Court case thrown out after livery falls off horse that yard owner advised her not to buy

  • A yard owner who faced a six-figure personal injury claim after accepting £30 from a novice rider to help her shop for a horse has had the case against her dismissed.

    Annette “Mimi” Warner filed a claim against Shona Ferguson after falling from thoroughbred mare Jilly two months after she was purchased — despite having been advised not to buy her.

    Ms Ferguson, of Manorfields Farm near Shrewsbury, was asked to accompany Ms Warner to view horses and accepted £30 on three occasions in lieu of her time.

    The pair went to see 10-year-old Jilly, who was described by the seller as “safe” and “sane” and “ideal for a beginner”. They viewed her at the seller’s premises, at Manorfields Farm in an outdoor arena and on the road.

    When Ms Ferguson decided to buy the mare and had her vetted, she was found to have a swelling on her stomach area. Both the vet and Ms Ferguson advised against purchasing her because of the condition, but Ms Warner went ahead, having been told by the seller that the £200 horse would otherwise go for meat.

    The mare was kept on DIY livery at Manorfields Farm where no problems with her behaviour were noted, including during six lessons Ms Warner had with BHSI Jane Kerswell.

    In the hearing at Stoke-On-Trent county court on 1-2 November, both Ms Ferguson and her witnesses described how Ms Warner did not accept advice on how to care for and exercise the horse during this period, often not riding her for days at a time.

    On Boxing Day 2013, Ms Warner rode Jilly in the school without a problem — as she had since purchase — but when she next rode her in the school two weeks later on 11 January accompanied by a friend, she fell off.

    In her claim, Ms Warner stated that Jilly trotted and cantered off with her despite being asked to stop. She claimed the mare ran towards the fence, causing her to fall off and suffer significant injuries.

    Although she had taken the £30, the court accepted that Ms Ferguson had told Ms Warner that she did not buy and sell horses as a living, she was not an instructor and she was not an expert in selecting horses for their owners. His Honor Judge Rawlings therefore found Ms Ferguson had not “intended to create legal relations”.

    As Jilly had behaved well from the date of purchase until the date of the accident, despite the lack of exercise, the court also found that she was suitable for the claimant at the time of purchase. It was also accepted that Ms Ferguson had followed correct procedure in advising the claimant to try Jilly at the seller’s premises and at Manorfields Farm and to have the horse vetted.

    It was noted that a new bridle had been purchased for Jilly between her last ride on Boxing Day and 11 January, which Ms Warner had fitted two holes too low in the horse’s mouth. The court found that this may have contributed to the loss of control.

    Ms Ferguson said she was “monumentally relieved to have succeeded in this claim, which ultimately would have resulted in the loss of my house and farm”.

    “I felt that I had to defend this claim because it could have had a huge impact on the horse industry if the courts had made a finding that I was responsible for the accident in question because I accepted a small payment for my time accompanying Mimi to the viewings of three horses (including Jilly), despite my business not being in selling horses. I made it clear to Mimi that I am not an instructor, dealer or expert in assessing horses for purchase.

    “I went as moral support as Mimi was struggling to find a horse due to her lack of experience and she insisted that I take some money for my time after we had visited the first horse. I treated this payment as I would a cup of coffee, sandwich or a bottle of wine — as a gift for my time as opposed to payment for services provided.

    “Luckily I was in the position to be able to fight this claim on behalf of the equestrian industry. My immense thanks go to Jacqui Fulton Equine Law and Anne-Marie Taylor FBHS, who we called upon as our equestrian expert.”

    Continued below…

    Ms Fulton said her client had been “extremely brave” in fighting the case, which could have left her paying the claimant’s legal bill of £84,000, plus her own legal costs and any damages awarded.

    “Whilst Shona was found not to have created a legal relationship with the claimant, this should be a warning to equestrians who help a friend or acquaintance to purchase a horse. In the event that a person accepts payment to attend the viewings and/or if the purchaser relies on that friend’s advice, the purchase potentially has a claim against the friend/acquaintance if an accident later occurs involving the horse,” she said. “The findings in Shona’s case assist the equestrian community against personal injury claims of this nature, which have such a negative impact on our sport.”

    Changes in the rules to personal injury claims mean that Ms Ferguson could still be left footing the bill for her own legal costs, however.

    Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting (QOCS) applies, meaning that even when a personal injury claim is successfully defended, the defendant will not be able to recover their legal costs unless the claim is a fraudulent.

    In this case, Annette Warner was not found to be fraudulent, but her claim is being funded by way of a conditional fee agreement, which provides for a success fee — wording that was used under the old rules. A costs hearing is therefore scheduled for January where the judge will decide whether or not the claimant will have to pay the defendant’s legal costs.

    Ms Warner’s representation, Simpson Millar Solicitors, did not respond to Horse & Hound’s requests for comment prior to publication.

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