Where’d the Horse's Owner Go?

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Do you know what you legally can do if someone abandons tack or a horse at your facility?

Rachel Kosmal McCart, an attorney and founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC., said that abandoned tack and horses is a fairly common problem for boarding facilities. Have you considered what action you would or could legally take if this happened at your barn?

“Many boarding stable owners try to prevent this problem by specifying in their boarding contracts that items left behind at the end of the boarding term will be stored for a fixed period of time (e.g., 90 days) at the boarder’s expense. To avoid confusion, the contract should also state that after 90 days, the left-behind items will become the property of the boarding stable,” she said.

Once a client breaches a contract, she suggested sending a letter via FedEx or certified mail specifying a set date the client must pick up abandoned tack or horse(s) and any storage fees that will be incurred. Sending a letter and requesting proof of delivery or signed receipt acknowledge your attempts to communicate with the owner.

“If you dispose of a former boarder’s possessions without following the above steps, the former boarder may have a legal claim for 'conversion' against you, and the amount of potential damages would be the value of their property. 'Conversion' occurs when one party who has been entrusted with the care of an item takes that item and treats it as his or her own,” she said. “Even though you may not have specifically assumed any responsibility for the former boarder’s items, the former boarder might have a reasonable expectation that they could leave items at your facility for a short transition period.”

It’s important to remember that if a case is taken to court, there are attorney and court fees. “With some very limited exceptions, if you sue someone for breach of contract and you win, the loser doesn't have to pay your attorney's fees and court costs unless you have a contract that says they do,” reminded Kosmal McCart.