Thought exercise: who would be liable in an accident during an equitation class with switched horse-rider combinations?

many times we loaned one of our mares to kids coming from distance, it just did not make sense for them to ship their horse in for a class or two…we had the horse there anyway and she was a trooper who knew what to do

We provided to the intercollegiate league reining horses for their National finals.
The students did very well, two years the winner was riding one of our horses, with different students each year.

That is different, they have spent all previous qualifying competitions catch riding horses at different venues and are prepared for just that.

It would be more problematic to have someone show their horse and then in the finals if they qualify have to trade horses because those are a different kind of managed horses, not really geared for being catch riding horses, the stakes higher, more apt for wrecks to happen in that situation.

In equitation, the riding is judged on the rider, so more expected that the rider is asked to change horses.
When the total performance is judged based on the horse, maybe not worth the chances of mishap catch riding may bring.

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In IEA and IHSA it is all about equitation, and the riders get on horses they have never ridden (or seen) before, for every competition. Horse owners willingly donate their schoolies and privately-owned horses for these shows. I think the risk of loss is (a) inherent in the protocol of the competition and (b) to the extent legally possible, waived in writing prior to participation. Essentially true at all levels.


Yes, either party could sue… but not getting it thrown out for frivolousness is another story. You’d also have to prove gross negligence on the riders part, or in the case that a horse hurt the rider, that the injury was intentional in one form or another. There is an inherent risk to horses, which makes these things hard to prove, if you can even get a case going…

Personally, to mitigate liability, everyone who even comes into my barn signs a waiver, and I would expect to do the same in this situation. Not that I’d ever get to this kind of level, but I wouldn’t allow my horse to be ridden by anyone who didn’t want to sign a waiver.

A few thoughts…

Negligence is exempt from any waiver. Yes, the injured party must prove it but defending against a negligence claim requires a lawyer, often costing more then settling out of court.

Insurance may cover injury but the insurance company is free to go after HO, trainer, facility etc to recoup what they paid out. And they do.

The examples of IEA and IHSA where its a blind draw from a pool of donated horses really does not compare with a Big Eq Final where the courses are a foot higher, several feet wider and the courses and test far more technical on highly tuned high 5 figure horses.

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I’ve never seen or heard of anyone signing a waiver before they changed horses in an equitation test. Maybe it’s happened, but I’ve never seen or heard of it.

Maybe in your state, but in many states negligence can absolutely be waived.

In New York, for example, negligence can be waived, but not gross negligence, reckless conduct, willful/wanton conduct, or intentional acts.


I don’t ride at that level and have never been asked to switch. But, if I were ever in that situation, I would refuse unless a waiver is signed. I don’t think that’s too much to ask lolol

So freaking true!

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I would assume that if it’s a known part of the class, you’re accepting the liability by entering the class. For a USEF or other association-recognized show, riders/parents and horse owners have almost certainly signed liability forms in order to enter the show.


Exactly. For example, here is a page of this years PNHS prize list. Item 3 states the show isn’t liable for injury to horses or humans. I am fairly confident other USEF shows likely have this same language in the prize list.

Now, horse owner protection, that’s a different story. But the show itself isn’t liable based on this language it seems.

Yes, for some classes, but for others, like the Jumping World Championship or other big finals?
At that level, maybe being obligated to participate and if you reach the finals, to have your horse shown, at that height, three other times, by three other different riders, hopefully very good ones at that level, but maybe not the kind you would want on your horse, putting it at risk?

That maybe is a requirement, for otherwise standard classes, that is past its time, in today’s world.

I’m not saying whether it’s good or not (and the FEI removed it from the World Championships in 2016). I was just noting that if it’s a stated part of the rules of the competition and you sign a liability waiver to enter the competition, then probably only things not covered by waivers (such as gross negligence) would have a chance of winning a lawsuit.

Every competition, even a world championship or an Olympics, is a choice that owners make to enter their horses.

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But, again, gross negligence can be claimed regardless.

Personal example, despite being in a limited liability state and signing a liability release, after my last two visits to the ER (about 7 years apart) due to accidents with my own horse, my insurance company repeatedly sought information on who owned the horse, whose property it occurred on, whose direction I was riding under, any other circumstances etc.

They kept sending a form, forgot what it was called, with a demand for info. Stating they had a right to recover what they paid out from all parties involved. It came regular mail, not certified so ignored it the first time and filled it out the second time saying my horse, my choices, not even on the horse when knocked over due to my inattention. Never heard back.

However I added HO liability coverage to my equine insurance. On advice of a lawyer.

Never assume anything.

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Yes, gross negligence can be claimed. But nothing in the original poster’s scenario would likely be considered gross negligence such that a claim would be successful.

It doesn’t surprise me that your insurance wanted that information. There are of course situations where grossly negligent conduct leads to falls, and insurance wants to evaluate whether that is the case. Not to mention courts don’t always handle equine related cases how those familiar with horses would expect.

Personally I’m guessing in the above scenarios no one ends up liable, whether due to assumption of the risk, a waiver, or there just plain not being a breach of a duty of care. The situation that ends with rider injury is a little trickier, but I think ends the same way. (Just musings - it’s an interesting question).

I went through that with my medical insurance. First, they kept insisting I was in a car crash and said my injuries were car crash injuries. Yes, months later but not on that date and it was kind of a human crash. Then they wanted to know about the horse. Mine. My bad judgment. :woman_shrugging:

It was a painful fall but just X-rays at the ER and some follow up visits with an ortho. Nothing dramatic. Sprained back and torn muscles.

They finally said ok. Odd phone all.

Does anyone remember Edwina Tops Alexander riding Authentic at WEG many years ago? He totally took over and it was scary. I remember thinking about this exact thing back then, who would be liable if he was injured?

I am not familiar with this story - care to share what happened?

Authentic just started going faster and faster and took one crazy long spot at the end. A clip is on you tube.

Let’s not forget they switch horses at Washington Finals every year. I think one has to assume the risk that it could happen when switching horses.

1993 or maybe 1994 I switched horses with another rider at a local A show for maybe the medal test. George was judging. The girl who rode mine crashed him through a jump and he came out limping. Tore his suspensory. This was a borrowed mount for the day. Luckily, owners were not too mad about it. The girl who crashed him felt horribly. It does happen

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