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Ethical Considerations Associated with The Buying and Selling of Horses

January 24, 2022


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by John Tonetti

A review of fundamental good practices will keep us mindful of the best way to avoid problem areas and the perception of unethical behavior in the buying and selling of horses.

Formalize Mutual Expectations

Educating ourselves and future members as to the importance of clarifying and formalizing mutual expectations is a critical element of a successful transaction. The perception of unethical behavior is most often linked to a failure by omission or commission to formally disclose details regarding the circumstances surrounding the buying and selling of a horse.

The following list of countermeasures will enhance the likelihood of a successful transaction and avoid the perception of unethical conduct by buyer or seller.

FULL DISCLOSURE is always necessary. The full disclosure of every detail pertaining to a horse's medical history, detracting habits and propensities should be formalized to a potential buyer.  Such disclosure should specifically address issues such as lameness, founder/laminitis, prior colic, surgeries, injuries, cribbing, kicking, biting, stall weaving, breeding soundness (whether a stallion's semen is fertile and suitable to be frozen or a mare is cycling and producing a follicle).

A PRE-PURCHASE EXAMINATION benefits both the seller and the buyer. The seller should encourage the buyer to obtain a pre-purchase examination by a vet of the buyer's choosing. Such an examination should include but not necessarily be limited to the topics listed above and might include a blood test for the presence of any medications.  Where time constraints do not allow for completion of a vet check prior to the purchase, provisions in the written purchase agreement should stipulate that the transaction is contingent upon satisfactory completion of a vet examination within a stipulated time period.

Discuss and match a PROSPECTIVE RIDER'S HORSEMANSHIP SKILLS relative to the horse being considered for purchase.

Specify in the Sales Agreement the seller's assessment of horse's level of training: "this horse recommended for experienced riders only" or "this horse is green broke with three months training." This is especially important for the novice or "first time” horse buyer.

Discuss the REGISTRATION STATUS of the horse.  This is an essential step in the purchasing process. Address the process to record the transfer of ownership in the records of the Association. Your sales agreement should state who is responsible to mail the registration certificate to the Association, who will pay for the transfer etc. Discuss and formalize any potential issues regarding registration status, ownership, or the transfer process, i.e., signatures of past owner (s), of dam and sire at the time of breeding and foaling (if not yet registered), a Stallion Breeding Report, listing the dam of your horse on file with the Association (if not yet registered).

A WRITTEN PURCHASE AGREEMENT should be prepared in all cases ranging from the simplest to the most complex including ones where the transaction involves an agent or broker. Any commissions accruing because of a sale/purchase transaction should be formally disclosed and made explicit as to who is paying how much and to whom.

In Summary

The logical human reaction to not knowing what to realistically expect in each situation is to avoid such situations in the future. A bad experience in the eyes of the buyer or the seller can be avoided by disclosing and formalizing the details. If this is not done, it is reasonable to expect that either buyer or seller or both may simply be inclined to avoid future bad experiences by choosing to do something else with their time and money. Taking the time to understand and be understood regarding mutual expectations and formalizing details in a written agreement is in the long-term best interest of every person buying or selling a horse. The seller is most often the more experienced and knowledgeable party to a transaction and is most often the one who is blamed if things don't work out. The obligation is on the seller to take the lead in modeling ethical conduct in a sales transaction. In fact, instead of Buyer Beware, the mantra should be Seller Beware, as a reputation is a horrible thing to lose!

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