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Liabilities Involving Event Spectators

Spectators at horse shows and visitors at stables, just by being near a horse, are at risk of being injured. And, as these examples show, spectators sometimes bring lawsuits. For example:

  • During a street parade, a spectator wanted to cross the street and spotted a "break" in the procession that was just ahead of an approaching group of horses.  The spectator carried a lawn chair and crossed the street.  A pony in the group of advancing horses in the parade, likely spooking from the lawn chair, bolted forward and collided with the spectator.  She was injured and sued.
  • While visiting a friend at a boarding stable, the guest watched a horse be led toward a pasture and through a gate.  Suddenly, the horse bolted backwards into the gate, causing fence rail boards to pop out of a bracket and strike the guest in the face.  She sued.
  • A spectator at a rodeo placed his hands on the outside of a chain link fence, but his hands became entangled when a horse that was tied to the fence suddenly pulled away.  His hands were injured and he sued.
  • After watching a friend take a riding lesson at a stable, a visitor walked down the barn aisle, but a horse in the barn suddenly lunged its head outside of its stall door and bit him.  She sued.

When injured spectators sue horse owners and stables, their lawsuits typically proceed under the legal theory of negligence or under a provision of a state equine activity liability act.  Both of these are discussed below.


In lawsuits involving negligence, the one who sues (the "plaintiff") claims that the person or business allegedly at fault (the "defendant") failed to act as a reasonably prudent person would have under similar circumstances.  For example, a spectator at an Ohio race track brought a lawsuit that alleged negligence after she was trampled by a loose race horse that unseated its driver and ran loose throughout the grounds.  She claimed that the track was negligent for allowing gates to remain open during the races that allegedly gave race horses an opportunity to run loose into spectators such as the plaintiff.  The Ohio Court of Appeals allowed the spectator’s case to proceed.

Equine Liability Acts

As of December 2011, 46 states have equine activity liability acts on the books.  These laws all differ but generally apply to people who are "participants" and "engage in equine activities."  An issue that occasionally arises is whether the law applies to claims brought by spectators who were hurt while visiting stables or equine events.  In one lawsuit, for example, a court ruled that Michigan's Equine Activity Liability Act applied to a lawsuit brought by visitor at a stable who merely walked down the barn aisle when and was bitten by a horse.  She argued that the statute did not apply to her because she was a spectator, but the court ruled that she was actually a "participant" under that state’s law by "visiting, touring, or utilizing an equine facility."

If you have any questions about spectator liability, please contact me using the form below.

Categories: Liability, Regulatory

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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