The magazine Horse and Hound recently reported a rather worrying case which highlights how horse owners could find themselves liable for compensation following a horse related accident even though they may be unaware that an accident had even happened.

It also highlights the need to be properly insured even if you don’t ride the horse yourself.

Glyn Linder was the part owner of a racehorse. Many people do this as part of a syndicate where they love racing and just want to be a little bit more involved on race days, but without the huge expense of being a sole owner. He had only ever seen the horse once and was not even involved in its care.

The first he knew of the accident was when he discovered he was named as a Defendant in a £14 million pound claim for injury and financial losses and expenses following the Claimant’s fall from the horse he part owned.  You can imagine his shock.  Fortunately for Mr Linder, he was insured through his household insurance and the claim settled for an undisclosed sum without going to Court.  Specific insurance is preferable, as other insurances may not cover these circumstances.

You might wonder how that could happen.

It’s because of the wording of an Act called the Animals Act 1971. Under that Act, anyone who is the owner of an animal of the type specified in the Act, of which horses are one, could find themselves liable even where they have not been negligent, which is the more usual criteria on which to make a claim.

It is due to a legal concept called “strict liability”. The Act is notorious for being poorly worded and a difficult Act to interpret, but in very basic terms, what it says is that if an animal behaves in certain ways in certain situations due to being an animal and as a result injury is caused, then the owner will be liable. There is no argument about not being negligent – liability will just attach if certain behaviour is proved.

The leading case on this is Mirvahedy-v-Henley 2003.

People who want to make a claim will normally be advised to make a claim against someone who actually has the money to pay compensation if such is awarded, as there is no point making a claim against someone who has no money and no assets. Payment will usually be awarded through an insurance company. But if someone is not insured,  but does have assets such as a house or expensive cars, or even other expensive horses, they can be seized and sold to pay the compensation. Many uninsured Defendants find themselves losing everything and having to declare themselves bankrupt, which is devastating. Even then this may not fully satisfy the amount of compensation awarded in multi – million pound claims.  So everyone loses.

So is the answer not to insure and hope you will be ignored?


In a case called Harris-v-Miller, the lawyers for Ashleigh Harris, injured in a horse accident when she was 14, offered to settle for the amount the owner of the horse was insured for.

They reasoned that there was little point in pursuing what turned out to be a £3 million pound claim if Miss Harris would never see that amount if she were to succeed in her claim if the Defendant, Ms Miller did not have any assets.  Ms Miller refused, as she believed she had a good defence, which she was entitled to do.  She said that the accident was just that; an accident and that the facts were totally different to Miss Harris’s version.

She lost.

But had she accepted that offer, that would have been the end of the matter and she would not have had any further personal liability for compensation.

Horse owners should be aware that the principle of strict liability will also apply to horses you may have out on loan to someone else, privately or to say, a riding school for use there; where you share your horse with others or even where you just let someone ride them once or twice – perhaps a pony mad young relative who is visiting. It’s not just riding either. It can be just handling the horse from the ground, or even where they are out in a field. It sounds harsh, but that could be the reality.

There are a couple of potential defences in that you can argue that your horse has never behaved like that before, or that horses generally are not known to behave in certain ways, or you can argue that the risks were known and explained to the rider/handler, who understood them and willingly took that risk themselves. Obviously children generally can’t be expected to accept those risks for themselves. Equine employers also need to be sure that their staff are fully appraised of risks – risk assessments are crucial.  Their acceptance cannot be implied.

So key points are firstly, to think carefully before letting anyone else ride or handle your horse or pony. The likelihood is that nothing will happen with a well- behaved animal, but you just never know.  The second point is to make sure you are properly and adequately insured against these risks. This will usually be best done through a specialist insurer and not reliant on being covered under general household or vehicle insurance.

If you wish to discuss  anything in this article with our team, please contact Brenda Gilligan, Solicitor on 01522 561020 or email


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