Legal Letter: Your Duty to Investigate When Buying a Horse

Dutch equine lawyer Stephan Wensing

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The law states that, in principle, the seller of a horse has to mention everything s/he knows about the condition and specific habits of the horse. On the other hand the buyer has a duty to investigate and scrutinize the horse he’s about to buy. The obligation of the seller, however, legally prevails over the obligation of the buyer. If the seller tells the potential buyer that his horse is healthy, the buyer is not obliged to vet the horse.

This seems pretty simple, but when equine law is put in practise many complications loom. For example if a horse is sold as a “dressage horse” then the horse should fit into this agreement, meaning suitable for dressage. If this horse isn’t suitable because of a hidden defect and this defect was present prior to delivery, than the sales agreement can be disolved; even when the seller himself were not aware of the hidden defect. It is well known that during a vet-exam it’s standard practise that several aspects are not checked unless specifically asked for, so the seller always takes a risk that his horse is still afflicted with a defect unknown to him.

Dutch courts are specifically clear in expaining the issue of duty of disclosure versus the duty to investigate. A court in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, ruled in favour of the seller because the buyer had not properly inspected the horse before purchase. The buyer acquired the horse from a dealer’s yard and assumed that it was fit to be ridden. The horse was not test-ridden as it was an unbroken youngster, and there was no veterinary information offered by the seller. After delivery the horse appeared to have severe arthritis and could not be ridden. The court decided that the buyer was in fault because of the fact that she bought it from a commercial stable without investigating its rideability and without a pre-purchase exam.

This court ruling also reveals that a buyer does not always have to inspect the horse before buying it. Often horses are offered for sale on the internet with a description in which gives the impression that the horse is sound and rideable. In this situation the buyer’s duty of investigation has been fulfilled in part because the seller provided his own, online description of health and suitability.

My advice to any buyer is to have the horse always inspected by an expert as well as do a video-taped pre-purchase exam. Many names of registered and accredited veterinarians can be found online. To the seller of a horse I recommend not to make statements in advertisements like “horse in perfect health” as they are risky when this status has not been completely backed up by a professional vet-exam.

- by Stephan Wensing – / -

Weda en Wensing Advocaten, a professional Dutch law corporation, is owned by renowned Stephan Wensing, a Dutch attorney whose practice is only focused on equine disputes. Stephan Wensing has been an equine attorney since 2002. As a horse owner, trainer and judge himself he combines his two passions: horses and law. Stephan recognized the need for an attorney with detailed knowledgeable in legal issues affecting equestrians. Wensing offers a full-service litigation firm that specializes in equine-related transactions and dispute resolution throughout Europe.


Weda en Wensing Law Firm
Parallelweg 45
7741 KA Coevorden
The Netherlands

Phone: 0031 - 524 - 76 90 21
Fax: 0031 - 524 - 76 90 24

An older horse, who has seen the world, makes a great first time beginner horse. Beginners might shy away from a horse into their late teens and twenties. But many healthy, sound horses can be ridden well into their senior years.

For many riders owning their own horse is their ultimate dream. However, before buying a horse there are many things that need to be considered very carefully as owning a horse requires a big commitment in terms of time and finances. Finding the right horse to buy can be difficult and care should be taken to ensure that the right decision is made

Don’t be afraid to ask the seller for a trial period. Most private owners want their horses to go to good homes, and are confident about the type of person they feel can handle the horse. Some dealers may agree on a trial period, or help you find another horse if the one you are looking at doesn’t work out.

Most people who aren't professional trainers or who haven't spent their life with horses don't know how to evaluate a prospect. If you buy a horse based on a 'feeling' or impulse decision you may come home with a horse that doesn't fit your abilities or personality - but by golly, he sure is a pretty color!

Horse ownership is a big responsibility. Horses don’t stop eating and drinking on the weekend when you want to go away. The expenses don’t stop because you want to spend the money elsewhere, or you’ve been unable to work. Be honest about the time and money you are able to spend on a horse.

There are even places on the Internet to buy and sell horses. Most people are well intentioned and wouldn’t purposely mislead you, but they may not tell you the whole story unless you ask.
Unscrupulous horse traders will exercise the “stink” out of them before you get there or even drug them to make an unmanageable horse appear calm.Horses are easy to buy and hard to sell.Good horses will sell any time of the year by word of mouth.Bad or even average horses may take years to sell.Screen them out on the phone before you go look at them.