There are two categories of laws that affect liability for injuries or damage incurred by equestrians.  They are written specifically to address liability concerns around horses, and to insure that equestrians and other recreational users continue to have access to open space.  Washington State has enacted both categories of these laws.

Equine Limited Liability Laws are designed to limit the liability of equine professionals and event organizers in case of injury or death resulting from the risks inherent in participating in equestrian activities.  The words “inherent in” are important.  Theses laws do not provide protection against liability for risks created or increased by humans, such as loaning someone faulty tack or putting him on a horse without knowing he has the capability of handling it safely.  These laws are designed to address the fact that horses can react unpredictably to stimulus, and can hurt people in the process, even if everyone is careful. 

            Washington is one of the states with an enacted Equine Activity Statute.  There is no uniformity among the various state laws, we should be familiar with our guidelines.

             The Equine Activity Statute has limitations on liability for equine activities.  The document is too lengthy to print in entirety for this article, but will be provided in detail at the next Director’s meeting (6/14) to be passed on to general membership.  The part that applies specifically to BCHW events is defined as: “equine activities that include rides, trips, hunts, or other equine activities of any type however informal or impromptu that are sponsored by an equine activity sponsor”.

            A participant is defined as any person, whether amateur or professional, who directly engages in an activity whether or not a fee is paid to participate.

            Except as provided in the section below, an equine activity sponsor or a professional is not liable for an injury to or death of a participant engaged in an equine activity. 

            An equine professional or an equine activity sponsor is considered liable under specific guidelines.  “Sponsor” is defined with the same responsibilities as the equine professional.  The exceptions for liability limitation are met when either the sponsor or the professional (a) provided the equipment or tack that caused the injury; or (b) provided the equine and failed to make reasonable efforts to determine the ability of the participant to engage safely in the equine activity.  AND

            If the equine activity sponsor (or professional) owns, leases, rents or otherwise is in lawful possession and control of the land or facilities upon which the participant sustained injuries because of a dangerous latent condition which was known or should have been known to the equine activity sponsor and for which warning signs have not been conspicuously posted. 

            AND if the equine activity sponsor or professional commits an act or omission that constitutes willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant and that act or omission caused the injury. 

The second category of law aims to maintain access to private lands for recreational users of various types by protecting the land owners.  In our state that is the Washington Recreational Use Statute. 

            Recreational use laws provide that a landowner (public or private) allowing others to use the land for recreational purposes does not have a duty to make or keep the land safe or to warn of unsafe conditions.  This puts the burden on the users (and activity sponsors) to exercise care and watch for dangerous conditions. 

            The recreational use law for Washington only applies when there is no charge for the access.  Where there is an admission charge, the regular rules regarding the duties of the landowner apply and the standard of care is increased significantly.  

            The American Association for Horsemanship Safety, Inc lists the texts of both equine limited liability statutes and recreational use statues by state.  If you don’t have Internet access, Washington State Horse Council, extension service or county law library can also provide information about these laws. ) Related court decisions may also affect how the laws are applied, and this I haven’t researched yet for Washington State.)

            If you ride on private land and are encountering resistance by landowners based on their liability concerns, providing them with a copy of the state recreational use law may help assuage their concerns.  With the decreasing availability to open lands, we need to use all the tools we can to protect our access to what is left.


                                    Submitted by

Patti Wible-Crouch, BCHW Legislative Chair