I spent two days in a student's seat this fall learning from expert lawyers at Finger Lakes Horse Farm Business School organized by Jim Ochterski of Ontario County Cornell University Cooperative Extension about horse business contracts, business liability and insurance coverage. I have to admit, the subject matter is grim and leaves me searching for an anti-depressant at the end of each session. There are so many dark clouds to worry about when you'd prefer to be making money training and selling horses or giving riding instruction.
But, the inescapable reality is the threesome of contracts, liability and insurance are the dark and mysterious subject areas of all business, not just the horse business. While business owners prefer to focus on increasing sales and reducing expenses, there is no denying that business conflicts arise and demand your attention.
Ignorance of business law is a lot like riding a bucking horse without a helmet. It's only a matter of time before you find yourself unseated and wishing you'd taken the time to protect yourself.
Here's what I got from listening to the speakers:
An agreement in writing signed by both parties is always a good start. No one can run from their signature. Know your rights and your customer's rights; don't guess or assume. While contracts are seldom bullet proof, a knowledgeable local attorney's review of your standard contracts is an investment you won't regret.
No matter how careful you are, sooner or later someone is going to blame you for something that happened to them, even if caused by their own bad judgment. Accidents like an injury to their horse under your care, custody and control or an injury to them like a horse standing on their foot or worse, falling off. Each state treats personal injury differently. Know your state's laws or lack of them for equine liability.
Insurance is a source of a legal defense and money for liability claims. Not all insurance protects against all potential liabilities. It's up to you to know what protection you've bought and what the limits are. An agent who knows your business and the correct match for coverage is the place to start.Your application of risk management is your best line of defense against your increased premiums due to claims.
There is no denying work with horses and people has more risks than you can list on a legal pad. Understanding contracts and liability is key for good business operations.
But waking up and going to bed worrying about everything that can go wrong is no fun.
Three things you can do in the next thirty days to eliminate worry about the dark clouds of business:
- Review your standard business contracts with your horse business attorney.
- Examine your insurance policy coverage with a knowledgeable horse farm agent.
- Be satisfied you've delegated the job of Chronic Worrier to the lawyers and insurance underwriters and return your focus on the sunnier side of business.