Legal Letter: Your Duty to Investigate When Buying a Horse

Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:43
Legal News

The law states that, in principle, the seller of a horse has to mention everything s/he knows about the condition and specific habits of the horse. On the other hand the buyer has a duty to investigate and scrutinize the horse he's about to buy.

The obligation of the seller, however, legally prevails over the obligation of the buyer. If the seller tells the potential buyer that his horse is healthy, the buyer is not obliged to vet the horse.

This seems pretty simple, but when equine law is put in practise many complications loom. For example if a horse is sold as a "dressage horse" then the horse should fit into this agreement, meaning suitable for dressage. If this horse isn’t suitable because of a hidden defect and this defect was present prior to delivery, than the sales agreement can be disolved; even when the seller himself were not aware of the hidden defect. It is well known that during a vet-exam it's standard practise that several aspects are not checked unless specifically asked for, so the seller always takes a risk that his horse is still afflicted with a defect unknown to him.

Dutch courts are specifically clear in expaining the issue of duty of disclosure versus the duty to investigate. A court in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, ruled in favour of the seller because the buyer had not properly inspected the horse before purchase. The buyer acquired the horse from a dealer's yard and assumed that it was fit to be ridden. The horse was not test-ridden as it was an unbroken youngster, and there was no veterinary information offered by  the seller. After delivery the horse appeared to have severe arthritis and could not be ridden. The court decided that the buyer was in fault because of the fact that she bought it from a commercial stable without investigating its rideability and without a pre-purchase exam.

This court ruling makes clear that a buyer does not always have to inspect the horse before buying it. Often horses are offered for sale on the internet with a descriptio which gives the impression that the horse is sound and rideable. In this situation the buyer's duty of investigation has been fulfilled in part because the seller provided his own, online description of health and suitability.

My advice to any buyer is to have the horse always inspected by an expert as well as do a video-taped pre-purchase exam. Many names of registered and accredited veterinarians can be found online. To the seller of a horse I recommend not to make statements in advertisements like "horse in perfect health" as they are risky when this status has not been completely backed up by a professional vet-exam.

- by Stephan Wensing - /

Weda en Wensing Advocaten, a professional Dutch law corporation, is owned by renowned Stephan Wensing, a Dutch attorney whose practice is only focused on equine disputes. Stephan Wensing has been an equine attorney since 2002. As a horse owner, trainer and judge himself he combines his two passions: horses and law. Stephan recognized the need for an attorney with detailed knowledgeable in legal issues affecting equestrians. Wensing offers a full-service litigation firm that specializes in equine-related transactions and dispute resolution throughout Europe.