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A £2.1million compensation settlement against a Lincolnshire riding centre after a 13-year-old girl was kicked in the head while bringing her pony in from a field has sent shockwaves through the horse world.

The award is believed to set a record for a claim against a British riding school or livery yard.

“It’s a wake-up call to the industry, particularly for livery yards,” said South Essex Insurance Brokers (SEIB) managing director Barry Fehler. “A lot of people only ask for £1m cover — now they ought to think of at least £2m.”

The accident happened in April 1996, leaving Katie Witcombe, now 22, with serious head injuries and requiring 24hr care. Her pony, Lady, was kept at livery at the Fourwinds Equestrian Centre in West Pinchbeck, near Spalding. Fourwinds is approved by both the British Horse Society (BHS) and Association of British Riding Schools (ABRS).

Katie was leading Lady out of the field when other horses galloped up, surrounding her, and one kicked out, striking her head.

The payout was agreed last Friday (15 September) by the equestrian centre’s insurer (Commercial and General Union, since taken over by Norwich Union) at London’s High Court on the basis of 70% liability.

SEIB associate director David Buckton said it could now become standard for riding schools and livery yards to ensure people wear hats at all times “if they’re going to handle horses”.

“This case is going to have enormous implications,” he added. “Yard owners are going to have to look very carefully at where they permit young people. And, when they do risk assessments, getting a pony out of a paddock will have to be part of it.”

Mr Buckton added that livery yards might soon have to take out compulsory public liability insurance, as riding schools do, after the government gave a green light to future licensing of livery yards.

  • Read this news story in full in today’s Horse & Hound (21 September, ’06)