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Litigation against tack shops and saddle fitters could turn yet another sector of the equestrian insurance market into a minefield and hit small businesses with higher premiums.

One saddle fitter in Wales was on the brink of closure in the autumn after a claim for negligence — which was thrown out after investigation by the saddler’s insurers — and the ensuing 300% premium hike.

“Two years ago, a chap in his 60s turned up and wanted a saddle,” says Graham Butt, a registered saddle fitter who runs Llwynon Saddlery with his wife, Lynn, in the Brecon Beacons. “I had a look at his horse’s back. He took it in the manège and made a real hash of getting on, smacking its back with his leg as he mounted. The horse bucked and he fell off.”

A year later, the Butts were contacted by an insurance company, regarding a claim for negligence for not warning a customer that riding was dangerous.

“At first I thought it was a joke from a mate,” continues Graham. “We went through the accident report forms and realised who it was. The chap claimed he wouldn’t be able to ride again, but was seen hunting that Christmas.

“Our insurer, SEIB/AXA, sent an investigator to look at everything we do at the saddlery and find out if the claim was fraudulent. The next thing we knew, the claim had been kicked out.”

But when the Butts went to renew their public and employers’ liability insurance, AXA, through SEIB, was reluctant to quote. When it did, the Butts’ premium had increased from £2,500 to £8,000.

“It cost the insurers £3,500 to get the claim thrown out,” says Lynn. “We offered to pay that because it would still be cheaper than the higher premium, but we couldn’t. In the end, we got a better quote, of £7,000, from NFU. We have to generate much more income to cover it, and it has hit us hard because we weren’t prepared for the increase.”

Graham adds: “We look at our business differently now: charging for little jobs we might have done for free before. Riders must realise who is going to pay for all this when they claim — they have to take responsibility.”

In another case with SEIB, a saddler fitted a saddle; it slipped, so the customer fell off and sued. The claimant eventually lost, but SEIB spent £20,000 defending it.

About 25 insurers provide business cover for tack shops, in contrast to the handful of insurers who still provide horse insurance. But some do not cover “work away” situations; that is, liability for work off the premises, such as saddle-fitting.

David Snowdon, insurance broker to the Society of Master Saddlers (UK) Ltd and a past master of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, says it has grown harder to find cover over the past few years — especially for fitting at a client’s yard.

“It’s easy for the consumer to pick up a solicitor and run for it with a claim,” he says. “The problem is the saddle maker, repairer or fitter is often a one-man band, without huge resources, but has to shoulder this considerable liability for what they do.”

  • This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (6 January ’04)

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