According to the court, the woman attended the event to help a friend who was participating. The woman described her role as “working in a non-recreational capacity as an unpaid groom.” The woman claimed that she was washing her friend’s horse when a loose dog approached the horse, causing the horse to kick out. The woman was injured and filed suit, claiming that each of the three entities violated the “no dogs allowed” rule by allowing a dog at Millstone Farm, and that the violation of this rule caused the horse to kick her.
Although the court concluded that being kicked by a horse while attempting to wash it is an inherent risk of equestrian recreational activity, the court refused to dismiss the woman’s claims related to the violation of the “no dog” rule. The court explained that the three entities failed to submit “any evidentiary materials either showing (1) compliance or reasonable compliance with the “No Dogs Allowed” policy or (2) that non-compliance with the policy was unrelated to the injuries that the [woman] received.”
However, woe to the injured rider whose horse spooks at a loose dog when there is no leash law in place. A recent case in New York illustrates how a dog owner may not be liable for causing a horse to spook. A New York court dismissed the lawsuit of a woman who was injured when she fell from her horse after it was startled by loose dogs. The dogs belonged to the owner of the boarding stable where the injured woman rode and kept her horse. The injured woman’s lawsuit alleged that the owner, of the dogs and the property, was negligent in permitting her dogs to run loose on the property where horseback riding was taking place. The dog and property owner defended the lawsuit on the grounds that the injured woman’s “mishap” was an assumed risk of recreational horseback riding. The trial court dismissed the woman’s lawsuit and she appealed.
On appeal, the court considered that the injured woman was a fairly experienced rider whose horse had shied at loose dogs on a previous occasion. “She knew that three dogs were housed at [the boarding stable] and was aware that [the owner of the stable] liked to have the dogs with her when she rode. [The injured rider] had previously ridden while the dogs were running free. She stated that she had complained in the past about the dogs running free when she was riding.” The court noted that on the day of the accident she had been informed that the stable owner was out riding, implying the injured woman should have realized the dogs would be running loose on the property. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the case.
From a liability standpoint, the moral of these two cases basically boils down to this: better to have no leash law than one that is not enforced.
Krysia Carmel Nelson, Esq. earned her B.A. from Dartmouth College and her law degree from Villanova University. In private practice, Ms. Nelson represents leading horse owners, trainers, riders, breeders, equestrian facilities, major farms, clubs and associations across all nationally and internationally recognized disciplines. A frequent speaker at industry conferences, including the National Equine Law Conference, she also teaches at the Washington & Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia. A lifelong equestrian, she still competes regularly on the "A" show circuit in the amateur hunter divisions. Krysia, along with her law partner Tamara Leigh Tucker, Esq. are equine attorneys, lifelong horsewomen, and co-founders of HorseClosings.com.