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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 www.fershtmanlaw.com and www.equinelaw.net, and www.equinelaw.info.

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Julie Fershtman, author of our popular and prolific Equine Law Blog, was interviewed 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.

Julie Fershtman’s Recent and Upcoming Equine Law Speaking Engagements Include:

National Conference on Equine Law in Louisville, Kentucky on April 29, 2020. Topic will be on Waivers/Releases of Liability Involving Minor Participants. 

U.S. Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado on December 10, 2019. Topic will be on Equine Liability. 

IRMI Emmett J. Vaughan Agribusiness Conference (“AgriCon”) in Sacramento, CA (April 2019), and Richmond, VA (June 2019) and in Des Moines, IA (September 2019), on topics of “Equine Activity Liability Acts” and “Equine Mortality Insurance Disputes.”

National Conference on Equine Law in May 2019 in Lexington, KY, on the topic of “Equine Activity Liability Act Updates” and liabilities involving hosting of equine clinics. 

Agricultural Claims Conference in Kansas City, MO, in March 2019 on topics of “Loose Livestock Liabilities.”

2018 American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, on “Equine Mortality Coverage and Disputes.”

November 2018, American Horse Council webinar on “Equine Liability.”

Honors & Recognitions

Equine lawyer, Julie Fershtman, has received these prestigious equine industry awards from respected equine organizations:

"Excellence in the Advancement of Animal Law Award" - American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Law Section Animal Law Committee

"Distinguished Service Award" - American Youth Horse Council

"Industry Service Award" - Michigan Equine Partnership

"Catalyst Award"- Michigan Horse Council

"Outstanding Achievement Award" - American Riding Instructors Association 

"Partner in Safety Award" - American Riding Instructors Association 

"Associate Service Award" - United Professional Horseman's Association

"National Partnership in Safety" Award" - Certified Horsemanship Association 

What our Equine Law Services can Provide

Handling breach of contract, fraud/ misrepresentation, commercial code, and other claims involving equine-related transactions including purchases/sales, leases, mare leases/foal transfers, and partnerships.

Litigating disputes in court or through alternative dispute resolution (arbitration, mediation, facilitation).

Defending equine/farm/equestrian industry professionals,  businesses, and associations in personal injury claims and lawsuits.

Drafting and negotiating contracts for boarding, training, sales, waivers/releases, leases, and numerous other equine-related transactions.

Representing and advising insurers on  coverage and policy language as well as litigation;

Advising equine industry clubs and associations regarding management, rules, bylaws, disputes, and regulations.

Representing some of the equine industry's top trainers, competitors, stables, and associations.

Counseling industry professionals, stable managers, and individual horse owners. 


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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