Unlimited access >

Bad footing - who is liable?

This is just a legal question that I am interested in so please just address the legality. The boarders all know the situation/risks.

The footing in our arena has been bad for several years and the boarders have complained to management often - it is very uneven and where the base is exposed it is very hard and slick. A couple of years ago a couple of horses slipped and fell (luckily no one/horse was hurt) and management did make an attempt to fix the problem but it didn’t last long. Recently another horse slipped and fell while being led at the walk and was injured, requiring several vet visits. Question has come up as to whether or not barn management is responsible for vet bills as this has been a known problem. Or are boarders responsible as they know the risk to riding there?

I’m just very curious about the situation. I opt to ride in the field as much as possible, but was wondering as that is the “buzz” around the barn.

1 Like

Not legal advice, and I am interested to hear what the legal eagles say.

That said, I would document everything - with as much detail as possible, including dates and times- and keep it in an organized, safe place on your computer with a back up. I would include at a minimum:

  • the condition of the footing (through photographs),
  • details of any accidents that have occurred because of the condition of the footing,
  • all communications with management regarding the footing
  • maintenance schedule of ring (watering, drag, etc)
  • any attempts made to rectify by management

If it is such a risk, move your horse.

If management has known about the issue for years and done nothing about it yet, they are not going to.

Why take a chance with the health and safety of both you and your horse?


This…because at the end of the day, if your horse gets hurt, who cares who pays for it. Your horse is still hurt.


On you and the other boarders - You need to leave and speak with your wallets. Seems like a known issue and you all continue to put your horses at risk.


We understand that…however easier said then done as there are not a lot of options in our area. But I really am just interested in the LEGAL aspect. It is fascinating me.

1 Like

I’m sorry, but the horse who fell at a walk… there is more to that story, 100%. Horses are led on concrete without biffing it…


Actually I had a horse fall on slick concrete, which is why concrete around horses has to be rough…just saying. But there probably is more to the story that I don’t know, but I am just interested in legality.

1 Like

This is why there are going to be no barns left. Rather than people taking it upon themselves to be good horse owners and do the right thing for their horses, they stick around looking for a lawsuit.

Horse barns are going to be uninsurable and all you folks that board are going to have even less options.


Does your State require one of these ?

image image


It depends on the state, and on the waivers you signed when you started boarding.
MANY states have some form of an Equine Activity Liability Act which limits the liability for horse accidents.

They vary by state, but typically " protect horsemen, camps, stables, and other horse providers from frivolous lawsuits arising out of horse accidents that could not have been avoided."

“a person may not bring a lawsuit if the accident resulted from an inherent risk of equine activities. They also spell out what risks - such as providing defective tack or failing appropriately to match horse with rider - are not inherent and therefore fair game for a lawsuit.”

You would have to talk to a lawyer about whether “bad footing” is an “inherent risk of equine activities”, or “negligence”.

Here are some web sites that talk about Equine Activity Liability Act by state




No one in our barn is looking to sue! This is just a legal question that I am interested in.

THANK YOU! That makes a lot of sense.

I would find it really hard to believe a boarding barn has any legal obligation to provide specific footing types or maintenance. Unless it’s stated in your boarding contract, of course. Those who choose to continue to ride on dangerous footing are taking on that risk/liability. Especially since there appears to be other places to ride (the field). A barn owner can’t guarantee their farm’s suitability for you and your horse.
I would absolutely think inconsistencies in footing is an “inherent risk” of equine activities. I’ve known people who had a horse fall from a gopher hole on the boarding barn’s property, get tangled in barbed wire fencing at a national park that was hidden under leaves, all kinds of similar stories. None of them considered asking the BO or park rangers to pay their vet bills.


I’m not a lawyer and I don’t really know much about liability issues. But I’d think that some of the responsibility (moral or otherwise) might depend on whether the barn owner had let the footing deteriorate over time. In other words, if boarders came into the barn when the footing was good, and with a reasonable expectation that the owner would maintain the facility, it might be that the owner would be violating the boarding contract by not maintaining the facility for its proper use.

But if the boarders came into the barn with the footing already in sub-optimal condition, without any explicit promise that the footing would be upgraded, then the responsibility would be more on the boarders.

But, even if the liability falls on one side or the other, I am with those who said that you really don’t want to allow your horse to be hurt, even if you ultimately don’t have to cover the bills.

If the footing is in bad shape, it is certainly worthwhile for the boarders to approach the owner and ask what it would take to make the upgrades and maintenance happen.

1 Like

I am also not a lawyer.

I guess if the boarding contract has some line about properly maintained and such certain type of footing then this might make sense.
But, at what point in your thought process does it switch from - the barn owner is at fault to the horse owner should just leave and find a place with properly maintained footing.

If I move into a barn with lovely grass pastures and five years later the grass is all nubs because of bad weather and hungry horses, I can’t demand grass and expect it to happen. I have to choose if I am OK with hay instead of grass now or do I want to move my horse to a different barn.

Boarding is a month to month type contract so it seems to me that your agreement is whatever the conditions are at the beginning of the month when you handed over your next board payment, for all items not specifically mentioned in the boarding contract.


You’ve asked good questions to which I don’t have an answer.

When I wrote my post, I was thinking about a boarder who might have signed a one-year contract (or might have re-upped a one year contract), in which case, if the boarder up and left in month six (for example), she’d have to show that the barn owner had violated the boarding contract by not maintaining the facility in order for the boarder not to be liable for the final six months of the board fees. (or whatever she might be liable for under the contract as written).

Some of the question might have to do with what a “reasonable expectation” might be. So it might not be reasonable to assume that footing can be fixed in December, but it might be reasonable to think that it could be fixed in May. Or at least a plan could be in process to fix it.

But, again, this is one of these issues that thinking solely in legal terms may not be the best option. Boarders should, ideally, approach the owner and ask about the footing and whether there are any plans to fix it. It would probably have the most impact if a group of boarders did it simultaneously. If the owner says that he/she thinks the footings fine, then the boarders at least know that they will have to move if they don’t like it. If the owner says, “Oh gee, I didn’t realize it had gotten so hard (or whatever the issue is)” then the boarders can ask about when it might be attended to.

Stewing about whose legal liability it might be if a horse gets hurt on the footing doesn’t really accomplish anything.


See, I am always learning new things here on COTH.

None of the barns in my part of the world, even the crazy expensive fancy barns, have a long term (one year or six month) contract for boarding, like a rental agreement.

I had forgotten that might be a thing in some places.


Not a lawyer…but look up contributory negligence. If someone knew the footing was unsafe (documented over years?) and still used the footing…damages could be limited.

If it’s that bad where you walk your horse in it knowing they may slip…it’s probably time to move IMO


I can’t see what the fascination would be?

To me there is no real legal aspect. You know it is slick and unsafe, yet the boarders continue to use it and put their animals at risk.

Pool your resources and help the BO get it fixed? Would be preferable to paying vet bills and injured horses.