- Looking for a truly diverse niche? Equine law offers a bit of everything. Read here to find out you need.
When I say to people that I practice “equine law,” this often invokes a common response: “What was that word you just said?” When I rephrase, “I work with folks in the horse industry,” the question that follows is, “How interesting! But what is it you do, exactly?” This is my favorite part of the conversation. I get to explain the wonderful world of equine law, made up of attorneys who love serving the horse industry with all its facets and foibles, and the reach and importance of equine legal practice.
Legal issues in the horse industry span countless legal practice areas. When I think of my fellow equine law colleagues, the diversity of practice areas is easy to identify. They work in business, nonprofit, tax, real estate, employment, immigration, bankruptcy, insurance, regulatory law, gaming, sports and entertainment, civil litigation, estate planning, and alternative dispute resolution. All of the above is practiced in an international context as well. I may have missed a few, but there is an attorney in each practice area with a special interest and focus on the horse industry.
What makes the “equine” overlay unique to these practice areas? Does it really matter if an attorney has experience with or knowledge about horses or the horse industry to practice equine law? In many circumstances, the answer is a resounding yes. Numerous industry relationships give rise to unique equine issues. Many of these issues revolve around the fact that those in the equine industry are responsible for the care and welfare of large animals, and for the safety of the people around them.
For example, many horse businesses need solid contracts relating to horse training, horse boarding, liability waivers, horse lease agreements, horse sale agreements, and breeding. The creation of these contracts benefits from an attorney’s deeper understanding of the horse business. Another example of the need for an equine-focused attorney is the sport of horse racing. This sport is highly regulated, both on a state and federal level. It comes with its own rich history of regulatory law, and the stakeholder groups that have evolved with the sport.
Clients range from the individual backyard horse owner to large horse breeding farms or major breed or sport associations, plus everything in between. They are horse buyers, sellers, trainers, businesses that offer trail rides or lessons, dude ranches, groups promoting the protection of backcountry trails and other horse-friendly lands, nonprofits providing horse experiences to the underserved, businesses providing equine-assisted therapies to people with disabilities, small horse clubs, breed associations, associations representing specific styles of riding, horse event organizers, major equestrian centers with international competitions, horse rescues, and nonprofits dedicated to advocating for horses. The list goes on.
How does a lawyer get into equine law? For many, it starts with being a horse enthusiast, whether that is as a pleasure horse owner or a high-level competitor. But not all equine lawyers start out as horse people. Some attorneys develop a niche practice area that serves a part of the industry well, and then helping one equine client turns into many. For some lawyers, the equine piece is a small percentage of their practice. For others, horses are at the center of nearly all the legal work they do. What is common among them all? Love and appreciation for the horse and the horse-human relationship.
I enjoy the friendship and camaraderie among equine lawyers from across the country. I know and have become friends with so many dedicated equine legal professionals over the years. To borrow an appropriate quote, the equine lawyers I know practice from a “rising tide lifts all boats” perspective. A practitioner’s willingness to share their experiences, ideas, and resources helps us all serve our clients and their horses better.
As I write this, the annual National Conference on Equine Law is just a few weeks away, held at the historic Keenland Race Course in Kentucky. It is always held right before some of the biggest days in horse racing, the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. Lawyers from across the United States and Canada come together to talk about all things equine law and horses. I love seeing old friends at the conference each year as well, including my fellow members of the Equine Law Subcommittee of the ABA TIPS Animal Law Committee. Our subcommittee is a resource for learning more about equine law and building a network of like-minded colleagues, meeting monthly to educate and share with one another our latest equine legal adventures.
So, what is equine law? It is everything all at once. But it is all about the horse, and how we help the industry and the animal succeed and thrive.