Equine Activity Statutes: What They Do and Don't Do,
and What You Need to Do
by Robert O. Dawson Professor of Law University
of Texas School of Law
In one form or another, equine activity statutes have been enacted in about
35 states. The goals of these enactments are to more clearly define the duties
of horsemen to the public and to tip the scales of justice in favor of the
Not only is the statute a useful ally in defending a lawsuit, but it may
deter the filing of one as well. If an injured person contacts a lawyer about
suing, that attorney will want to know three things: (1) how serious (expensive)
is the injury, (2) how clear is the liability of the other person for the
injury, and (3) is there a source of money to pay the judgment if the lawsuit is
brought and won. An equine activity statute can tip the scales in (2) in a close
case and cause a lawyer not to bring a suit that otherwise would be filed,
because if the lawyer loses on (2) not only does he not receive his fees, but
his office may lose many dollars in time and out-of-pocket expenses in bringing
While the exact language in each statute varies somewhat from state to state,
the core of the provisions is the same. Because these statues were all enacted
within only the last few years, it is too early to know exactly whether the
courts will interpret them broadly or narrowly.
The "activity" in equine activity is broadly defined to include
horse shows, fairs, competitions, performances, or parades, including all breeds
and all disciplines, such as dressage, hunter and jumper shows, grand prix
jumping, three-day events, combined training, rodeos, driving, pulling, cutting,
polo, steeplechasing, English and western performance riding, endurance trail
riding, western pleasure, hunting, training, teaching, boarding horses, riding,
inspecting or evaluating a horse belonging to another, horse shoeing, rides,
trips, hunts or other activities of any type however informal or impromptu, that
are sponsored by an equine sponsor.
An equine sponsor is an individual or group, whether non-profit or for
profit, that provides facilities for, organizes, or sponsors equine activities.
An equine professional is a person engaged in an equine activity for
"Engages in an equine activity" is defined to include almost any
kind of activities on or about horses, including riding, training, assisting in
medical treatment of horses, driving or being a passenger on a horse, or
assisting a participant in a horse show or assisting show management, but does
not include merely being a spectator to an equine activity.
In short, just about anybody involved in teaching riding in a stable or camp,
in training or renting horses, conducting trail rides, or in putting together a
horse event is covered by these statutes.
Inherent Risks of Equine Activities.
The key feature of these statutes is that an equine sponsor or professional
is not liable for an injury that is the result of an "inherent risk of
equine activities. "These risks are usually defined by statute to include
(1) the propensity of horses to behave in ways that may result in injury,
harm, or death to persons on or around them;
(2) the unpredictability of a horse's reaction to such things as sounds,
sudden movement, and unfamiliar objects, persons, or other animals;
(3) certain hazards such as surface and subsurface conditions;
(4) collisions with other horses or objects;
(5) the potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may
contribute to injury to the participant or others, such as failing to maintain
control over the animal or not acting within his or her ability.
What the legislatures are saying is that these risks are always present when
a person is on or near a horse and that by being on a horse or near a horse,
persons are assuming those risks. If the injury is the result of an inherent
equine activity risk, a lawsuit cannot be brought successfully by the injured
Things that are not inherent risks.
Legislatures have also defined certain circumstances that are not within the
inherent risks of equine activities. These include:
(1) providing equipment or tack when one knew or should have know it was
faulty and the faulty equipment or tack was totally or partially responsible for
(2) providing the horse while one failed to make reasonable efforts to
determine the ability of the rider to manage the particular horse based upon the
rider's statements about experience and ability;
(3) owning or leasing land upon which there was a hidden danger, which was
known to the owner or lessee, but who failed to warn the participant and the
danger caused the accident; or
(4) intentionally or with gross negligence injuring the other person.
What the legislatures have done is to define what is and what is not an
inherent risk in equine activities and to protect the horse professional or
organization form ability for an injury that occurred when such a risk
Almost two-thirds of the states with equine activity statutes require that
certain language be added to contract or be posted on the property, or both.
Failure to add the exact language to contracts or post exactly the words in the
statute means that the statute cannot be used in defense in a lawsuit.
It is, therefore, important to know (1) whether your state has an equine
activity statute and (2) if so what notice and posting requirements, if any,
there are in that state. Compliance with notice and posting requirements are
virtually free. Coming within the protection the statute in your state could
make all the difference in the world in defending a lawsuit.
states have the statutes.
You can determine whether your state has an Equine Activity Statute. You can
also determine whether you are required to post notices or include particular
language in your contracts or release forms.
Return to the Main Menu and then go to the Equine Activity Statute Menu to
determine whether you are covered and what, if anything, you need to do to be
included in the protection of the statute.
Allen Financial Insurance
Copyright 2007, 2012