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There’s a split second of time that exists after every horse owner meets someone new, or is getting to know someone better, that they dread. It’s that second after you mention you have horses and the person’s eyes light up like a princess-obsessed pre-schooler who just learned she’s going to Disneyland.

“You have a horse?!? OH MY GOSH! I rode one at camp/took lessons/rode on a trip once. I LOVED it! Can I (or my kids) come over and ride your horse or can I (or my toddler) come over and pet your horse?”

This happens to me every single time the horses come up in conversation. It’s as common for me as saying “I’m married”(which is inevitably followed by the reply of, “Oh my gosh! Are you Pregnant? Do you have kids? How many kids do you have?”).

I understand people’s desire to bond over commonalities but the question strikes fear into the heart of horse owners, just as much as questions about kids have the potential to upset folks who are having infertility issues or just, gosh darn it, just don’t want kids of their own. It’s a perilous ground you have to tread when answering the question...

Photo by Josh Engroff

Photo courtesy of Amanda44

You have to weigh how much you like this person, versus how nutty you’d think they would get if you answered the “wrong” way. How much arguing are you up for at that moment? What’s a “good enough” excuse to extricate yourself from the situation?

The Case for No!

The case for no is built on the backs of frivolous lawsuits, Attractive Nuisance (see below) statutes and those people you thought were really cool until you heard they sued Jim after their kid fell off the trampoline because she was jumping too close to the edge and didn’t listen. You know who I mean...

NOTE: The attractive nuisance doctrine is a torte law stating that a landowner may be held liable for injuries to children trespassing on the land if the injury is caused by a hazardous object or condition on the land that is likely to attract children who are unable to appreciate the risk posed by the object or condition.The doctrine has been applied to hold landowners liable for injuries caused by abandoned cars, piles of lumber or sand, trampolines, and swimming pools. However, it can be applied to virtually anything on the property of the landowner.

Unfortunately in this day and age here in the USA, and in other countries by the sounds of it, you really can’t trust anyone not to sue. Working with animals weighing half a ton isn’t “safe”, but neither is driving a 6000lb car at 75mph. However, while half the people on the road with you can be argued not to be capable of intelligent thought, at least half the horses you encounter can. Horses are not dirt bikes, and unless there’s something really sadly wrong, are likely to decide they don’t want to do something when you ask them to at some point in their lives. That time could come before a jump or just walking out of their stall. Someone can, and does, get hurt. I, myself, have been severely injured once or twice, and thinking back to my childhood exploits am astonished that it wasn’t worse or more often! It’s bad enough when it’s an adult asking, but when it’s your kid asking on behalf of their friend or a friend on behalf of their kid, the danger level skyrockets. Otherwise reasonable people will go sue happy in a heartbeat if your horse puts their kid in the hospital. Whether their child was at fault or not, whether he kept yanking on the horse’s mouth or not, whether a bee stung your horse or not, you are still stuck with the check, and wondering whether or not you will have to put your horse down or sell it. Even with some sort of indemnification contract a lawsuit is not cheap. Without an insurance rider that’s all out of pocket. Those riders are not necessarily cheap either. You also may not have enough safety gear, like helmets, or the right sizes, for everyone who wants to go for a ride. All in all, it’s expensive just to be asked, and could be devastating to say yes if something happened.

The Case for Yes!

The case for yes is built on little girl’s dreams, great memories, and actually liking your friends. I don’t think they have ever done a scientific study but I’d say roughly 90% of little girls at some point in their lives go through “the horsey phase”. Some of us never grow out of it. It strikes everyone from the Pretty Princess to Greasemonkey Tomboy. Fond memories of camp trips, national park tours, or just your own childhood can lead you to ask the question.
Photo Courtesy of Rockin’ The Dots The majority of people in this world are reasonable people. One or two experiences with horses is enough to tell them that they’re half to whole ton animals that have their own brains which means that sometimes, well, us little critters that only weigh 10-20% what they do are outta luck. And honestly, sometimes, poo happens. (Insert cliché about man planning, God laughing, or whatever you like here). Most people are unlikely to sue you if they or their child get hurt while you allow them the joy of hanging out with horses, which they don’t have for whatever reason. Should we let a few killjoys keep us from sharing our good fortune?
Photos Courtesy of Livin’ Large Farms If you’ve ever seen a “paint the pony” party at a horse rescue or riding stable you know how much fun the kids and the horses have. While the horse may not appreciate the aftermath (not another bath!), everyone seems to have fun during. I know my mare would LOVE to have a little girl that would stand on a step-stool all day and just brush her mane. Princess indeed. She’s basically a calm horse that would love nothing more than to nap while being pampered; and yet, all it would take is something going wrong and scare her for that little girl to be in deep doo-doo.

What Can We Do?

So, I’m sure by now you’re asking yourself, what do we do? How do we solve this issue? Never mention our horses? Always say no? I hate to say, but this has to be a personal decision. If you’re a planner, like me, contact an attorney who deals with insurance and accident law and see if they can advise you one way or the other, draw up an indemnification form, or tell you who can. Contact your homeowner’s insurance carrier and see what a rider would cost, and how much coverage they think you need to have an occasional guest ride your horse on your property. Ask some of your horseowning friends how they handle this question.
Photo Courtesy of Rockin’ The Dots You may have to ask yourself how important this is to the person, and, frankly, how important it is to you. Is this your boss? Would they be upset if you said no? Are they the litigious type? How well do you know them? Would they be offended if you had them sign a waiver? Do you really want them on your horse?

Being a horse owner comes with some challenges. It’s never easy to say no to someone you know means well. But sometimes it’s necessary for your own piece of mind, and the safety of everyone involved. If you know your brother’s kid doesn’t listen well to anyone it could be too dangerous. If you know your sister’s kid does, your brother could get mad that sis’s kid got to go. Your mom could call you and then you’d know you were in trouble, she said your middle name. Or your friend could come out, have a nice time, and everyone is happy. You have to do what you feel is right. What is safest for all involved, including you and your horses. So at the end of the day do what you need to to make sure you’re as covered as you can be and do not feel bad saying no. When people ask why, just say something about how your insurance won’t cover you if something happens and your husband/wife/parents/self/lawyer/whatever thinks it’s too risky. But be sure to make sure it’s okay with whoever you blame, since they might get some stink eye if they encounter this person later.
Photo Courtesy of Rockin’ The Dots

For the Non-Horse Owner

Please don’t feel like the person you just asked dislikes you if they say no. We’ve spent significant amounts of time and money on training and maintaining our horses. There really are horses that just aren’t suitable for just anyone to ride – be it because of training (or lack of) or just personality. It’s also a legally risky proposition. Especially if you just met the person or don’t know them well, it’s probably best not to ask at all. Let me put it this way, if you wouldn’t ask to drive the person’s brand new Corvette, you probably shouldn’t ask to ride their horse. Let the horse owner invite you over if they wish, and please, don’t be offended if they ask you to sign some sort of waiver, wear safety gear, and wear proper clothing if they do let you ride. Horses aren’t cheap, your safety is important and sometimes you have to cover your tushy to feel comfortable with a situation.

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katriona
Author: katriona
Contributor
About the Author
Katriona Lindstrom has over 20 years of experience with horses, dogs and cats. She is an award winning photographer with a focus on landscape, nature and pets. Visit her at Photos By Katriona

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