Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Recent court cases highlight importance of having insurance cover for horses

It is important to have insurance in place when taking part in horse riding activities
It is important to have insurance in place when taking part in horse riding activities

Siobhán English

Every time we ride our horse, we take a risk. As horse owners we are acutely aware of their unpredictable nature, and that accidents can happen at any time, anywhere. We learn to fall off, and most of the time we immediately re-mount, unless of course we are injured.

Sometimes those injuries can be slight, and other times they can be life-changing. It's the nature of the game, but it's a risk we are prepared to take every time we get in the saddle.

By letting a friend, family member, or even a stranger ride your horse - unless you have adequate insurance - you are opening yourself up to an entirely new problem entirely.

Ask yourself, is this person experienced enough to ride? Is the horse suitable? And most importantly do you have third-party insurance cover?

A recent case in the UK involving a young woman who was paralysed from a fall will perhaps, make many horse owners think twice and ask themselves these three important questions before letting someone else ride their animal.

Ashleigh Harris was just 14 years old in 2012 when she broke her back in a fall from a thoroughbred owned by her ex-boyfriend's mother Rachel Miller.

It is claimed that Ms Harris was encouraged to ride the mare, which was first trotted before breaking into an uncontrollable canter, and unseating her rider.

In what is believed to be a landmark case, Ms Harris is now set to receive some £3 million in compensation after the judge ruled in favour of the teenager.

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Judge Graham Wood maintained that the horse owner made an error in judgement of Ms Harris's riding ability, and placed her on a horse that required a more experienced rider.

Naturally opinions on this case within the industry are quite divided, and many will agree that the teenager was not forced to ride the horse and did so of her own volition. Others believe that it was up to Ms Miller to decide whether or not Ms Harris was experienced enough to ride the thoroughbred.

Ms Harris is now confined to a wheelchair and will need lifetime care, and Ms Miller faces a huge bill which will also include legal costs for both parties. Her insurance company will pay part of the claim under the terms of their "personal liability" cover but the rest will have to come directly from the family. While such serious cases as that of Ms Harris are rare, smaller claims for personal injury from horse falls are regularly heard in court, although another one which also occurred in the UK in recent years had a very different outcome.

A woman who suffered a head injury when an Arab gelding threw her off had her case thrown out after this particular judge ruled that riders must accept the "inherent risks" of their sport.

Nadine Turnbull suffered chronic headaches as a result of the fall and sued the horse's owner, Rebecca Warrener, but Lord Justice Lewison rejected her claim, saying that:

"An individual who chooses to ride horses for pleasure no doubt derives enjoyment from being able to control a powerful beast. But inherent in that activity is the risk that, on occasions, the horse will not respond to its rider's instructions, or will respond in a way that the rider did not intend. That is one of the risks inherent in riding horses. That is all that happened in the present case."

Dubliner Zara Stassin is all too aware of the dangers of horse riding through her business, the equestrian holiday company Zara's Planet, but closer to home takes every precaution, even with her childrens' ponies.

"You'd want triple insurance for that," she said. "If we are selling one of our ponies, anyone that comes to try them out is first put on the lunge to assess if they can ride."

Each year Ms Stassin and her business partner Jill Dolan put dozens of clients through their books for horse riding holidays across the globe.

Ms Stassin stresses than often people overlook their travel insurance and what it covers when taking part in horse riding activities.

"Basically what clients have to do is send a full itinerary and location and explanation of what riding they are doing to their insurance company and ask in writing if they covered.

"Most good travel insurance companies will cover them and some charge a little excess. Polo and hunting are generally not covered so clients who opt to play polo in Kenya, for example, need to check that out and be aware of it.

"We go through it in detail with clients and advise them, as most haven't a clue and would head off badly insured."

Reacting to another case, in which a man who fell from a horse during a holiday to Iceland died from internal bleeding after keeping his injuries secret from doctors so his travel insurance wasn't invalidated, Ms Stassin added: "That was a clear case of someone just booking directly and doing their own thing and not being aware of the importance of good travel insurance."

"It's like house insurance and people will always think "it could never happen to me".

HorseGuard package offers liability up to €1m

The British Horse Society offers a variety of insurance packages to Irish horse owners. Gold Membership includes public liability insurance up to £20 million.

Commenting on the Ashleigh Harris case, BHS’s membership director Emma Day, said: ‘This is a tragic accident and it highlights some key elements that all riders should be reminded of. We would always advise that when you lend your horse to other riders they are both competent and have the right insurance, in order to protect both the owner and the rider.

“Unfortunately, accidents can happen, but by following this advice it can mitigate the impact.”

There are many  Irish companies who also cater for riders, among them Wexford Insurances who are approved brokers to a number of affiliations, including Showjumping Ireland, the Irish Pony Club and Association of Irish Riding Establishments. One of the policies is HorseGuard which offers third-party liability up to €1 million.

It is specifically designed for the sport horse enthusiast,

providing insurance protection to cover horse and rider against

unforeseen events such as mortality, theft and rider personal accident.

Both sport horse and thoroughbred owners can avail of services through the Association of Irish Bloodstock Insurance Agents and Brokers, members of which include Nicholas Molloy Insurances, Sean Barrett Bloodstock Insurances Limited, BBA Ireland, Emerald Bloodstock (Incorporating Bloodhorse Insurances) and Sweeney Walsh & Associates & Equestrian Insurance Ireland.

Between them they have some 150 years of experience in bloodstock and sport horse insurance.

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