A Question of Liability

A question presented to me:

Who would be liable if a boarded horse ended up with fox tails in its mouth from eating hay with fox tails?

Additional information: horse is boarded and was getting alfalfa mix round bales, but barn ran out so switched to grass bales, and this grass bale contained the fox tail. The barn bales their own hay. Two horses are affected: one seems ok after obvious fox tail removed, but other still fussing and will likely need a vet.

Barn removed the bale and is now forking hay off it into the pen.

I don’t think anyone is liable here. It can happen with the best hay.

That said. If the barn is still feeding off that bale they’re idiots.


IANAL but here’s my take: I don’t think anyone would be liable for the initial issue with foxtails, unless the barn owner knew that there were foxtails in the hay.

But if they are still feeding off the same bale that they know has foxtails and a horse is injured, then I think the barn owners would be liable.

The difference being that for the first incident, the barn owner presumably did not know of the hazard, but if there’s a second incident, they did know of the hazard and fed the hay anyway.

Having said that, the cost of a good lawyer would probably be higher than any damages that would be awarded, unfortunately, so if I was the horse owner and they were still feeding that hay, I’d move my horse as soon as possible. And provide my own hay in the meantime.


The kids were up in the hayloft one day tossing down square bales when they spotted a petrified snake sticking out of one of them. The BO wasn’t around, which was good because she is totally grossesd out since her brother dropped one down the back of her shirt when they were kids. I told the kids to toss the one with the snake, plus the neighboring bales. No matter how minor the risk is, it’s not worth saving 50 bucks worth of hay.


With very few exceptions, order to be liable, a person has to be negligent (or worse). That means they did not act “as a reasonable person would have acted in the same situation.”

So the question is, would a reasonable barn owner have somehow prevented the horses being given hay with a foxtail in it?

I doubt there is any practical way to inspect hay that closely, but I’ll defer to other barn owners as to what their procedures are.


This is my thought too.

The original post reads like the horse owner wants the barn owner to pay the vet bills, and I think that is expecting something that is unreasonable.

It is kind of like expecting someone to pay if your horse gets injured doing horse things.


There was a barn near me feeding hay with foxtails. I got a ton of requests for boarding that next week.

But the thing of it is, board was cheap there and they didn’t want to pay my higher rates. And I wanted to say - well that’s why you have a barn that feeds hay with foxtails.

But I didn’t.

I’m guessing they are forking off the bale so they can check it for foxtails? It does seem strange but hay is terribly expensive right now.

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Yes, if it was just the barn feeding the hay I agree, but this is also the barn that chose to bale the foxtails, and this is where I am not sure.

It is very hard to find hay here at this time of year, and I think as this barn grows their own, they likely don’t have money to replace what they have.

How many acres do they bale? Do you expect the owner to grid-walk their hay field and inspect for any unwanted species? What happens when a snake gets baled, should they have caught that too?


The only spray that will kill foxtail and not the grass hay is Prowl. It is quite expensive and has been hard to get. It is also hard to get out of the tank so commercial sprayers may not be willing to use it.


I am confused, if you do not like how this barn is doing things so much, just move your horse.

Baling hay is hard. It is easier to bale something you do not want to bale than most people think, clearly. Even the most reputable hay supplier gets something they do not want from time to time.

How much hay do you want them to toss out? Every bale they made on the property?


I think CHT runs a boarding barn and this clearly isn’t her horse or property or hay. A question raised by someone else and of interest to a barn owner! Perhaps you need to look at waivers in the boarding contract too.

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BO baled hay, a timothy blend typical in northern New England. She fertilized the field every spring. When she limed it the weeds disappeared.

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Yes, not me, my horse or my barn. Just a friend asking advice - as a barn owner, my knee jerk reaction is “not liable”, but if my hay supplier brought me hay with fox tail I would be shocked and expect a refund…although I wouldn’t hold them liable for vet bills if a horse was affected. I was curious what non barn owners who may be more objective, might think about overall liability.

I think she is planning to move her horse as she feels they have been cutting too many corners, but not a lot of options where she lives.