Your mare is pregnant, but she's mated with the wrong stallion, and now the legal nightmare begins. If it's a case of a roaming Romeo, who is responsible for the mare's veterinary and foaling or abortion expenses? What if the mare is a valuable show jumper or was to be bred to a different, better stallion and has now lost a valuable year or breeding season?
What happens if a meandering mare visits the neighboring stallion? How can the sire be accurately proven? Is the stallion owner owed a stud fee even though the breeding was unintended? Can the stallion owner refuse to sign a breeder's certificate, not wanting registration records to reflect the offspring of an inferior mare? Who's responsible for veterinary bills and damages for loss of use if either the mare or the stallion is injured during the breeding process?
Though laws differ from state to state, here are some general guidelines for handling such situations:
Paying the Price
When an inadvertent breeding is against the wishes of an owner, the aggrieved party may demand compensation. If the horse owners can't settle their differences, their only recourse is to battle it out in civil court.
"Theoretically, if the stallion can be identified, and some negligence on the part of the stallion owner or whoever was keeping the stallion for the owner is established, then presumably the mare's owner can recover from the responsible party whatever damages can be proved to the court," says Don Pontious, legal director for the United States Trotting Association.
Those damages could range from veterinary bills, to loss of use, to loss of projected income.
In turn, a stallion owner might collect compensation from the owner of a wandering mare for injuries or for a stud fee. However, the stallion owner probably will be less likely to collect damages just from the mating itself.
"The stallion owner must prove that as a consequence of this mating and the consequence of the birth of the foal that he has suffered a financial loss," explains Pontious. "That could be difficult. There would be relatively few cases where just the birth of a foal would bring about identifiable damages for the stallion owner although the court might award some nominal amount just because it was against his wishes."
While a stallion owner may be tempted to refuse to sign a mating certificate pending settlement, some registries will, under certain circumstances, register the foal anyway.
Who Is At Fault?
Before determining what the damages are, the court first wants evidence of who was responsible for the accidental breeding. Damaged fences, gates left open or corral fences that do not contain the horses, could provide that evidence. "By just putting a stallion too close to the wrong horses, a stallion owner is encouraging the stallion to break loose, which puts more of a burden on the stallion owner to keep him well confined," says Norman Berliner, a California attorney who handles equine cases.
Liability due to irresponsibility also might be proven when the owner or employees of a breeding barn breeds the wrong stallion to the wrong mare. If the mare and/or stallion were boarded somewhere other than the owner's property when the breeding occurred, the court may find the barn owners responsible for any damages. But just having the horse in the barn's possession is not enough for a presumption of liability. "You have to show that the barn was somehow negligent in providing adequate facilities or that the gate was left ajar," Pontious says.
Pressing the Claim
There are no specific laws that govern equine enterprises. However, like other legal actions involving damages to personal property, horse owners should gather as much evidence as possible to support their claims. "You want to know the basics: Who owned the horses? Under what circumstances were they quartered? Who was responsible for quartering? Did you have just an oral agreement for board or did you enter into a written agreement?
"Obviously, if you have anything in writing, (the court or attorneys) would like to have a copy of that; sometimes those written agreements fix responsibility a little more clearly than just an oral understanding," Pontius says.
Keep a good record of all your mare's prenatal and foaling expenses, including veterinary bills, prenatal supplements or special feeds.
Many claimants may represent themselves in small claims court. "Assuming it's not a fancy horse but a pleasure horse, the owner should file in small claims court or maybe municipal court where you don't need an attorney. You just fill out a complaint – it'd probably be negligence, injury to personal property – and then you file an action," says Shannon Evans, a Nevada attorney,