1999 Julie I. Fershtman, Esq. All rights Reserved


Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law
Author of Equine Law & Horse Sense
(248) 851-4111


Questions for an Equine Law Practitioner
Is a Boarding Stable Improperly Taking Liberties With Someone's Horse?

Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law
30700 Telegraph Road, Suite 3475
Bingham Farms, Michigan  48025-4527
(248) 644-8645

    Julie Fershtman's second equine law book is going to press shortly and will be released later this year.  As Julie puts finishing touches on the book, she is devoting this article to some of the general legal questions actually received from people across the country and her answers.
Question:    Dear Ms. Fershtman
  My friend keeps her horse at a boarding stable.  She pays board in cash but never received a receipt.  My friend has learned that the stable has been using her horse for lessons and has been making money off of the horse.  Also, the stable is now trying to take my friend to small claims court to take possession of horse or payment of board costs and vet bills in the amount of $1,400.  The stable refuses to let her take the horse off of the premises.
Is this legal?
    -- Amy

Answer:  Amy writes with several questions about a boarding stable that is accused of taking liberties with a boarded horse, refusing to let the owner remove the horse, and is suing the owner in small claims court to collect back board and fees.   There are several questions here.

    Question one is how can Amy's friend prove, to the court's satisfaction, that she is current in her board payments and owes the stable nothing?   Because there is no canceled check or receipt, Amy's friend is in the midst of a credibility battle.  The stable will probably argue that it gives receipts when it receives payment, and the lack of a receipt is prime evidence that Amy's friend never paid.  If this is argued, maybe Amy's friend can counter it with proof that the stable never gives receipts.  Or, maybe she has evidence of bank withdrawals she made in order to pay her board bills.  This might help, but the battle is guaranteed to be tough as it is
her word against the stable's.

    Question two appears to be whether a stable can, on its own and without the horse owner's permission, use a boarded horse for lessons.  The answer depends on the contract between the parties.  Maybe Amy's friend had an arrangement to receive reduced board in exchange for the stable's use of her horse.

    The stable, if it had no permission to use the horse, could be looking for trouble.  I seriously doubt that the stable can take "freebies" by using a horse without the owner's permission – especially if the stable has not been legally declared the horse's owner.  State laws, such as a stablemen's lien law or the law of abandonment, might address how (or if) someone can make such use of someone else's property.

    If the stable's use of the horse was illegal under the applicable state's law, this might give Amy's friend some ammunition in the lawsuit.  That is, she may have grounds to bring a counterclaim against the stable for the income the stable received from using the horse, or, if she owes the stable money she can seek a credit against the debt.  In a more aggressive approach, because the stable's use of the horse could threaten its well-being and risks exposing Amy's friend to a lawsuit if someone gets hurt, she might consider pursuing an injunction against the stable.  My past articles have addressed injunctions.  Here, a court-ordered injunction might stop the stable from using the horse in lessons and/or allow Amy's friend to remove her horse.

    Question three is whether the stable has the right to demand that the horse stay on the property until it has been fully paid.  The answer usually depends on the language of the applicable stablemen's lien law.  Horse owners are often surprised to learn that, on a national level, many of the stablemen's lien laws (also called "agister's lien laws") allow stables to keep a boarded horse until they have been fully paid.  Amy's friend might try to persuade a court to override the law based on extenuating circumstances, but there are no guarantees.

    Question four is whether a stable can keep possession of the horse when back board is due and still accumulate a higher board bill.  Again, the state's law usually provides the answer.  As stated above, many lien laws allow stables to hold a horse until they have been fully paid; this could mean that the board bill will indeed grow, yet the owner cannot cut the losses by removing the horse.   To horse boarders, these lien laws may seem harsh.  Unhappy horse owners are not alone; numerous states have garage keeper's lien laws that are strikingly similar and allow parking garages and vehicle repair facilities to keep cars until they are fully paid, too.

    Question five is whether the stable must conduct only a stablemen's lien sale of the boarded horse instead of bringing court proceedings to collect the debt.   Again, the answer likely rests in the applicable state's law.  Some state laws allow boarding stables to do two things: First, the laws, in a variety of ways, allow the stable to claim a lien and, down the line, undergo certain procedures or legal proceedings to sell off or keep the horse.  Second, some laws also allow the stable  to seek a judgment against the debtor/horse owner for the amount of the unpaid board debt.   After the stable wins a judgment for a sum of money, the stable may be legally
permitted to sell off certain of the debtor's assets until the judgment is paid off.   The boarded horse just might qualify as such an asset.

    I wish Amy's friend and her horse a happy resolution to this messy situation and hope that she will consult with a lawyer to research the law for her.

    This article does not constitute legal advice.  When questions arise based on specific situations, direct them to a knowledgeable attorney.

About the Author

Julie I. Fershtman is an attorney with a law practice serving the horse industry.  In her 15 years as a lawyer, she has achieved numerous courtroom victories and has drafted hundreds of contracts.  An independent lawyer rating service gives her its highest rating for abilities.  She can be reached at (248) 851-4111.

Looking for good resources on Equine Law?  Ms. Fershtman's books are highly informative, easy to understand, and even easier to order.  MORE Equine Law & Horse Sense, the newest book, sells for $22.95 + $4 shipping and handling.  Equine Law & Horse Sense, the first book, sells for $17.95 + $4 shipping and handling.  Michigan residents add 6% sales tax.  To order, contact Horses & The Law Publishing at (866) 5-EQUINE, a toll-free number, or send check or money order to Horses & The Law Publishing, P.O. Box 250696 Franklin, MI 48025-0696.