5 Bits of Advice from an Equine Appraiser
Contributed by Alison Gay, Senior Certified Appraiser of EquiAppraisal
As an equine appraiser, my job is to develop an unbiased opinion of value for various purposes, ranging from sales and insurance, to donations and divorce cases. Unfortunately, most of my inquiries come after things have gone terribly wrong! Whether an injury is discovered following the purchase of a horse, or a horse is killed in an accident, I’m rarely contacted with good news. Though there are circumstances that cannot be avoided, here are a few pointers that may save you a lot of grief in the future.
1) The importance of getting a proper pre-purchase exam.
A pre-purchase examination is a fairly standard practice among equine sales. The decision to obtain a pre-purchase exam, as well as the extent of testing, is largely dependent on the price of the horse and the risk the buyer is willing to undertake. If you’re investing in the purchase of the horse, remember that one missed injury or major health issue may make the difference between a long and happy equine-owner partnership and a horse that can never be used for the job it was purchased to do. Some things to consider before booking a pre-purchase examination are:
· Hire a vet you trust, who is unbiased in the sale, and has experience performing your desired level of examination.
· Consider what even the most untrained eye cannot see — bloodwork and additional imaging. Bloodwork may reveal something innocent like a previously unknown health issue, or something more sinister like a dishonest seller drugging the horse. X-ray and ultrasound imaging can help allay concerns regarding flexion tests.
2) Protect yourself from liability—put it in writing!
Imagine you’re at a BMW dealership, you’ve picked out your brand new sports car, and you are about to pull out of the lot…after signing just one piece of paper that simply states the car is now yours in “as-is” condition. This would never happen! You would expect to sign a contract that is dozens of pages long, protecting the seller from every possible misfortune under the sun. The horse industry is one of very few (if any) where you can buy or lease a 5 or 6 figure property with minimal to no paperwork involved. The industry was built on “handshake” deals, but we now live in a time when that can lead to an absolute legal nightmare.
Whether you are in the business of leases, sales, lessons, clinics, trail rides, or any other facet of the equine industry, it is absolutely imperative that you protect yourself! You don’t have to work in this business long to realize that if something can go wrong around horses, at some point it will. Protect yourself even from those not riding. Put signage around your facility, in visible locations. (Note: each state has specific wording that must be on this signage and it occasionally changes—make sure you use the right one!)
3) Utilize an equine attorney.
Signage alone will not protect you against a legal dispute. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as an Equine Attorney, and they specialize in litigating and contracting equine-specific issues. Protect yourself by investing in a lawyer who understands the horse world to develop your contracts, as the equine industry is unlike any other. Also make sure they know your state’s specific laws and regulations. Wording in a contract is very important, and the smallest detail can save you if something goes awry.
4) Weigh your options before entering a legal dispute.
When tragedy strikes and emotions are high, people are (understandably) quick to seek retribution. A lawsuit may be the best course of action, but you don’t want to rush into one unless you are prepared for the financial, emotional, and temporal burden. Legal disputes almost always end up being more expensive than originally anticipated, and can often last for years. A few things to consider before entering into a lawsuit are:
· How much was the replacement value of the horse (at its current condition, level of training, and level of competition)? This means, how much would a knowledgeable buyer currently pay for the horse? Be careful not to include the horse’s sentimental value in this figure. Horses are typically viewed as livestock rather than pets by the court, so any emotional loss will likely not be compensated.
· Mediation may be a better alternative, depending on the situation. A professional legal mediator may be able to help resolve an issue with far less expense and time invested.
· You can also consider small claims court if the horse is of minimal value, but the situation warrants a claim.
5) Get your ducks in a row early.
If you have decided to pursue a complaint after an incident, be prepared to move quickly. You’ll want to hire your attorney, as well as an expert (or possibly multiple experts) to provide a professional, unbiased opinion in relation to the facts of your case. The earlier you can hire experts, the more time they have to produce quality work (not to mention the opposing side will likely be shopping for their own experts, as well).
Make sure the professionals you hire are qualified to work on your specific case. For example, if you have a medically-related case, seek out a licensed veterinarian to testify to the medical details related to the case. If you need an expert appraisal of value, hire a certified appraiser who you can be confident will produce unbiased and thorough work. It’ll be better to pay more and to have the case done right, than to pay less and end up with nothing to show for it due to unprofessional mistakes.
Keep quiet in the meantime. Blasting posts on social media and telling everyone you know about the horrible, terrible, and ugly things the opposing side has done will only provide material for a defamation suit. Handle the matter in a professional manner, and you’ll be thankful you did in the long run!
If your specific question wasn’t answered above, please do not hesitate to contact Alison at Alison@EquiAppraisal.com or 844.900.0022.