Disabled & Therapeutic Horse Riding Services for Liability

horse stable insurance

If you perform horse riding services for physically or mentally challenged persons, you have a fairly high liability exposure that is not easily or well-insured by many insurance companies. If you are paid or compensated in some way for these services, this is commercial liability exposure that is not insured under your Homeowner’s or Farmowner’s insurance policy.

Disabled therapeutic riding (hippotherapy) has been applied quite successfully since about the 1970’s. The therapy often gives special needs persons more will to achieve therapy goals when staying motivated can be a problem for improvement because of the interaction with a horse.  For those with physical disabilities, improvment in muscle function may be realized as a rider comes in contact with the horse’s body warmth and motion through riding.

The greatest liability concern is the potential for bodily injury to disabled students or subjects seeking to ride or handle horses for hands-on mental or physical therapy. The operator usually provides a school or therapy horse and the facilities to perform the work. Depending upon the special needs of the student, an appropriate number of spotters or assistants are provided to support the student while riding and to handle the horse. Assistants are often trained volunteers. The liability of the volunteer is also insured under the GL policy, though bodily injury or property damage happening to the volunteer is not.  Ideally instructors should be certified and qualified through an accreditation organization. However, underwriters will consider insuring someone that has considerable experience and training in this field. Instructors have a Professional Liability exposure in addition to the normal exposures for premises and operations. Therefore, Professional Liability is added to the general liability policy by endorsement for each instructor and there is a separate premium charge for this important coverage.

Often Therapeutic Services of this type are funded through donations, grants and fund raisers, which also have a strong business component and management responsibility.  You or your organization may have a Directors & Officers Liability exposure as well.

As a provider of these services, you worry that you may be sued or otherwise have a claim made against you for bodily injury or property damage by a customer, guest or someone else who comes in contact with you or the property that is part of your horse operation. If sued, you will need to hire a lawyer to defend you and you wonder how you would go about doing this. If found negligent or responsible, you would likely have to pay for either a court-ordered or agreed-upon settlement to the injured party. Fortunately, much concern can be relieved when you buy a Commercial General Liability Policy [GL] to insure Disabled & Therapeutic Horse Riding Services activities.

Commercial General Liability Insurance protects you from financial loss should a patient or student, visitor, or a trespasser become injured [Bodily Injury] or their property is damaged [Property Damage] in relation to your operations, and they make a claim or file a law suit against you for damages.

How Risky is Disabled & Therapeutic Horse Riding Services? Moderately High.

Therapeutic services to people are fairly high risk, but categorized as Moderately HIgh because the activity is so highly controlled and supervised.

Horse activities are reasonably safe compared to many other activities people participate in. Yet, horse-human activities do carry inherent risks. Accidents do happen when people at different stages of capability attempt to touch, handle, train, ride, drive and control large animals that are unpredictable even when well trained. And some horse-human accidents are serious. Even with the best of intentions and management practices anyone can have a claim made against them and be sued.

You Must Plan Ahead – A Five Pronged Strategy

No one wants someone to be injured on or in relation to their property or business operations. No one plans to have an accident that results in a liability claim they are responsible for. Yet, you still must plan against and for an accident, and there is a five-pronged strategy you should follow:

  1. Accident Avoidance is the first strategy. This is best accomplished by implementing a thoughtful operational risk reduction plan that provides a reasonably safe physical environment and procedures for horses and people. All staff members should be trained in those practices. [NAHA Risk Reduction Programs can assist you.]
  2. Emergency Procedure Planning is the second strategy, and it can be important to minimize the severity of an accident and provide proper care at the time.
  3. The third strategy is to use well-worded Warning and Release of Liability Agreements. [NAHA can provide contract models for you to evaluate and use.] Have them completed and signed completely and correctly by all participants. Keep the signed forms on file and safely stored for several years as suggested by an attorney in your state.
  4. The fourth strategy is to carefully review and comply with your state’s Equine Activities Immunities Law, if your state has one. All states have some form of the law except California, New York, Maryland, and Nevada. Some require special wording in warning and release agreements, and some require posting of specific warning signs on your property.
  5. Purchase an Equine Liability Insurance Policy that adequately covers and lists all of your specific activities in the policy. The policy should be placed with an A rated domestic insurance company having a good reputation for service, knowledge of equine risk, and for handling equine liability claims. Be wary of low pricing, as generally a low price means something important is missing in the policy or the Insurer may not understand how to price equine exposure. This important fifth strategy can protect you and your business from financial loss should an accident happen. It helps fulfill the sense of responsibility you have about serving the public, but it provides more than peace of mind. In event of a covered claim, the Insurer provides legal defense and pays for defense costs. It pays for claims costs and settlements made against you up to the limits of your policy. Just as important is the fact that knowledgeable professionals will handle and manage the details of your claim in a way that looks after your claim and litigation interests, so that you can continue functioning with the least amount of “hassle.”

Equine Activities Immunities Laws have been passed in 46 states. While these laws may help you avoid liability, they will not usually thwart a determined injured party from pursuing a claim or law suit. This is because to receive immunity under the law, the activity sponsor must have performed in a specific way according to what the law requires. And often immunity is determined through some type of expensive legal proceeding that can result in a large, often uncontrolled expense to an uninsured stable owner. You still need to be properly insured for liability.

Related Coverages To Consider

If You Rent the Property You Occupy, We Can Also Insure Your Tack, Equipment, and Machinery for Loss or Damage

As a stable property renter, you may not have access to property insurance for tack, equipment and machinery you use in your business. Ark Agency can insure these items by adding a Property Coverage Endorsement to the General Liability Policy. Additional premium is charged for this endorsement and the items and values must be declared in the application process.

General Liability Coverage & Limits

The General Liability Policy includes specified maximum limits or amounts of liability insurance for:

Medical Expense: Pays for low cost medical expense with no questions asked about your liability or responsibility in the matter.

Legal Defense Costs: Today court costs and hiring of a lawyer can quickly mount to $50,000 or more, an expense you do not want to come out of your pocket if you are sued and have to hire a lawyer.  If sued in relation to this activity,       the policy provides legal defense whether the case has merit or not.

Settlement or Claim Costs: For bodily injury and property damages for which you are responsible and held negligent and liable.

Two most common claim incidents for disabled or therapeutic riding programs are:

1. A rider falls from a horse or becomes injured when near a horse on the ground.

2. A rider suffers additional or aggravated injury in relation to the condition for which they sought therapy.

Where to Begin

Your insurance needs are unique, therefore we believe in person to person service. Call or e-mail an Ark Agency Representative for an estimated premium, policy and company details, and qualification requirements. We work with several insurance companies and rates and coverage conditions vary. We will help you determine which application to use and advise on how to put insurance in force.

*General information is provided on this insurance topic. Acting on our coverage recommendations does not guarantee coverage if you have a loss or claim.

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