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Law change could help riding schools

[Monday 30 March 2009]

AFTER more than five years of pressure, the Government has agreed to consider reviewing a change in the law which threatened to put riding schools out of business because they could be sued for any accident involving their animals.

The proposal would end the unfairness that meant an owner could be held liable for their horse’s behaviour even when they had done everything reasonably possible to prevent an accident.

Dorothy Fairburn - CLA

Equestrianism has been for many years one of the fastest growing businesses in rural areas of Yorkshire, offering an alternative income to many hard-pressed farmers. But a legal judgement in the House of Lords in 2003 changed the 1971 Animals Act to make all animal owners liable to pay damages if they were involved in an accident which caused injury.

The change affected all farm animals, like cattle and sheep, but it had a devastating knock-on effect for riding schools and livery stables, because it was ruled accidents involving even previously docile horses and ponies – a classic case being an animal that bolts when frightened by a car back-firing – could make the owners liable for damages.

This sent insurance premiums soaring, sending some equestrian stables out of business, and, with the financial crisis putting even more pressure on owners, more are under threat.

The Government has now published a consultation paper which would remove the liability of riding school owners if they can prove that they had “done everything reasonably possible to prevent an accident.”

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which worked for more than five years to have the strict liability judgement overturned, issued a statement at the weekend calling the new approach “a major campaigning victory.”

Said the CLA’s Yorkshire Director Dorothy Fairburn: “This is great news for horse owners and a great campaigning success for the CLA. The proposal would end the unfairness that meant an owner could be held liable for their horse’s behaviour even when they had done everything reasonably possible to prevent an accident.”

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