The answer is (b). No, you cannot just sell her horse. Even without a boarding contract, you have to have a lien on the horse for the amount you are owed. But in almost every state the most a lien gives you is a right to hold onto the horse to secure payment. Having a lien does not automati- cally transfer ownership of the horse to you. Depending on what the livery lien law in your state provides, there is prob- ably a whole process you have to follow to sell the horse, and it probably involves jumping through a lot of hoops. If you had a boarding contract, you could put language in it that would let you sell the horse without jumping through all the legal hoops associated with enforcing a livery lien.

Can I sue the same college student for the board she

owes me? a) Yes

b) No The answer is (a). You can sue her for what she owes.

Even though she didn’t sign a contract, she left the horse in your care knowing that you expected payment for the services you were providing. However, since you have nothing in writing, hopefully she won’t claim that she sold, leased or gave you the horse in some kind of transaction that would relieve her of the financial obligations associ- ated with its care.

Can I collect interest and late fees on the amount owed? a) Yes

b) No The answer is (b). Without a written agreement, you

cannot collect late fees. By law, interest will accrue on the amount of any judgment you are awarded by the court. However, the interest rate will be set by statute and will only run from the date you get judgment. You will not be able to collect pre-judgment interest since you don’t have a written boarding agreement.

Can I also get reimbursement for my attorneys’ fees? a) Yes

b) No The answer is (b). Without a written agreement, you can-

not recover your attorneys’ fees. In the United States, the custom is that parties to litigation each have to pay their own lawyers—unless they agree otherwise in writing. If you had a written boarding agreement, you could have a clause in it providing for your recovery of collection costs, including at- torneys’ fees.

So, I decided to just go ahead and sell her horse because it seemed like the easier thing to do. Now the college stu- dent has shown up and she wants her horse back. Her fa-

70 May/June 2018

ther is a lawyer and says they will sue. Am I in big trouble? a) Yes. You are going to jail. b) No. c) How do you define “big?” The answer is (c). You won’t go to jail. But you did sell

a horse you didn’t own—so, that’s a problem. But realisti- cally, you are probably only on the hook for the value of the horse—although the college student’s father will certainly think the horse was worth way more than what you think it was worth. But if they sue you for the value of the horse, you can countersue for the unpaid board. So hopefully your valu- ation of the horse is correct and litigation would be a “wash.” The court will ultimately decide what the horse was worth, after taking evidence on the issue from both sides.

The parents of the little girl who owns the horse now are calling me because the college student’s lawyer-dad is calling them demanding they give the horse back. Their daughter loves this horse and is in tears. Do they have to give the horse back? a) Yes, absolutely b) No, definitely not c) Probably not

The answer is (c). The new “owner” probably doesn’t have

to give the horse back. But that will depend on what they knew about the situation surrounding the sale. If the people you sold the horse to knew nothing of the unpaid board bill and paid a fair price for the horse, then the law will most like- ly deem them to be “bona fide purchasers for value,” or “BFPs.” “Bona fide” in this context means “good faith.” A BFP’s

ownership interest is protected by law. On the other hand, if the new owners knew that there was something squirrely about the deal, then a court might conclude that they aren’t legitimate BFPs and make them return the horse. A written boarding contract could have resolved all of these issues in your favor. A simple clause to include in a writ- ten boarding contract is one that covers “abandonment,” and defines it as not paying an overdue bill for a certain period of time, at which point ownership of the horse transfers auto- matically to the stable—giving the stable the right to sell the horse privately or dispose of it as may be appropriate.

Krysia Carmel Nelson is a Virginia attorney who is a nationally-recognized expert in equine law. She represents horse owners, trainers, riders, breeders, equestrian facili- ties, farms, clubs and associations across all nationally and internationally recognized disciplines. She currently rides and com- petes her Hanoverian Affirmed on Appeal

in the amateur hunters. She can be reached at



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