Judge says: ‘there is no such thing as risk-free riding’

  • A court case has been hailed a “triumph for common sense” by equestrian lawyers and the British Horse Society (BHS).

    The case of a rider who claimed her horse was spooked by a sheep — causing her to fall and injure herself — was dismissed last month, after a judge said there was no such thing as “risk-free” riding.

    Jean Davies kept her horse at a DIY livery yard at Llanerch EC in Denbighshire.

    Liveries were able to ride on the land, including a track through a woodland area — specifically in place to allow safe off-road riding. Sheep were also kept on the land.

    In August 2006, Ms Davies was riding in the wood when she fell from her horse, claiming she injured her foot.

    She said her horse was startled by a sheep, that the centre was negligent for allowing the sheep to roam and that Llanerch was under duty to provide a “risk-free” riding area.

    But lawyers for Llanerch, which is a BHS-approved centre, argued that the sheep was unlikely to belong to the defendant as her animals were securely fenced in paddocks that did not adjoin the woodland.

    They also said that it was impossible to provide a risk-free area. The judge sided with the riding school.

    “This is an important decision for equestrian centres that offer off-road hacking,” said Clare Garnett, solicitor at Berrymans Lace Mawer.

    “It sends a message to potential claimants and reiterates what may seem to many to be common sense — it is neither necessary, nor indeed possible, to create a risk-free riding environment, providing systems are in place to ensure hazards are addressed.”

    Riding schools are also warned to ensure all paperwork is kept together. Llanerch owner Sian Gresley Jones said she was “shocked” when she learnt she was being taken to court.

    “It was relief to have it over with,” she told H&H. “I’m more cautious now and I ask liveries to sign a risk form each year.”

    A BHS spokesman added: “We are dismayed that such a case went this far.”

    This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (21 February 2013)

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