17 January 2013

Thinking about buying or selling a horse? A sale agreement may just protect you should things go wrong.

Buying a horse is an exciting prospect, however, the excitement and pleasure that you experienced when selecting and buying your horse can quickly disappear when that horse later proves unsuitable for you, or bears no resemblance to the horse that you viewed and were described by the seller.

Your legal position should things go wrong will depend upon where the horse was actually purchased from, whether it was a private seller, a dealer, or someone selling horses as part of their business.

If you purchased your new horse from a dealer or someone selling horses in the course of their business, such as a stud, then the law, via the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended), applies to the sale and assists buyers by imposing implied terms into the contract of sale. The terms that are implied are that the horse is of a satisfactory quality, is fit for the purpose for which it was sold, and that it is actually as the seller described to you before the sale was concluded.

If once the horse has been sold it becomes apparent that the horse was sold in breach of one of the implied statutory terms then it is possible to reject the horse and claim a refund from the seller. Practically, however, it can be difficult to make a successful claim against the seller as it is difficult to prove the various assurances the seller gave to you about the horse whilst you were trotting around a field trying the horse out.

It is therefore vital to have a written sale agreement in place containing details of all the terms agreed. For example, make a careful note of all of the things that are important to the buyer about the horse, such as whether or not it loads, whether it is good hacking out on its own and in traffic etc, along with the seller’s responses to the various questions. The agreement should then be signed by both parties and each party should retain a copy for their records. It is also recommended that you retain a copy of the advertisement for the horse, any email conversations and a note of any telephone calls that took place. You should also keep a copy of the Pre Purchase Veterinary Certificate, any x-rays or radiographs taken and annex these to the sale agreement.

If you buy your horse from a private seller then you are not protected by the terms implied into the sale of a horse by a business seller. The old rule Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) applies and a buyer has no comeback on the seller should the horse later turn out to be completely unsuitable, unless a formal written sale agreement was put in place by the parties. A buyer of a horse has a potential claim in misrepresentation if a buyer relied upon a representation made by a private seller that later turns out to be untrue, however, these cases are notoriously difficult to prove and rarely succeed without the backing of a written sale agreement.

Ultimately, buying a horse is a risk as to whether it will be exactly what you want it to be when you get it home and there is only so much you can do to assist in selecting the right horse. Horses are animals at the end of the day and their behaviour is largely determined by their surroundings. However, it is open to you to reduce the risk to you when you are buying or selling a horse by ensuring that a sale agreement is in place to deal with any important aspects of the sale.

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About the Author
Alison Goodwin, Partner
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Alison Goodwin is a Hereford solicitor, specialising in equine.

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