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Do I need a written livery agreement and what should go in it?

Many people in the UK choose to stable their horses at a livery yard. That might be because they don’t have the required facilities at home and/or they want some support with looking after their horse.

Why should I have a written livery agreement?

As with many things in the horse world, many livery yards still do not use any formal written contracts with their clients. An agreement is often made verbally at the start of the arrangement, with nothing further discussed or more commonly, the arrangement changing organically over time. That can sometimes make it difficult to identify the parties’ respective rights and obligations. Where there is no written agreement, you would need to rely on the surrounding evidence (such as emails and texts/internet messages) and the parties’ conduct, to establish who was supposed to do what. If something goes wrong, this does leave the position open to challenge and vulnerable to a (potentially stressful and expensive) dispute. This article considers the benefits of having a written livery agreement in place and some of the things parties might want to consider including in it.

A written livery agreement provides some clarity as to what has been agreed – for example the services to be provided by the livery yard owner/manager and the responsibilities of the horse owner client. In particular, the parties might want to record the agreed price (and what services are to be provided for that price), when that is payable (usually monthly) and what happens in the event of non-payment. The yard owner might also want to include a mechanism for periodical price increases/indexation over time.

What should a written livery agreement include?

Both parties will benefit from certainty over any notice period (in the absence of express agreement such contracts are usually terminable on reasonable notice, but what is “reasonable” is open to interpretation). The parties commonly agree a notice period of one calendar month, but consideration should also be given to whether a reduced notice period might be appropriate in particular circumstances - for example in the event of non-payment of livery fees (beneficial for the yard owner) or where the horse owner client reasonably believes there is a welfare issue as to the quality of care (beneficial for the horse owner client). Of course, the latter might be open to abuse by unscrupulous horse owners, but also might be of commercial benefit to the yard owner, demonstrating their commitment to quality care and stable management.  

The livery agreement might also include requirements to comply with the yard owner’s policies subject to change from time to time (which might include health and safety, fire safety, child safeguarding or general yard rules). Linked to that, the parties might also consider respective insurance obligations in the livery agreement – it is likely that the yard owner would be responsible for insuring the premises, but the horse owner client might be responsible for insuring their own horse and equipment.

The parties should also consider the position regarding veterinary treatment and the yard owner’s rights and obligations to call a vet in the event of an equine health emergency (if the horse owner contact is unavailable), and who should bear the costs of that. It might be difficult to think about, but if the worst happens and the horse requires euthanasia (as an immediate welfare concern identified and advised by a veterinary surgeon) and the horse owner client is not available, the livery agreement can record consent for the yard owner to make a decision or to contact an alternative proxy nominated by the horse owner client. In such difficult circumstances, clarity on what the yard owner should do can provide some much needed comfort.

Resolving disputes

If a dispute arises, the livery agreement can be a good and helpful starting point regarding what has been expressly agreed between the parties. The parties can point to the agreement to assist in resolving a dispute more quickly or avoiding it escalating altogether. If the parties know where they stand from the start, that of itself can mitigate disputes arising in the first place.

For more information on this article, and if you need assistance with your livery yard arrangements, please contact Joanne Saye. Joanne is an Associate in our Dispute Resolution team specialising in equine and bloodstock disputes.

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