About Me

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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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Abandoned Horses: Finders, Keepers?

With the declining economy, Equine Legal Solutions is receiving a sharp increase in calls from people wanting to know if they can keep an "abandoned" horse.

Is the Horse Really Abandoned?

Many calls ELS receives about keeping abandoned horses are from boarding stable owners who have a boarding relationship with the horse owner. Because there is a boarding relationship in place, the horse is not legally considered abandoned and the horse owner still has all ownership rights. Rather, the boarder has breached the boarding agreement, and therefore the boarding stable must seek breach of contract remedies. This is still true even if there was never a written contract, the boarder never signed anything, the boarder hasn't been out to see the horse for months, the boarder moved away and can't be found, the boarder is in jail, etc. The bottom line is that the stable will have to follow the proper legal procedures or get the boarder's written permission before they can keep, sell or give away the horse. If they don't, they risk being sued.

Finders, Keepers?

In other cases, the caller has simply found a horse and has no idea to whom the horse belongs. Sometimes, the horse is running down the road. Other times, it has mysteriously appeared in the caller's pasture overnight. The caller wants to know if they can get legal title to the horse. The short answer is NO. The horse's lawful owner has not lost their legal claim of ownership simply because the horse got loose (or even if the owner turned it loose). If you find a horse, you should call your local sheriff and/or animal control to find out what to do with the horse. While you are waiting for an answer, keep in mind that the found horse may have health problems, and therefore you should keep it separated from your own horses.

Can I Get Reimbursed for Care?

The short answer: Maybe. If you are a boarding stable, you have legal recourse against the boarder for the cost of care. If a horse shows up on your property and you provide care for it, you may have a legal case based upon unjust enrichment or other legal theories. But, the bottom line is that you can't count on being reimbursed. Even if you have a legal case against the horse owner, it will not likely be cost-effective to bring that legal case, particularly if the horse owner is of modest means. So, if you provide care for a found horse, you should do with the assumption that you are doing so purely for the horse's benefit, and that the lawful owner could show up at any time and take that horse away without giving you anything more than a "Thank You."

What about Registration Papers?

Unless you can get legal title to the horse, you can't get registration papers in your name. You can get legal title if the horse owner gives it to you or if you obtain a court declaration that you are the lawful owner. Otherwise, you have no hope of getting the horse registered in your name with any well-established breed registry. End of story. The fact that you might know the horse's registered name or that it is a purebred horse will have no impact on whether you can get it registered in your name. (If it was that easy to get papers, horse thieves would simply steal horses and then get duplicate papers for them.)


Carrie Giannandrea said...

What state do you practice law in?

Are all states the same?

As for abandoned horses, who cares if you get the papers........horses are livestock. If a cow were to show up in my pasture, a registered cow, what is the time frame a person has before it is legally their cow and no one can come forward and claim it as theirs?

Carrie Giannandrea
Dances with Horses
Formula One Farms

Rachel McCart, Equine Legal Solutions said...

I practice in California, New York and Washington, but it appears that similar problems crop up all over. See the 9/18/08 entry for a discussion on a Canadian case.

Carrie Giannandrea said...


Thank you for answering my question.

I do have a hard time with the perspective you are presenting on Abandoned horses...any livestock that shows up on my property and no one comes looking for it, even after I make every attempt to find out who it belongs to.......(mind you I do NOT want anymore horses)..........if months go by and you haven't made the attempt to find your animal, I believe that animal deserves a better home/owner/situation!


Carrie Giannandrea
Dances with Horses
Formula One Farms

Rachel McCart, Equine Legal Solutions said...

Oh, I sure don't disagree with you, Carrie. In fact, I have one of those situations myself - there's a mare in my barn right now that belongs to a friend of mine who had a personal emergency and couldn't afford to care for her. I knew going into it that I'd probably end up keeping the mare for free. Even if my friend decided to give me the horse, I really don't want another one, especially a hard keeper who's probably permanently lame. But, I couldn't let the mare suffer out the end of a broodmare lease gone bad, dropping weight all winter in a muddy field. At least the horse is happy and I can't see her ribs anymore.

You might ask what's the purpose of my abandoned horses blog posts, then? I just want those who take in horses in tough circumstances to go into the situation knowing that the "real" owner could show up and demand ownership (and actually get the horse, without reimbursing the good samaritan). Unfair? Absolutely! But that's the way the legal cases often seem to work out, and I want to make sure people know that. Kindness may have to be its own reward in these situations.

Carrie Giannandrea said...

Rachel said:

"You might ask what's the purpose of my abandoned horses blog posts, then? I just want those who take in horses in tough circumstances to go into the situation knowing that the "real" owner could show up and demand ownership"

When is comes down to owners wanting a horse back, I am OK with it....if it has not been many, many months or even years.

Here in the county where I live, with no Animal Control dept, only state laws to go by and law enforcement that may know what a horse looks like (sort of), we get no help with emaciated and dying horses.

Just last week, Sheriff Craig Thayer was informed by myself and several others that there were 5 horses locked in a garage and all were a 1 or 2 body scale. Not one deputy drove over to the address given. The stallion died the next day.

People suck!!

Carrie Giannandrea
Dances with Horses
Formula One Farms

A_tennell said...

Hi everyone,

There are 2 abandoned horses around me.My friend and i have called the sheriffs department,DNR,humane society,and the horses owners noone will do anything.the horses are older and the gelding is on a 2-3 body scale and the mare is around a 4.My friend and i give the horses grain rations. We put a blanket on the gelding. the owner told us she was gonna have them gone by tuesday.the gelding would be put down and the mare was going to an auction.My friend has offered her to take them she hung up....What should we do!

marty said...

I was kindhearted ,let someone have pasture for 2 horses.Now he does't bring anything for them to eat for 6 weeks.I WILL feed them.I told him 6 weeks ago to move them,have not seen him since.He can get them anytime and leave me with the feed bill.We need laws for our side.