As the summer season approaches, many horse owners will be thinking of placing their horse in production or training with a professional. Horse owners will invariably be optimistic that they have found the trainer who is right for their horse, and trainers will be firmly focussed on obtaining the results that the owner wants. Neither party will expect at the outset that a problem will arise, but horses are unpredictable animals and training doesn’t always go as planned.
Trainers and owners often have a friendly relationship throughout the term of the training. However, that can unfortunately break down if the owner of the horse feels (reasonably or unreasonably) the trainer has failed to act appropriately in caring for and producing the horse. We have been consulted by both horse owners and trainers when disputes arise as a result of a training agreement.
If a written contract exists between the parties, that will be the first port of call, and it will usually be drafted to provide for the unexpected. If the parties do not have a contract in place, the legal position is not straightforward. If the trainer is providing the service in the course of a business or trade, the law provides certain automatic protections to the horse owner. For example, the trainer must ensure that the services provided with reasonable skill and care and in accordance with anything said to the horse owner which was taken into consideration when deciding where to put the horse in training. If they fail to do so, they will be liable for any loss caused. In the absence of a contract, the law provides very little protection to the trainer.
From the trainer’s perspective, the problem with a claim stemming from an allegation that they have not acting with reasonable care and skill is that the word “reasonable” is open to interpretation and debate. For example, would the trainer have been acting with “reasonable” care and skill if the horse had escaped through poor fencing in the field, had trapped its leg in a loose rug strap, had cut itself on a stray nail in the field or was kicked by another horse in the field? Each of those circumstances, to a greater or lesser degree, would create an arguable case of breach of contract or negligence, in the absence of any terms to protect the trainer. A legal dispute to determine whether a trainer has acted reasonably will inevitably be time consuming and expensive.
Parties to training agreements can agree, with more certainty, what will happen if the unexpected occurs. The law recognises that parties are free to agree almost anything that they wish to between themselves. We set out below the key issues which both trainers and horse owners alike may wish to agree at the outset of a training agreement.
- What are the parties’ expectations? At the start, this is usually common ground, but as expectations develop, and memories fade, disputes can evolve around what the trainer was to provide.
- What is the price? This may seem obvious, but less obvious is what will that price include? Feed, supplements, bedding, wormers, blacksmith costs, clipping, fuel for travel to competitions, accommodation costs at competitions and entry fees are all examples of costs which should be specifically outlined as being included (or not) in the agreed price, to prevent any area of confusion.
- When is payment due? How is it to be paid? What will happen if the horse owner does not pay training fees as they fall due? Does the trainer want to reserve the right to sell the horse if the owner does not pay the training costs?
- Will the trainer’s potential financial liability for any alleged failure to act with reasonable care and skill be capped? Will the horse owner’s right to claim for certain types of loss, such as loss of profit or consequential losses, be excluded?
- What is the notice period required to bring an end to the agreement?
It is important that an agreement is made in writing at the outset of the training. Attempting to prove the terms of an oral agreement, or worse still, argue a certain position in the absence of any agreement, is difficult. Trainers can avoid uncertainty and mitigate risk by ensuring that all training agreements are subject to their own bespoke terms and conditions.
Contact us if you would like to arrange a no obligation consultation in respect of your training terms.