of sale.

“You should attempt to agree sums due to you in maintaining the horse, failing which it is probably best to bring a claim before the court so that you cannot be said to have unlawfully taken monies to which you were not entitled.”

If you have no luck in contacting the owner, you can apply to the court for an order for sale.

“The court may permit you to deduct the costs of sale,” said Elizabeth. “The balance is, in principle, due to the owner but you could ask the court to award you expenses if these cannot be negotiated with the owner.”

Information

Andrew Jackson, tel: 01482 325242 www.andrewjackson.co.uk

This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (12 February, ’09)