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You Suspect Animal Abuse – Now What?

What do you do if you believe that a professional, such as a horse trainer or veterinarian, engaged in abusive conduct.

Know the Risks

If you suspect that an equine industry professional is engaging in abusive practices, proceed very cautiously and always in good faith.  Your accusations, if improperly made, could potentially destroy someone’s business and reputation.  Your conduct could even generate a lawsuit against you in which a professional claims that you defamed him (through slander or libel) or improperly interfered with his business.

Whom to Contact

Because certain state and federal laws make animal abuse illegal, your good faith accusations are best directed to law enforcement authorities, such as the local police department, the prosecutor’s office, or possibly the local animal control officer.  As you meet with them, you will be asked to provide details about what you saw, when you saw it, and much more.  Be prepared for the possibility that the authorities will know nothing about horses and might not understand your complaints.

Supporting Your Accusation

Images caught on video often tell the story better than anyone can describe them, and the one depicted will have fewer defenses.  In fact, I recall watching a TV news show about a small animal veterinarian who was accused of abusing dogs and cats in his care.  Someone caught the veterinarian abusing an animal on videotape and sent the video to the police, who eventually brought animal cruelty charges against the vet.


Those who want to respond to perceived animal abuse can keep these ideas in mind:

  • Proceed with caution.  Be cautious before accusing anyone of committing a criminal act, such as animal abuse.  Reckless accusations you make against others, and accusations made in bad faith, put you at risk of a lawsuit against you for defamation or improper interference.
  • Give your evidence special care.  If it would be legal to photograph or videotape the complained-of activity, and if you record the conduct, remember that you are holding evidence.  In a court of law, the integrity of evidence could be compromised if there were irregularities in how and where it was maintained.  Keep close track of the whereabouts of your equipment, films, or photos.
  • Direct your accusations appropriately.  Contact law enforcement if you want to take action against perceived abuse.  If you proceed in good faith and direct your accusations properly, you will find that the law holds certain protections for you against claims of defamation.  Your lawyer can discuss this with you further.

Accusations of abuse are serious and can have tremendous legal consequences.  When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

Categories: Animal Abuse, Liability

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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