Two horse dealers (Ms Jurecka and Ms Johnson) and a vet (Dr Smith) were recently convicted of multiple counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation. The large scale fraud involved drugging horses in order to mask health issues and other, often serious, behavioural issues in order to pass them off as fit and to sell them as being suitable for novice and inexperienced riders. In most cases the horses passed pre-purchase vetting carried out by the vet, who was guilty of altering records to hide any issues and on some occasions did not even see the horses he supposedly vetted.
Large scale frauds of this type, particularly those involving collusion with vets, are thankfully rare; however the case has highlighted the fact that many people are unaware of their rights and how to protect themselves when buying a horse.
The same laws apply to buying and selling horses as buying or selling other goods (such as a saddle or a horse box) and the most important distinction in what rights you have is whether you purchase the horse from a dealer or a private seller.
Provided you keep horses purely for pleasure and you buy a horse from a dealer, then you will benefit from the protections in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This was introduced in October 2015 to strengthen consumer protection and means that any goods purchased, in this case a horse, must be as described; fit for purpose; and of satisfactory quality.
If you buy a horse which doesn’t meet these requirements (and obviously the ones sold in the fraud would not have) then you are entitled to reject the horse within 30 days. After 30 days you are required to give the seller one chance to ‘repair’ or ‘replace’ the goods. In the context of the purchase of a horse it is likely that this would be interpreted as offering to pay any treatment fees, or offering a replacement horse.
If you buy a horse from a private seller then the principle which applies is known as ‘caveat emptor’ which simply means ‘buyer beware’. Unlike purchasing from a dealer there will be no protections as to suitability or quality and a buyer is expected to satisfy themselves of these before buying. That is not to say, however, that a private seller can intentionally make false statements to persuade you to buy a horse (for example if they tell you that the horse is ‘bombproof’ but it’s actually afraid of its own shadow), as that would be fraud.
In either case, you should take steps to ensure that any horse is suitable for your needs before agreeing to buy it. If your needs aren’t mentioned in the advertisement, which you should certainly keep a copy of, then ask for the seller to address any queries you may have. This should be in writing if possible (by text or email etc.) and you should keep a written note of any conversation you have with the seller.
If you are buying from a private seller you should also take further steps to satisfy yourself that the horse is suitable for your needs and ensure that any important points, including an accurate description, are included in a contract of sale. This needn’t be a professionally drafted document and can be handwritten. It should set out exactly what it is that the parties think is being bought and sold. While this can often seem a bit formal in a private sale, having a contract is the best way to avoid problems further down the line.
Finally, notwithstanding that collusion between dealers and (dishonest) vets is incredibly rare, it would be sensible to instruct an impartial vet to carry out the pre-purchase vetting. If you’re the seller its best if you don’t recommend a vet, so there can be no allegation of collusion, and if you’re the buyer it would be wise to choose your own vet rather than following any recommendation you do get.