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liability for riders of your horse

Did you know that in some circumstances you can be liable to pay compensation to another person who is injured when riding your horse?

The Court of Appeal has issued a judgment following a claim brought by Kara Goldsmith who was trying out a horse, Red.  Whilst she was riding Red out, he spooked, reared and bucked violently.  She was thrown and his hoof hit her face, as a result of which she suffered severe facial injuries. 

Red was being offered free of charge to a new home.  Anybody familiar with the equestrian world will know that this must have been a horse with problems.  Not only was it being offered free of charge, it had been passed onto another person, Robert Patchcott, to find a home on the owner's behalf as she could not handle him.  That situation speaks for itself.

Ms Goldsmith described herself as an experienced and confident rider who had ridden challenging horses in the past, and recognised that in riding any horse there is a risk involved. 

Her claim was based on the argument that had she known that Red was likely to rear and buck as violently as he did, she would not have ridden him out. 

Before the accident happened, she had tried Red out in the company of Mr Patchcott.  On the day of the accident she wanted to ride him out alone.  Of course, this is a sensible thing to do when trying out a horse that you are thinking of buying, or taking on.  Unfortunately, it was whilst she was out on this ride that the accident happened. 

The claim was defended on the grounds that as an experienced rider, she had consented to the risk that Red could rear or buck if something spooked or startled him. 

The law in this area is governed by the Animals Act 1971.  The courts have found it extremely difficult to interpret and apply this particular law consistently over the years.  However, this case does go some way to explaining how the law should be applied. 

It was accepted in this case, and the judge agreed, that horses can rear or buck when spooked or startled, and so that can be 'normal behaviour' for any horse. 

If a horse has particular characteristics, such as spooking specifically at tractors or buses, then a warning needs to be given to the rider.  If you do not, then should that situation arise and cause an accident you could be liable for a claim for any resulting injuries.

In this particular case, the judge in the Court of Appeal decided that because it was normal for a horse to rear or buck when spooked, Mr Patchcott could potentially have been liable to Ms Goldsmith for her injuries.  However, the judge went on to consider whether she had given her consent to the risk of Red rearing and bucking as he did.  It was argued by Ms Goldsmith's lawyers that although she had given her consent to 'normal' bucking, she had not given her consent to the particularly violent way that he had bucked and threw her on the day of her accident.  The judge rejected this argument. 

The judge's finding followed a decision in a similar case where a rider was aware that a horse had a tendency to buck, but was then injured when it bucked more violently than expected.  In that case, as with this one, the judge decided that because a horse might buck more violently than anticipated does not mean the rider had not consented to that risk.  In other words if you consent to the risk of the horse bucking at all, then you consent to any kind of buck that it might do.  If you are not happy to take that risk then you can choose not to ride the horse.

The result of this case is therefore that Ms Goldsmith's claim failed. 

When you allow somebody to ride your horse there are situations when you could be liable to pay damages to them if they are injured in an accident.  You should consider the following points:

  • the rider's experience knowledge and capability – do they really have what is necessary to ride your horse?
  • the type of ride – are they being led around a school, riding on roads, hacking alone or in company?  What might be a suitable match of horse and rider in a school can be completely inappropriate out in open fields
  • if a child is involved then you need to take extra care to make sure they are safe and always ensure that they wear a riding hat.  If their parent or instructor is not supervising them then who is taking responsibility?
  • your horse's characteristics – you need to warn them of these
  • insurance – any horse insurance policy will cover you for 'third party liability' meaning that if you become liable to any other person who is injured by your horse, your insurance company will deal with the claim for you.  They will investigate it and pay damages to the injured person if appropriate.  Be aware of the limit of the cover that you have.  Many policies now provide cover for up to £10 million.  Even £3 million may be insufficient where catastrophic injuries are involved, such as a child who suffers spinal or brain damage and needs care for the rest of their life.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you think that a claim may be made against you, it is important that you speak to a solicitor who specialises in equine personal injury claims.

For further information, please contact Julia Prior, an associate in Blake Lapthorn's Personal Injury team in Southampton on 023 8085 7316 or at