How to Avoid Buying a Horse that Comes with Regret

One of the most common issues that rises in equestrian transactions is when a horse that fails to live up to the buyer’s expectations. These expectations could be unreasonable but other times the new owner bought a horse that comes with unforeseen baggage, by way of either behavioral, training, or health issues. Most equestrians have experienced or knows of a friend who has experienced frustration when they buy a horse for a specific purpose, such as serving as a large children’s hunter, only to find out that the horse has a bowed tendon or a dangerous rearing behavior.  How do you protect yourself when you are shopping for a horse?

First, you should have both the buyer and seller execute a proper bill of sale. Most people do not know that Florida has an Equine Lemon Law on the books.  Florida Statute Section 535.16 vests the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with the authority to create rules regarding the sale and purchases of horses to prevent unfair and deceptive trade practices. The Department then enacted Chapter 5H-26 to provide specific requirements regarding the sale of horses, however, the rules specifically exclude pari-mutual sales from being subject to the Lemon Law.

If you want to avail yourself of the protections of Florida’s Equine Lemon Law, you will need a bill of sale for the transaction (except for Thoroughbred auctions, which are slightly different), signed by both the buyer and the seller, which includes the following:

(1) The name, address, and signature of the Purchaser, the Owner, or their duly authorized agents. In a transaction solely relating to a stallion season, breeding right, or fractional interest in a horse, the syndicate manager or horse manager may serve as an acceptable agent in response to this requirement.

(2) The name of the horse, and its sire and dam if known.

(3) The breed and registry status of the horse, if applicable and if known.

(4) The age of the horse, if known.

(5) The date of the sale.

(6) The purchase price of the horse.

(7) The following statement: “As the person signing below on behalf of the Owner, I hereby confirm that I am the lawful Owner of this horse or the Owner’s duly authorized agent, and I am authorized to convey legal title to the horse pursuant to this bill of sale.”

(8) The following statement: “As the person signing below on behalf of the Purchaser, I understand that any warranties or representations from the Owner or the Owner’s agent that I am relying upon in acquiring this horse, including warranties or representations with respect to the horse’s age, medical condition, prior medical treatments, and the existence of any liens or encumbrances, should be stated in writing as part of this bill of sale.”

If a broker is involved in the sale, there are specific disclosures which must be made to the parties as well.

It is wise to have also a purchase agreement or contract which outlines the terms of the sale. A bill of sale merely evidences the transfer of the seller’s property interest to the buyer. However, a contract regulates all terms associated with the sale. For example, a bill of sale will not state forms of payment, when ownership of the horse transfers, etc.

The area where most disputes arise are the warranties. If a buyer specifically asks medical questions relating to the horse’s soundness, the seller must truthfully disclose any known issues. For example, if the horse had its hocks injected a week before the sale, the seller must disclose that information if asked. The purpose of the law is to ensure that a more sophisticated party does not take advantage of a less experienced one. That being said, if a buyer waives a pre-purchase veterinary exam and does not ask for any medical information, he/she will not be protected by the law if the horse ultimately is unsound.

When clients are buying a new car, they have no problem signing any document required by the car dealership. However, when spending as much money, or more, on a horse, they do not take the time to evidence the sale with any sort of document. Please contact a knowledgeable attorney to assist you if you have specific questions regarding you horse purchase or sale.

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