Horse bill of sales aren’t just for big operations

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I must admit, my horse bill of sales paperwork has been shabby. As the daughter of an attorney, I should know better. I’ve spent decades in the business world operating mostly on the ill-advised handshake, so tend to be a lot more casual than I should with transactions. While I do provide a bill of sale for each horse, the brevity of this document could be problematic. I suppose I’ve been fortunate in identifying the right kind of people. You never know, though, and operating without smart documentation could have all kinds of ramifications.

Recently, Equestrian Professional published a thought-provoking article that made me realize how lucky I’ve been. There are a lot of points in this piece that I hadn’t considered in the past, but will heed for the future.

I’ve given away some horses. Granted, I tend to spend a lot of time vetting the recipient to ensure it’s a good fit even in these cases, but frankly, never considered the legal consequences of doing so without a bill of sale. These Equestrian Professional gals offer cogent comment (particularly in today’s lawsuit lottery mentality reality), about safeguarding yourself from future fallout on a gift given.

Horses are prime picking for the lottery crowd

When I was a kid, I was shocked to hear that neighbors who had kindly let the daughter of friends hop aboard a gentle horse she begged to ride were being sued by these (formerly close) buddies. She fell off and broke her arm. I wondered what ethical person would do such a thing.

What I’ve learned since is, no matter what an individual might request, insurance companies can force lawsuits. Usually you think of the shyster looking for a free ride, which can be a big issue too, but often, the one you were kind to may not have any say in how others decide to enforce a claim.

I recently sold my Upstate New York farm, which included rehoming 14 horses. Most were sold (with a bare bones bill of sale), a couple were gifted (with no documentation of the exchange). After reading this Equestrian Professional article, I’m realizing my process was dumb.

Horse bill of sales included the horse name & age, date of purchase, amount, two signatures (theirs and mine), and not much else. Most buyers were out-of-state and buying horses sight-unseen. That could have led to disaster in so many ways.

I tend to have a knack for knowing a horse well enough to determine if a home is a good fit and reading between the lines when talking to prospects, but sometimes you miss a crazy (I had one that sadly didn’t reveal her true colors until after she picked up two horses). How fortunate I was to not have blowback from the way I handled these transactions.

The freebies are the riskiest. I seldom do this because I’ve found most looking for a horse to “save” (it’s curious how most who get a horse for nothing immediately proclaim to the world they have a “rescue”) are blind to the cost of keeping a horse and ill-equipped to keep them comfortably. The few I gifted were great horses given to referrals from respected individuals (vets, trainers and friends)  – I was just running out of time and needed to find homes before the property changed hands. Yet, I didn’t know these folks. They could have cost me dearly if they didn’t operate with integrity (my friends and vendors do – it’s a requisite – but trusting that to extend to all others they know is a big leap of faith).

Issues thoughtful horse bill of sales help you avoid

Herd requiring horse bill of salesSome of the things I didn’t consider as risks in how I crafted my horse bill of sales (or neglected to provide them for freebies) included:

  • Liability – Without a bill of sale document on a freebie, you can be sued for any injury or accident the horse causes well into the future. In court, even if the sale amount is $0, a bill of sale is what judges look for to determine who owns the horse.
  • Injury – Many of the horses shipping out of Halcyon Acres were trucking long distances. A timid yearling went to Oklahoma. A 2-year-old climbed into a trailer for the first time headed to Minnesota. Both left the property without being seen by the new owners. The buyers arranged the truckers. Nothing in my bill of sale indicated who would be responsible if the horse was injured in transit. Fortunately they weren’t, but can you imagine the quagmire if they were?
  • Confusion – People remember what they want to in conversation. Until you put it to paper, a verbal agreement can be misconstrued or remembered differently depending on who was doing the talking. Although I was upfront about any known issues, provided complete vet records, and made it clear all sales were “as is,” without a bill of sale indicating this, any buyer could have retaliated if they perceived an issue they didn’t recall or anticipate.
  • Clarity – A detailed bill of sale offers both parties an agreement to reference before and after the exchange. It’s smart to ask for a signature on something that’s clear and meaningful. While the horse bill of sales I provided indicated a legal exchange, they were useless if anyone felt they didn’t get what they expected (or changed their minds).

In the future, these documents will include more detail. The fact I didn’t include any with the give-aways was an oversight I will not repeat. That free horse you gift could cost you dearly in the wrong hands. The profitable sale could too without a clear written understanding of the terms of the exchange. There’s no need to learn a lesson the hard way on this one. Resources abound to help you protect yourself.

Do you have stories to tell on horse transaction greats or gaffes? Please share in the comments below.

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