receive a lot of calls from horse owners who are unhappy with a
situation at their boarding stable and want to know their "legal
rights." The short answer is that boarders have only the legal rights
given to them by their boarding contract (if they have one) and
relevant case law. Note that the boarder not having received a copy of
the contract or having lost their copy of the contract doesn't change the boarder's legal rights.
What if the boarder doesn't have a written boarding contract?
The answer is that at best, they have a
verbal boarding contract (the terms of which will be very hard to
prove). Aside from that, they can rely only on relevant case law to
provide them with any legal recourse, such as if the boarding
stable was negligent in caring for their horse (and the horse suffered
injury or death as a result).
On occasion, boarders have spoken to various friends and
relatives and come up with the idea that their state's landlord/tenant
law applies. That's just flat wrong. Unless the boarder lives on
the property, landlord/tenant law won't apply to a horse boarding
dispute. In the four states where we practice, California, New York,
Oregon, and Washington, there are no laws governing horse boarding,
other than animal cruelty statutes and local zoning regulations
governing use of the property.
Generally, questions about horse boarders' legal rights
fall into three categories: Terminating the boarding relationship,
raising board prices and what the boarding stable is required to
provide for boarders and their horses.
Boarding Contract Termination
A boarding stable's right to
terminate the boarding contract is governed by what the contract says.
If the boarding contract says nothing about termination or there is no
contract at all, the boarding stable can give the boarder
practically any form of termination notice. Unless the boarding contract
specifies the boarding stable has to give the boarder advance notice
prior to termination, the boarding stable can notify the boarder that it
wants the boarder to leave immediately. Unless the boarding
contract says termination notices must be in writing, the stable can
give the boarder notice in any form it chooses, including verbally, as
long as the boarder receives the notice.
Nothing else is relevant,
How long the boarder has been at the facility
(yes, even if it's been decades);
- Whether the boarder is current on their board
payments (yes, even if they're paid up in advance - they can get a
- Whether the boarder wants to leave;
- Whether it's practical for the boarder to move
their horse by the termination date;
- Whether there's another boarding stable that
meets the boarder's personal standards of geographic location, price,
- Whether the boarder is required to give the
facility advance notice if the boarder terminates the boarding
- The boarding stable's reasons for terminating
the contract. The boarding stable doesn't have to have a reason to
terminate a boarding contract, and even if they do,they don't have to
tell the boarder what it is; and
- Whether the boarding stable has met the
boarder's personal standards of horse care, etc. up until the point of
Raising Boarding Rates
There's no rent control in horse
boarding. Unless a boarding contract says otherwise, a boarding stable
can raise its rates as much as it wants, as often as it wants, with as
little advance warning as it wants. Much like terminating a boarding
contract, nothing else is relevant, including:
- How long the boarding rates have been the
- How recent the last rate increases
- Whether the boarder is current on their board
- Whether the boarder can afford the
- Whether the boarding stable's amenities and
level of care justify the increase; and
- The reasons (if any) that the boarding stable
gives for the increase.
Often, boarders want to know if
there's anything they can do if they don't like a board increase.
Essentially, there are two choices: Pay or leave. And if the boarder
chooses to leave, they must provide the boarding stable with the notice
specified in the boarding contract (if any).
Standard of Care
Again, the standard of care for boarding stables is
governed largely by what the boarding contract says. Otherwise, the
boarding stable has to provide only the most basic level of care. For
example, unless the boarding contract says otherwise:
- If a boarder's horse is bigger than average, or
eats more than average, the boarding stable isn't legally obligated to
feed him more, as long as he's not starving to death (literally). So, if
a boarder thinks their horse needs more feed than he's getting,
and the boarding stable wants to charge the boarder extra, they can. If
the boarding stable doesn't want to increase the horse's feed, the
boarder might have to buy their own feed. And the boarder should
be prepared to store and feed the extras themselves.
- Similarly, the boarding stable can feed
whatever type of hay and/or feed it chooses, as long as it's not unsafe.
And "unsafe" means moldy, contaminated, or of a type not suitable for
horses, such as silage. Hay that's merely stemmy or poor quality
isn't sufficient cause for a negligence lawsuit as long as the horses
aren't starving to death (literally).
- The boarding stable can use whatever type of
bedding it wants, bed stalls at any depth it wants, and clean stalls as
frequently/infrequently as it wants, as long as stall conditions
are not "Call Animal Control" unsanitary. If the boarder wants different
bedding, more bedding, and/or more frequent stall cleaning, the boarder
will probably have to pay for it. Even if the boarder's horse is
allergic to the current bedding, is on stall rest, etc.
- The facilities the boarding stable provides
have to be reasonably safe for normal use. Just because a horse got hurt
doesn't mean the boarding stable was negligent.
- The boarding stable can provide as few or as
many amenities as it chooses. And the existing amenities don't have to
be operational. The wash rack plumbing doesn't have to work, the outdoor
arena can be too muddy to use nine months out of the year, and
the indoor arena lights can be sketchy. If the boarder feels like
they're paying for amenities they can't use, they should negotiate with
the boarding stable, and if that doesn't work, consider
Bottom line, if a boarder isn't
happy, and they can't work out a compromise with the boarding stable,
they should either get comfortable with the situation the way it is, or
prepare to move to another boarding stable.
The views expressed in the posts and comments of this blog do not necessarily
reflect those of The Horse or Blood-Horse Publications. They should be
understood as the personal opinions of the author. All readers are encouraged to
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