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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, November 18, 2008

Horse Buying Woes - Anonymity Isn't the Best Policy

This morning, I walked down to our mailbox and retrieved the December 2008 issue of Horse & Rider. Intrigued by the headline "When Sellers Cheat, We All Lose," I flipped directly to that article and read it with interest while walking back up our lane. Horse & Rider Consulting Editor Sue M. Copeland featured a letter from an anonymous Michigan reader who felt that she had been cheated on two successive horse purchases, and was exiting the industry. Copeland astutely pointed out that bad horse deals are bad for the industry because they discourage newcomers and inspire long-timers to leave it. I couldn't agree more, and I wish Copeland much success in the horse buyers' handbook that she is co-writing with trainer Bobby Avila.

However, I don't agree with Copeland that hiring a trainer is the best way to avoid being cheated on a horse deal. An honest, skilled trainer can help you select a horse well suited for yourself and your discipline and offer insider knowledge about particular horses and sellers as well as market prices and prepurchase vets. However, many trainers, at all levels (yes, especially the highest levels of the sport) and in all disciplines, don't serve in this capacity for someone who is not a regular client of theirs. Sure, they might agree to help a non-client find a horse, but unless the buyer seems likely to become a training client after the sale, all bets are off on what kind of help the buyer will receive. Often, the trainer will simply steer the buyer toward a horse for sale in the trainer's own barn. And, most likely, the trainer will pocket a commission on the sale from the seller, which won't be disclosed to the buyer - see Secret Profit-Taking: The Truth about Horse Sale Commissions.

I do believe that there is no single best method to avoid being cheated in a horse deal, but instead, horse purchasers should employ several different strategies to protect themselves. The Michigan buyer whose letter was featured in Copeland's article felt that she had done everything right, and still got cheated. But, did she really do everything she could have done? She did get a prepurchase examination, but did it include radiographs? A drug test? These are elements of a pre-purchase exam often skipped by cost-conscious buyers. The buyer also made no reference to having used any kind of purchase contract, either.

Still, unlike most unhappy horse buyers, this Michigan buyer appears to have a legal case. While horse sales are widely reputed to be "as is," there is an important exception: when a seller knows about a significant problem and doesn't disclose it. Here, the buyer says that she has found witnesses that have seen the horse exhibiting the same problem now troubling the horse. So, unlike most horse buyers who suspect fraud, this buyer may actually be able to prove it. And, she had a pre-purchase exam - why didn't the vet find the defect?

Instead of exploring her legal options, the buyer seems to be simply taking her lumps and keeping quiet. She even sent in the letter to Horse & Rider anonymously, so that no other prospective buyers can be warned about the sellers who sold her these problem horses, or the vet who performed a possibly inadequate pre-purchase exam. Every buyer who keeps quiet about being cheated in a horse sale is perpetuating the problem. One of the most effective things a dissatisfied buyer can do is SPEAK UP and let people know what's happened to them. The First Amendment gives buyers the right of free speech, and as long as they stick to the facts and their own opinions, buyers should have few concerns about defamation lawsuits.

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