The Equine Industry Finding a Home in the Sports Law Ranks
Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Two months into 2021, and the equine industry boom is not slowing down. Thus, as the industry grows in breadth and depth, so too do the legal issues and concerns associated with the world of horses. Because the equine industry touches upon a multitude of people, companies, and geographic locations, it innately ignites a variety of legal matters. Did the sale of a horse go wrong? Was a trainer accused of sexual misconduct? Does the rider need an agent to assist in his or her endorsement deals? Has a horse fallen ill unexpectedly? These are just a small handful of the challenges the equine industry has consistently faced, but now the law has developed in such a way that statutory and case precedent can inform these legal challenges within the very distinct context of the sports world.

As such, sports lawyers are taking a new look at how the equine industry should be treated within the mix of the higher profile sports, such as football, hockey, soccer, baseball, and basketball. Just as sports law took decades to grow into a recognized area of the law, equine law has now followed suit. Sports law is unique in that it became a conglomeration of almost every area of law that may arise in relation to athletics, such as: contracts; taxes; agent representation; labor and employment matters; fraud; medical malpractice; health care; risk management; substance abuse and drug testing; family law; white collar crime; bankruptcy; corporate transactions; litigation; injury; antitrust; insurance; endorsement deals; real estate; intellectual property; dispute resolution; international law; immigration; cross border deals; governmental affairs; lobbying; safe sport; venues; and more. However, even today, sports law is not always recognized as its own area of law. Equine law faces the same issue.

Over the decades, sports, in general, has been forced to borrow from other legal disciplines in order to adjudicate cases and govern transactions; there was not sufficient case law or statutes in athletics upon which to rely to draw parallels and utilize to guide the legal operations and challenges of a team, an athlete, a league, a university, or a sponsor, for example. Over time, sports law grew into a full-fledged area of law by developing its own precedent through case law and the enactment of statutes specific to athletics. This is not to say there were no cases involving sports, historically. After all, in 1902 Philadelphia Ball Club, Ltd. v. Lajoie set the precedent that a player is prohibited from unilaterally team-hopping while under contract. However, sports-specific cases were few and far between, trickling in over a century. And, statutory law was effectively nonexistent. For example, athlete agents had no formal law governing their actions until 2004, when President George W. Bush signed into law the Sports Agent Responsibility Trust Act (SPARTA), federal regulation parroting the state law called the Uniform Athlete Agents Act (UAAA) (now the Revised Uniform Athlete Agents Act (RUAAA), enacted by some states a few years prior.

Like sports law, equine law found itself left out of the legal channels for decades, but this is no longer the case. The industry’s remarkable worldwide growth has created the necessity for the equine arena to gain its own area of law to help those in this nuanced niche. With new statutes, such as the Horse Racing Integrity Act, introduced for the first time in March 2020 (see previous GT Alert), certain disputes can be governed by statutory law specific to the industry rather than borrowing from unrelated concepts to strain for some sort of parallel to the equine industry. 

Additionally, case law particularized to equine matters is growing. For example, Franciosa v. Hidden Pond Farm, Inc., 195 A.3d 816 (N.H. 2018) addressed the common issue of injury yet narrowed it to the equine word, as the court held that a horse instructor was not liable for a young woman’s injuries after she fell off a horse, because she assumed the inherent risk of engaging in equine activity. Cases in 2019 and 2020 soon followed and began to create a body of law related to injuries and the scope of risks “inherent in equine activities.” See, e.g., McCandless v. Ramsey, 211 A.3d 1157 (Me. 2019) (held that a person’s injuries was within the scope of risks “inherent in equine activities” within the meaning of the state statute, because the horse’s unanticipated actions were part and parcel of the “propensity of an equine to behave in ways that may result in ... injury ... to persons on or around the equine.”); Burdick v. Romano, 148 N.E.3d 335 (Ind. App. 2020) (held that horse owners were not liable for a young boy’s injury after falling from a horse because the injuries were caused by the inherent risks of engaging in equine activity). See previous GT Alert for more on these cases.

Where legal issues arise with horses themselves, case law in various states has emerged to help parties navigate. See, e.g., Moore v. Roper, No. 17-CV-124-JHP, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33510 (E.D. Okla. Mar. 1, 2018) (defendant seller’s motion to dismiss was denied due to failure to disclose problems with the horse prior to sale); Zendejas v. Redman, No. 15-81229-CIV, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90503 (S.D. Fla. June 13, 2017) (finding that living creatures by their nature are in a constant process of internal development and growth and, thus, have no fixed nature and cannot be “products” as a matter of law).

Now being taken seriously, equine law acts as the guiding post for those who need legal help and can now rely on real laws about real equine issues. Equine law fits right in to bolster the expanding infrastructure of sports law.

Alas, as the equine industry boom continues, the law is finally here for the ride.


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