Buying a horse? What to do if you get saddled with a dud.
29 January 2024
Buying a horse is a huge investment for anyone. Whilst most of the time, these purchases go without a hitch, unfortunately, sometimes things do go wrong. It is, therefore, important that you know what your rights are if the worst does happen and you notice something is not quite right after your purchase.
What are your consumer rights?
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (the Act) provides individual consumers who purchase goods and services with statutory rights and remedies which, generally, cannot be excluded from a contract for sale/purchase. The Act is intended to protect those buying from a trader and therefore it is important to understand that it does not apply to private sales (such as buying from a friend, family member or from someone who does not sell horses by way of a business).
If you are an individual and are buying from an equine dealer, stud or other commercial trading outfit, the Act will imply certain terms into the contract to protect you. These include:
- Goods to be of satisfactory quality
Any seller must make sure that the horse they are selling is of a certain level of satisfactory quality. When determining whether or not the seller has complied with this obligation, the description of the horse, the value and the general circumstances will be taken into account. For example, a seller of a horse which is intended to compete to a high level and is being sold for a significant sum, will be held to a higher standard than a seller who is selling a horse to a family for hacking or low-level competitions. The seller must notify you of any known defects. If you are made aware of defects and proceed with the purchase despite these, you cannot later reject the horse because of these defects.
- Goods must be fit for purpose
If you are buying a horse for a specific purpose (such as for competing to a certain level in a specific discipline or for a novice child to ride), you must ensure that you make the seller aware of this. Upon you telling the seller, they will then be under an obligation to ensure that the horse is reasonably fit for that purpose or, if it is not, to inform you of any limitations or issues that they are aware of which would prevent the horse from fulfilling it.
- Goods must be as described
Horses can be advertised for sale by either a formal written advertisement or an oral description provided by the seller. The seller may even describe the condition of the horse through email correspondence or text message. The Act places an obligation on the seller to make sure that the horse meets with the descriptions that they give to you. If the horse is not as described, this would be a breach by the seller.
These are all rights that the Act implies into any purchase contract without you needing to do anything at all. If the seller breaches any of these terms, it may entitle you to either (i) return the horse or (ii) bring a claim against the seller. This is dealt with further below.
However, it is of course always preferable to try and avoid any problems in the first place. In this regard, it is always important to remember to get the horse vetted and to undertake a pre-purchase examination to try to avoid any nasty surprises.
What remedies are available if the seller breaches the Act?
If you notice a breach with the Act, the first, and most important thing to do is to contact the seller and tell them your concerns. If you notice any problems within the first 30 days of ownership, you have a short-term right to reject the horse. This means that you can return the horse and the seller is required to give you a full refund.
If the horse is not rejected within 30 days, and you notice something which constitutes a breach, you then have the right for the horse to be ‘repaired’ or ‘replaced’. Of course, with horses and any other livestock, it is difficult to see how it could be ‘repaired’ or ’replaced’. However, if the seller fails to do this, you do then have a final right to reject the horse, even if it is past the initial 30-day period.
The burden of proof in claims under the Act sits with the seller in the first instance concerning any defects established within the first six months. In respect to any defects found thereafter, the burden of proof shifts to the buyer.
In addition to a refund and return of the horse, you may be entitled to damages for any further losses you have suffered. However, these further claims can be more difficult.
What if I am buying from a private individual?
The Act will not protect you if you are buying a horse from a private individual. In these circumstances the principle of “buyer beware” applies. This is a principle which places more obligations on you as a buyer to conduct investigations and checks to ensure that the horse is in good order and is suitable for you.
If this is the case, it is imperative that you get the horse vetted and ensure that a pre-purchase examination is carried out to make sure that any problems are discovered. This will then allow you to make an informed decision as to whether or not you wish to proceed with the purchase.
The reason that this is so important is because, if you are buying from a private individual, you will not get the benefit of the protection provided by the Act. As such, it is within your interests to take all reasonable steps possible to discover any problems prior to proceeding. If you do not do this, then, as above, the principle of “buyer beware” will apply and you may not have any rights to claim against the seller if there are defects which could have been discovered by vet checks being conducted.
If you do not undertake these checks, and something goes wrong, it could leave you in a position where you have no recourse against the seller.
Importance of a contract
The easiest way for disputes to be avoided when selling or purchasing a horse, is to have the terms written down. Having something concrete in which both parties can refer to should anything go awry, goes a long way to avoiding the need for costly litigation.
It is therefore important that you seek legal advice prior to entering into an agreement to ensure that the sale is legally binding, includes all the necessary information (to avoid misrepresentation or claims for damages or recission (cancellation) of the contract) and reflects the terms agreed between the parties.
Should a dispute arise in relation to this, and you require further advice, please do not hesitate to contact our equine specialists in our Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution Team who can assist you to resolve the dispute at the earliest opportunity.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2024.