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

24th August 2022

Buying a horse is an exciting prospect. However, this excitement can quickly disappear when that horse later proves unsuitable or bears no resemblance to either or the horse you viewed, or the description given by the seller.

If you purchased the horse from a dealer or someone selling horses as part of their business, such as a stud, then two Acts can apply to the sale: the Consumer Rights Act 2015, or the Sale of Goods Act 1979 if you are buying in the course of a business. These Acts assist buyers by imposing implied terms into the contract of sale, including that the horse:

  • Is of a satisfactory quality
  • Is fit for the purpose for which it was sold (if that purpose is made known to the seller)
  • Is as the seller described to you before the sale was concluded.

If the horse was sold in breach of one of the implied terms, it may be possible to reject the horse and claim a refund from the seller. Practically, however, it can be difficult to prove the various assurances the seller gave about the horse while you were trotting around a field trying the animal out.

If you buy your horse from a private seller, then you do not have the benefit of the terms implied by the Acts. Caveat Emptor (“let the buyer beware”) applies, and a buyer may have no recourse against the seller should the horse turn out to be completely unsuitable unless they can establish the seller has breached the express terms of the contract.

In either case, the best evidence of what was discussed and expressly agreed between the parties is always a formal written sale agreement, which should include details of all the terms agreed including the particulars of the horse and its behaviour, for example whether it loads, whether it hacks on its own and in traffic etc.

Copies of the advertisement for the horse, any email or text conversations, notes of any telephone calls that took place, the Pre-Purchase Veterinary Certificate and any x-rays taken should all be annexed to the sale agreement.

In the absence of a contract, any questions concerning the terms of the contract and whether they have been performed will inevitably come down to the buyer’s word against that of the seller.

Alternatively, a buyer of a horse may have a claim in misrepresentation if they relied upon a representation made by a seller that later turns out to be untrue. These cases, however, are notoriously difficult to prove and rarely succeed without the backing of a written sale agreement.

Ultimately, when buying a horse there is always a risk that it won’t be exactly what you want when you get it home. Horses are animals at the end of the day and their behaviour is largely determined by their surroundings, so there is only so much you can do to assess its suitability prior to purchase. However, the risk to both the buyer and the seller can be greatly reduced by ensuring that a written sale agreement is in place to deal with any important aspects of the sale.

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