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Rachel Kosmal McCart is a lifelong horsewoman and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based in the Portland, Oregon area. Rachel is a member of the New York, California, Oregon and Washington State bars and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Rachel currently competes in three-day eventing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Horse Trailer Ride Shares: Making Them Work for You

With the price of diesel continuing to climb, sharing a trailer ride with friends is a convenient and even fun way to make attending horse events more affordable. However, when horses or people get hurt or trucks and trailers are damaged, not only can it ruin a friendship, it can also result in a lawsuit.

Whether you are sharing your rig or someone else's, there are the following risks:

(1) People could be hurt or killed
(2) Horses could be hurt or killed
(3) The trailer and tow vehicle could be damaged or totaled
(4) Tack and equipment inside or around the trailer could be damaged or lost

Here are some tips for mitigating the above risks:

Check Your Insurance Coverage

While typical auto insurance will provide coverage for damage to your truck and the vehicle(s) you collide with, it generally won't cover damage to your horse trailer or its contents. So, if you're involved in an accident and horses in your trailer are injured, your auto insurance won't cover the vet bills, pay for trailer repairs, or reimburse you for the loss of any tack or equipment.

To cover major vet bills, the horse owner can take out equine major medical insurance. To cover the death of a valuable horse, the horse owner can take out mortality insurance policy on the horse. To insure the trailer, the trailer owner can take out a horse trailer insurance policy or contact their current auto insurer for a rider. Finally, for particularly expensive items of tack or equipment, the owner may want to obtain a rider on their homeowner's insurance policy to cover these items.

Consider a Horse Hauling Liability Release

Liability releases serve two important purposes - they discourage potential plaintiffs from suing you in the first place, and if you are sued, they help prevent a judgment from being entered against you. Contrary to popular belief, well-drafted liability releases and waivers are enforceable, even in plaintiff-friendly states such as California. Look for a liability release written by an equine attorney and drafted specifically for trailer ride sharing, such as Equine Legal Solutions' Equine Hauling Liability Release. A thorough horse hauling liability release should hold the hauler harmless for injury to or death of horses and people and also specify that if the horse owner's horse causes damage to the truck or trailer, the horse owner will pay for it. While asking a friend to sign a legal document before you share a ride may be awkward, it won't be nearly as awkward as defending a lawsuit.

Use Best Practices for Hauling Safety

Before setting out, make sure that you and your ride share partners are in sync on important safety issues, such as:

-Can the tow vehicle safely and comfortably haul the fully loaded trailer over the planned route? Make sure that the tow vehicle, its brakes and all components of its hitch are rated to pull the combined weight of trailer, gear and horses.

-Well in advance of the trip, check to make sure that trailer light/brake hookup is compatible with the tow vehicle. You may need to obtain an adapter or install a different brake controller on the tow vehicle.

-Do any of the horses have trailering issues, such as scrambling or loading/unloading problems? If so, develop a plan to make sure that these horses do not injure themselves or other horses, and once they are loaded, make sure that you can get to these horses easily in the event of an en route emergency.

-Will all of the horses, people, and gear fit securely and comfortably into the trailer and tow vehicle? Coordinate in advance with your ride share partners to make sure there's room for everything you want to bring. Some items, such as wheelbarrows, can be shared, freeing up space for hay and other bulky items. To help your trip get off to a stress-free start, allow ample time for loading and organizing the trailer as well as last-minute bathroom visits.

-Make sure that you have a spare tire for the truck and trailer, and a tire iron that will fit the lugs on both. Check the tire pressure in your truck and trailer tires before setting out. In the event of a flat tire on your trailer, you may find a drive-on trailer ramp product such as Jiffy Jack to be invaluable.

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