An Interview With Horse Whisperer Carol Sharpe - Nihi, Sumba
News & Events Interviews
Gone are the days when you could simply turn up at a yard with your horse, pay money and ‘be a livery’. The ever increasing expectations and responsibilities of yard owners means that best practice guidance requires a substantial amount of information to be checked and recorded for professional yard owners.
It is important to have a paper trail, and to have detailed information on the horses in your care. In the event of any disputes, this can go a long way to helping resolve an issue. It also means that you can stay safe in the knowledge that you are taking the necessary precautions to safeguard the health, welfare and livery services for horses and ponies in your care, by way of being well informed.
Livery contracts are the foundation of your business. They are the binding agreement between yourself and your liveries that confirms what is included and what they pay in return, as well as important information such as payment dates and notice periods. All liveries should have a livery contract issued to them upon arrival which they should return signed, and a copy should be kept by each party. A livery contract should be kept fairly simple and not bogged down with too much detail; stick to the contractual elements of the agreement. Any aspects that could be deemed ‘informational’, like guidance on yard rules for example, could be separated into a Yard Handbook which can be issued to liveries (with a clause relating to the receipt and acceptance of this in the livery contract). This is far easier to update and reissue, when necessary, than updating all livery contracts as a whole.
Some of the most important aspects of any livery contract are the payment and notice details, including information on the processes that come into play in the event of a horse owner failing to pay bills on time. This could include debt recovery processes, a shorter notice period, adding interest to debts due, a lien (relating to the animal or equipment being retained to cover monies owed) or other processes to reclaim debts or deal with problematic liveries.
Whilst there are templated livery contracts and other templated documentation available, it is important to ensure that these are amended, as necessary, to reflect the needs of your own business, prior to issuing them to liveries. It is also important to ensure that no necessary information has been cut out or missed, and that no incorrect information has been added that could be problematic in the event of a dispute. Therefore, our recommendation is to have your contracts and other documentation checked over by a specialist who can advise on whether your paperwork fits the intended purpose.
As proprietors of businesses that are ‘open to the public’, all yard owners have an obligation to hold third-party liability insurance, at the very least. Ideally, if you are providing any services to clients, you should ensure you also have ‘Care, Custody and Control’ included (commonly referred to as CCC), which covers you for handling and providing services to the equines in your care. If you have staff on the yard – whether employed or freelance – you should also have employers’ liability to cover you for employment obligations too.
What many yard owners fail to check is whether the equines in their care are insured as well. It would be expected, at the very minimum, that all horses on the yard are covered for third party liability in the event of damage or injury to another party or property. Additional insurance, such as vets fees or loss of use, is at the discretion of the horse owner.
It is also important to check that any visitors to the yard – especially those providing mobile services such as farriers, freelance grooms or instructors – hold the necessary professional insurance policies. The rule of thumb is that if anyone is receiving remuneration for the services provided to that horse owner, or even yourself, especially on your property, they are a ‘professional’ and should hold the necessary insurance. It is a common misconception that personal insurance policies (such as a BHS Gold membership) will cover those offering freelance services, but this is not the case. In every instance where a service is being provided, the service provider needs to hold the correct professional insurance and, where necessary, qualifications (or membership to professional bodies) to legally provide their service. It is wise to request copies of these from anyone intending to carry out work on the yard and to keep these on file for reference.
If you have other people that visit the yard with liveries – such as friends or family – to ride horses or even to care for horses on behalf of your livery clients (without any form of remuneration), it is still wise to check that they have their own rider insurance or are covered on the horses’ own policy. In addition to having the details of anyone visiting your yard on file, it is recommended that you also ask them to sign a disclaimer. Having this in place, and using the same process for professionals, will ensure that in the event of an accident or insurance claim, you have the necessary paperwork to show you have taken due diligence to ensure people are working on your premises legally, or that they have confirmed they have the necessary competence or knowledge to be on the yard.
The retention of Horse Passports is a debatable issue for yard owners. To simplify, since the change in law in October 2018, yard owners that provide any services within their livery packages (i.e. any livery package from Assisted DIY upwards, and even DIY if regular ad-hoc services are carried out) should hold the original passport for the equine securely at the yard. In the eyes of the law, the yard owner is classed as the ‘keeper’. The only exception to this would be any horse on a pure DIY package, as this is deemed as a rental agreement and not a service.
Whilst many yard owners do not request passports from their owners, and many horse owners do not like the thought of leaving their passport at the yard, it is the law and hefty fines can be made following an inspection by any authoritative body. The Local Authority (LA) may state that they are happy to accept copies in the event of an inspection, but do bear in mind that DEFRA have the right to overrule the LA and can still issue fines for failure to produce passports, especially if there are many equines involved. As a yard owner, you should also be aware that if you’re inspected, you will likely be requested to show copies of your livery contracts or all horses in your care. With fines of up to £5000 per horse for both the livery yard owner and the horse owner, is this a risk worth taking?
In addition to this, it is now the obligation of all yard owners to ensure that any horse or pony on their premises holds a passport. Therefore, before any horse is accepted onto the yard, the yard owner should be requesting proof of their passport by seeing it in person; if the owner is not willing to allow the passport to be kept at the yard, at the very least, a photocopy should be taken of any relevant pages and kept by the yard owner.
There are more details on passporting and the responsibilities of a yard owner here.
In addition to passports, it is also important to make sure you have the necessary information on the horses at your yard, even those on DIY packages. This should include details of the owner, as well as that of any service provider preferable to the owner – such as a farrier and vet – should they be necessary in the event of an emergency. Veterinary and any other important health information should also be recorded and held at the yard, especially if you are responsible for the majority of the horse’s care. Details such as allergies, medicines and feed are all important and will help you best manage the horse’s needs, whilst also providing a useful reference point for any other staff who may deal with the horse.
It’s a good idea to keep a client information sheet for each owner, containing their contact details and any other important information. It is also worth considering requesting proof of identity and address from all horse owners, as this can prove particularly useful in the event of debt recovery. Although it seems unnecessary, you would be surprised how many yard owners have difficulty in recouping debts because they do not know where a person lives!
It is also useful to have next of kin details for all owners, for use in the event of an accident or emergency. You should also consider requesting a second point of contact for each horse as well. In the event that a horse owner is taken ill or incapacitated and is unable to care for their horse, it is important to have a second person, nominated by the owner, to guide you on care for the horse when necessary – it may even be that they need to take over the costs of the horse, should such a necessity arise. While this may not seem necessary, there have been unfortunate cases in which an owner has died and the responsibility of the care of their horse has fallen to the yard owner, with no knowledge as to if or when payment will be made and no designated person to assign the responsibility to.
The best method for recording and organising all this information is to have a file for each horse, in which you keep their details, passport (or copy), livery contract, owner details and suchlike, along with any other important information. Remember, the information in each file should be checked regularly to ensure it is all still correct and then updated accordingly; it’s worth sending this information out to horse owners annually or bi-annually, so they can check the information held is still current.
In general, it is a great idea to have templates for all documents issued to livery clients. That way there is professionalism and consistency in what is sent out. This includes everything from your livery invoice to the horse details forms, and even notice letters. Have a good review of all of your paperwork and think about what you may need. It’s easier to work through and create templates for all eventualities at once than having to find the time when you need to issue one imminently. It is also much better to have a set process of creating and using templates than needing to start again every time you want to create a document. However, it’s important to remember consistency. All clients should be issued with the same paperwork and contracts. If you make amendments to your contracts, livery packages etc, then this should be communicated to all livery clients, not just those going forward, and all paperwork should be reissued to all clients. As much of a hassle as this may seem, it is much simpler to have the clarity that all clients have the same arrangements.
On the Yard Owner Hub, LiveryList provides a wide range of templates and guides and should be able to provide you with all of the templated documents you should need (or at least the basis of) in the course of running your yard and managing your clients.
Established in 2011, LiveryList is the UK’s number one Livery Yard Directory and resource for yard owners. As well as having hundreds of livery yards listed across the UK, LiveryList provides a vast range of free guidance, support and templated documents for yard owners, sourced from reputable equestrian associations, business and organisations.