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Should You Buy a Horse Sight Unseen?

People occasionally buy horses, sight unseen, based on an ad over the Internet or the recommendation of a friend. Many buyers are completely satisfied with their purchases. Unfortunately, some are not. Legal disputes sometimes follow from settings like these:

  • The horse was represented to be of a certain height, but the horse was actually significantly shorter.
  • The horse was represented to be “bombproof” or “kid safe,” but instead the buyer found the horse to be dangerous and insufficiently trained.
  • The horse may have arrived unsound, and the buyer strongly suspected the problem pre-dated the purchase.
  • In some instances, the buyer was convinced that the horse that came off the trailer was a completely different horse than the horse represented in an advertisement.

Added to the complexity, the parties to these sales frequently have no sales contracts.

Avoiding Disputes

Legal disputes can be expensive. Here are some options for the parties to consider in an effort to avoid horse purchase disputes when the buyer does not physically examine the horse before making the purchase:

  • Get it in writing. If the seller offered the buyer an opportunity to examine the horse in person before the sale, such as allowing the buyer a certain amount of time to hire a veterinarian of his or her choosing, the sales contract can reaffirm this. The contract can also specify whether the buyer has waived this option.

    If the buyer is relying on the seller’s promises regarding the horse, such as a promise that the horse has not been lame or ill, the buyer should insist on including these promises in the purchase agreement. Buyers who are denied opportunities to examine the horse before making the purchase should seriously consider whether to buy the horse.
  • For buyers who cannot see the horse in person but want to buy the horse, consider hiring an independent professional to evaluate the horse. Buyers who cannot inspect the horse in person can nevertheless hire professionals to do the evaluation for them, such as a respected horse trainer and veterinarian. Technology also exists for these people to video rides and evaluations as they occur, allowing the potential buyer to see remotely how the horse behaves and ask questions while the inspections are in progress.
  • Get a drug screen. During the pre-purchase examination, prospective buyers should consider having the veterinarian arrange for a drug screen of the horse.
  • Consider requesting the horse’s veterinary history. Buyers can always ask sellers to produce the horse’s veterinary records before making the purchase. If the seller is willing to do this, the sale contract can specify the names of the veterinarians who attended to the horse while the seller owned horse and that the seller has allowed release of the horse’s veterinary records.
  • “As-is Contract Language.” Horse sellers sometimes include “as is” clauses in their contracts, through which the buyer agrees that he or she is buying the horse “as is.” As this blog has addressed in the past, these types of clauses may be enforceable but not for all claims. Consequently, buyers and sellers should confer with knowledgeable legal counsel regarding the scope of “as is” clauses before making assumptions on how they impact a party’s rights.


To avoid legal disputes involving horse sales, the parties can protect themselves by using carefully worded written sales agreements. Buyers, even if they cannot examine the horse in person, have numerous options to more fully evaluate the horse before agreeing to make the purchase. Careful advance planning could help avoid legal disputes later.

Categories: Contracts, Sales/Disputes

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

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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