Purchasing a horse that goes lame - Legal Rights against the seller

What is the law that governs the sale of a horse?

Horses are treated, from a legal point of view, as being goods and, therefore, the law relating to the sale of goods applies to them.

Private sales

If you’re buying a horse off a private individual, the principle of ‘caveat emptor’ (‘let the buyer beware’) applies and you will therefore ordinarily be responsible for checking the quality and suitability of the horse before purchasing it. If the horse has a problem, you’ll need to be able to prove the seller knew, or ought to have known about it to get your money back.

If the seller specifically tells you the horse is problem-free before the sale is made and this induces you to buy the horse, you should be entitled to rescind the contract and gain a full refund if the seller’s representations turn out to untrue. However, it will come down to your word against his so you should always ensure that these representations are incorporated into a written contract before you buy.

Sales in the course of business

If you buy a horse off a dealer, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA 2015) applies and you are afforded more protection if problems arise.

You can reject the horse and/or claim damages if the horse is not:

  • of satisfactory quality;
  • fit for the purpose made known by the buyer to the seller before purchase;
  • as described by the seller.

To be of satisfactory quality, the horse must be of a standard a reasonable person would feel is satisfactory, taking into account the description, price and any other relevant circumstances.

You cannot rely on these provisions if the horse’s defect was specifically drawn to your attention by the seller prior to sale or if you examined the horse before you bought it and that examination should have revealed the defect. The seller also has a defence if you did not rely on their expertise, for example, if you took an expert along with you to the sale and you relied on his opinion and not the seller’s.

Fit for purpose means reasonably fit for any specific purpose you made known to the seller at the time of sale, whether expressly or by conduct.

Right to reject

For six months after the sale, the burden of proof of unsatisfactory quality, unfitness for purpose or non-compliance with description is on the seller. After this six-month period, the burden will be on you to show that the horse was injured when you bought it.

Even after six months from the date of purchase, you still have a common law right to reject the horse and claim damages or to rescind the contract for misrepresentation and/or claim damages in court. These rights last for up to six years.

Under CRA 2015, you have a right to reject the horse and demand a refund within 30 days of purchase if it is not of satisfactory quality, not fit for purpose or not as described. This provision gives the seller the option to repair or replace the damaged goods; clearly fixing a broken horse is untenable but they may require you to accept a replacement horse.

You also have the right under CRA 2015 to keep the horse and receive a refund which reflects how the defects affected the price paid. The refund must be an ‘appropriate’ amount and the seller must give this to you unreasonable delay and in any case within 14 days.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.