Boarding Contracts: Get It In Writing!

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Credit: Thinkstock Contracts can protect the boarding facility and the horse owner and outline what is expected by both parties. Understand a contract before you sign it.

Credit: Thinkstock Contracts can protect the boarding facility and the horse owner and outline what is expected by both parties. Understand a contract before you sign it.

Legal wizards involved in the horse industry make one very clear recommendation: “Get it in writing!” A contract is a written agreement that protects both facility owner and boarder by stipulating exactly what one should expect from the other. An oral agreement and a handshake are nice in theory, but time often complicates memory, then the disagreements emerge.

So, whenever you bring your horse to someone else’s property or whenever you take over daily care of someone else’s horse, it is best to have the agreement lined out in writing and signed and dated by both parties so there are no misunderstandings. Each person should receive an original copy for safe-keeping.

It might be tempting to download a contract off the Internet, but be aware that not all contracts are created equal, and what may seem like a reasonable document might be full of holes that leave out important specifics that apply to your unique situation.

Contracts should contain specifics tailored to the individual parties. Persons and horses involved should be named and described in addition to:

  • The cost of board and when the board bill is to be paid
  • Specified out-of-pocket expenses that the boarder is responsible for covering
  • Charges for extra services provided by the farm
  • Health requirements for a horse to be on the property--health certificate, Coggins test, deworming protocol, vaccination schedule
  • Defined responsibility on who is authorized to make decisions on behalf of the horse if there is a veterinary emergency, and who is responsible for incurred charges
  • Defined responsibility of who contacts the insurance agency (if the horse is insured) in advance of medical procedures in the absence of the owner; and the horse owner is responsible for providing all insurance information on the horse’s stall and/or in an accessible file in the office
  • Termination clauses, including stipulation of how much notice must be given by either party to terminate the board arrangement

Other pertinent clauses in a boarding contract should be examined carefully by a boarder as many are one-sided protections for the farm. An exculpatory clause releases the barn owner and farm from liability associated with personal injuries or injuries to the horse. This might be qualified by a negligence waiver that protects the boarder by stipulating that all reasonable care must be exercised by the barn owner.

A “hold harmless” clause adds additional protection to the farm/barn owner--this states that the barn owner is not to be held responsible for damage or injury caused by the boarded horse, but rather the horse owner retains responsibility unless there is proven negligence by the barn owner.

Default of board payment can impose a great expense and heartache on a barn owner. In light of this possibility, a contract may designate that the farm retains a “security interest” in the horse. If the bill remains delinquent for a specified period of time, such security gives the barn owner possession of the horse and/or tack and equipment--this enables them to recoup on services provided by the barn. A boarder should be comfortable with such a clause before signing the agreement.

Most contract agreements are signed with an end date, usually one year, at which point the contract can be re-signed and/or renegotiated. If either party violates the terms of the contract, then such a “breach of contract” usually designates who is responsible for attorney fees, court costs or dispute mediation in this event.

Contracts are complicated and are best drawn up with the advice of a lawyer and tailored to each specific situation. No matter how inconvenient it may seem, remember to put the boarding agreement in writing.