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What is an “Inherent Risk” With Horses?

Nationwide, 47 states now have some form of an equine activity liability act (“EALA”). All of these laws differ, but most share common characteristics. EALAs often provide that “equine activity sponsors,” “equine professionals,” or “another person” are not liable if the “participant” sustained injury, death, or damage as a result of an “inherent risk of equine activity.” Georgia’s EALA, for example, defines “inherent risk” this way:

‘Inherent risks of equine activities’ . . . means those dangers or conditions which are an integral part of equine activities or llama activities, as the case may be, including, but not limited to:
(A) The propensity of the animal to behave in ways that may result in injury, harm, or death to persons on or around them;
(B) The unpredictability of the animal's reaction to such things as sounds, sudden movement, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals;
(C) Certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions;
(D) Collisions with other animals or objects; and
(E) The potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain control over the animal or not acting within his or her ability.

A frequent issue is whether the EALA bars an injured person’s claim because an “inherent risk of equine activity” caused the injuries. Numerous courts around the country have grappled with this issue. Let’s review a sampling of the cases.

An “Inherent Risk” Caused the Injuries and Warranted Dismissal

Here are a few cases where courts dismissed lawsuits based on a state EALA, finding that an “inherent risk” caused the injuries under the facts of the case.

  • Ohio - A horse’s reaction to a dog, which jumped at the horse’s back legs, was deemed an “inherent risk” under Ohio’s EALA.
  • Indiana - Getting trampled by a loose horse at an event was an “inherent risk of equine activity” under Indiana’s EALA.
  • Kentucky - A horse spooking from the sound of an opening gate was an “inherent risk” under Kentucky’s EALA.
  • Texas - A horse spooking during a trail ride, while riding across muddy and swampy terrain, was an “inherent risk” under the Texas EALA.
  • New Jersey - A horse backing and tripping over a cavaletti in the riding lesson arena was an “inherent risk” under New Jersey’s EALA.
  • Texas - A horse’s violent reaction to the bite from a fire ant was deemed an “inherent risk” under the Texas EALA.
  • Wyoming - The risk of a saddle slipping during a trail ride was an “inherent risk” under Wyoming’s EALA.

Courts Found that “Inherent Risk” Was an Issue for the Jury to Decide

In these cases, courts ruled that a jury needed to decide whether an “inherent risk” caused the injuries and would not dismiss the cases outright.

  • Wyoming - Court found that a trail ride staff’s alleged failure to saddle a horse with even stirrups was an issue of fact for the jury.
  • Hawaii - Whether plaintiff’s injury from a horse bite during a trail ride was caused by an “inherent risk” was considered to be a question of fact for the jury.


Equine activity liability acts have been credited with dismissing some equine and equestrian-related cases, but the issues can become complicated, and there is never a guarantee that a court will dismiss a case based on the facts and the applicable law. Plan ahead, stay properly insured, and comply with state EALA requirements that apply to you.

This blog post does not constitute legal advice. When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

Categories: Lawsuit, 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 and, and

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

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Congratulations, Julie! We're proud to share that Julie Fershtman has received two prestigious awards.

On April 13, 2013, she received the American Youth Horse Council's 2013 "Distinguished Service" Award. As the award itself states, she received it "[i]n recognition of years of dedicated service to the American Youth Horse Council and tireless efforts to touch the lives of youth involved with horses." For more information about the American Youth Horse Council, please visit

On May 7, 2013, Julie received the 2013 "Industry Award" from the Michigan Equine Partnership for her work over the years supporting legislation to promote and protect the Michigan equine industry. For more information about the Michigan Equine Partnership, please visit


We're pleased to share that Julie just won a case in Michigan where she defended a boarding and training stable that was sued by a visitor who was injured in the barn aisle. Julie cautions that this case might have been avoided altogether if the stable required every visitor to sign its waiver/release of liability. (Julie, interestingly, drafted that stable's release document years ago but the stable only presented it to customers.) Make sure that your release is well-worded and complies with the laws of your state.

Other Articles

"The Seller's Contract Includes an "As Is" Disclaimer – Now What?" - Desert Mirage Magazine, August 2013

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Large Step Forward for the Horse Industry

We applaud the American Horse Council ( for its national marketing initiative for the horse industry. The AHC joined together ten national associations and large corporate industry stakeholders to make this happen. We await its marketing plan, which will propose ways to help people become more interested in horses and equine activities, either as participants or spectators.


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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