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Defamation in the Horse Industry

Maddie, a struggling horse trainer, made up a nasty rumor that another trainer, John, abused his horses and administered performance enhancing drugs.  Maddie knew that none of this was true.  The rumor spread and John's customers slowly left him.  Many became Maddie's new customers.



Slander and libel fall into a category of law known as "defamation."  A defamatory communication is a false communication that tends to lower a person's reputation in the community or deter others from associating with that person.  Slander is generally understood to involve spoken words, and libel generally involves written words.

A lawsuit for defamation typically involves these elements: (1) a false or defamatory statement (2) concerning the “plaintiff” (the one injured by the defamatory communication) (3) that was actually seen or heard by third persons (4) there was no legally-recognized privilege under which the statement was made and (4) the statement at issue has a tendency to harm the defamed person's reputation.


Defenses in defamation cases can include the following:

  • Truth.  In any defamation lawsuit, truth is widely recognized as an absolute defense.
  • Consent.  If the defamed person somehow consented to the complained-of communication, this might furnish the basis for a defense.
  • Privilege.  The law regarding privilege can be complex.  Privileges may apply, for example, to statements made in court by lawyers, judges, and witnesses that are reasonably relevant to the legal proceedings.  Privileges may also apply to statements made in legislative proceedings.  Sometimes, statements made without malice to appropriate law enforcement agencies can be privileged; this might be the case if Maddie had legitimately and in good faith notified the police that she personally witnessed John doing things that seemed to violate anti-cruelty laws.
  • First Amendment.  Constitutional rights of free speech will not necessarily protect those who defame others.  The law recognizes that limits exist.
  • “Public Figure.”  If the defamed person legally qualifies as a “public figure,” a misstatement made honestly and in good faith will typically not support a case.  Rather, the public figure must prove that the defaming party acted with "malice."  (“Malice” essentially means that the one making the statement knew it was false when it was made or that he or she had serious doubts about the truth of the statement.)  The classic “public figure” is a celebrity, athlete, politician, or another of that stature, but the definition can be much broader and more complex.
  • Opinion.  Be careful before assuming that your “opinions” are not defamatory.  In some states, statements of opinion, when they include facts that can later be evaluated and proven false, might actually support defamation.
  • Statute of Limitations.  State statutes, known as the statute of limitations, may severely limit the time in which a lawsuit can be filed.  A lawsuit filed too late, regardless of its merits, risks dismissal.

The law of defamation can be very complex.  When questions arise based on specific situations, contact a knowledgeable attorney.

Categories: Defamation

Photo of Julie I. Fershtman

is considered to be one of the nation's leading attorneys in the field of equine law. A frequent author and speaker on legal issues, she has written over 400 published articles, three books, and has lectured at seminars, conventions, and conferences in 29 states on issues involving law, liability, risk management, and insurance. For more information, please also visit and, and

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Our Equine law blog (and its author) in the news!

Julie Fershtman, author of our popular and prolific Equine Law Blog, was interviewed this week by the State Bar of Michigan. The interview, which called Fershtman "Lawyer-Blogger," discussed our Equine Law Blog. We truly believe that this blog is the nation's most active blog serving the equine industry on equine law topics, and we thank you for visiting it. Read more here.

Honors & Recognitions

Congratulations, Julie! We're proud to share that Julie Fershtman has received two prestigious awards.

On April 13, 2013, she received the American Youth Horse Council's 2013 "Distinguished Service" Award. As the award itself states, she received it "[i]n recognition of years of dedicated service to the American Youth Horse Council and tireless efforts to touch the lives of youth involved with horses." For more information about the American Youth Horse Council, please visit

On May 7, 2013, Julie received the 2013 "Industry Award" from the Michigan Equine Partnership for her work over the years supporting legislation to promote and protect the Michigan equine industry. For more information about the Michigan Equine Partnership, please visit


We're pleased to share that Julie just won a case in Michigan where she defended a boarding and training stable that was sued by a visitor who was injured in the barn aisle. Julie cautions that this case might have been avoided altogether if the stable required every visitor to sign its waiver/release of liability. (Julie, interestingly, drafted that stable's release document years ago but the stable only presented it to customers.) Make sure that your release is well-worded and complies with the laws of your state.

Other Articles

"The Seller's Contract Includes an "As Is" Disclaimer – Now What?" - Desert Mirage Magazine, August 2013

Win Equine law Books!

We're always on the lookout for good article and update ideas for the Equine Law Blog. Please share yours! We'll give the sender of best tip of the month a free copy of Julie Fershtman's books, EQUINE LAW & HORSE SENSE and MORE EQUINE LAW & HORSE SENSE. Click here to send your ideas. [For more info on these and other publications written by Julie Fershtman, please visit and or call her directly at (248) 785-4731.]

Large Step Forward for the Horse Industry

We applaud the American Horse Council ( for its national marketing initiative for the horse industry. The AHC joined together ten national associations and large corporate industry stakeholders to make this happen. We await its marketing plan, which will propose ways to help people become more interested in horses and equine activities, either as participants or spectators.


Did you know Julie Fershtman has spoken at the American Horse Council Annual Meeting, Equine Affaire, Midwest Horse Fair, Equitana USA, US Dressage Federation Annual Meeting, North American Riding for the Handicapped (now PATH International) Annual Meeting, American Morgan Horse Association Annual Meeting, American Paint Horse Association Annual Meeting, US Pony Clubs, Inc.'s Annual Meeting, All-American Quarter Horse Congress, American Youth Horse Council Annual Meeting, American Riding Instructors Association Annual Meeting, CHA Annual Meeting, and numerous others? Consider signing her up for your convention. Contact Julie.

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