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Can You Repossess a Horse When the Buyer Fails to Pay?

Can a horse seller repossess a horse if the buyer has failed to pay in full? We receive this question frequently, but the answer is more complicated than you might think.

What Makes Repossession Complex

Repossession is the act of taking back an item, such as a horse, that has been sold on credit when the buyer has violated a payment arrangement. The process may seem as simple as entering the non-paying buyer’s barn, removing the horse, and hauling it away. In the eyes of the law, however, repossession is far more complex.

The right to repossess generally can exist in three settings:

  • The parties have a legally valid contract (that includes appropriate language) through which the buyer has allowed the seller the right to repossess the item that is being sold;
  • The applicable state’s law gives the unpaid seller the right to peacefully (without trespassing and without receiving resistance from the buyer) repossess the item; or
  • Before the repossession takes place, the seller goes to court and receives a legally valid court order that allows the seller, or someone acting for the seller, to repossess the item. Sellers may need to pursue this option if (1) buyers refuse to part with the item; (2) no contract exists; (3) the parties did have a contract, but it is silent about the seller’s repossession rights; and/or (4) the applicable state law requires a court order before any repossession can take place.

The risks of making a mistake in the repossession process can be significant. By entering another’s private barn or pasture to repossess a horse, sellers face costly legal battles and sometimes even criminal charges of trespass and theft. Hauling repossessed horses across state lines, if done unlawfully, might even trigger federal criminal offenses.

Avoiding Repossession Problems

Efforts can be made to avoid repossession disputes. Some sellers abandon installment sales completely and insist on payment up front and in full. Some sellers invest in a well-written sale contract that complies with the law, and require the buyer to sign it, before the transaction occurs. Some sellers will allow the buyer to make installment payments, but the sellers keep possession of the horse until the buyer’s final payment has cleared the bank. Unpaid sellers can also file lawsuits against non-paying buyers to recover the money owed, while allowing the non-paying buyer to keep the horse.

This blog post does not constitute legal advice. Secured interest and repossession issues can be very complex. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

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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