Does anyone riding a horse do so at their own risk? Harris v Miller
Is it possible to successfully bring a claim against horse owners for injuries sustained as a result of the actions of a horse they have allowed to be ridden? Horse rider claims are difficult but depending on the circumstances of the accident, can be successful. For anyone considering pursuing such a claim, it is essential that thought is given to the horse owners’ both actual and “constructive” knowledge of not just the horse, but the rider as well.
For those who have experience with horses, the all too often attitude of horse owners is that they do not consider they owe any responsibility to anyone choosing to ride their horse or horses. The general view is that this is an inherently dangerous past time and people choose to ride at their own risk. Whilst of course it is an informed decision to ride and this approach is often accurate, the recent case of Harris v Miller is a stark reminder to horse owners of the care that needs to be taken before allowing another to ride your horse.
Miss Harris was a 14-year old girl who sustained serious injuries, leaving her paraplegic, when she fell off whilst riding a horse belonging to her boyfriend’s mother. Miss Harris’ case was that she felt apprehensive about riding a large thoroughbred horse, but her concerns were not taken on board by the owner, who dismissed her fears and made no attempt to explain to her the behaviour of this particular horse. Miss Harris alleged that the horse bucked whilst cantering on flat ground, unseating her. The owner’s insurers denied this was the case; they said that the horse had dropped its head whilst walking downhill. They also alleged that Miss Harris had informed the owner that she was an experienced rider. The owner had accepted this assertion despite not having previously seen Miss Harris ride.
Again in reality sadly, many horse owners take a person’s report of their riding experience at face value without properly assessing their ability and all too often riders overstate their experience. This was the case here and all the more reason for the owner to have assessed Miss Harris before reaching a decision on whether she had the requisite experience to manage a thoroughbred horse who had “quirks”.
The Court found Miss Harris to be a compelling witness and accepted the fall happened because of the particular behaviour of this horse. The judge took the view that the owner had breached her duty of care to Miss Harris by failing not only to undertake an appropriate assessment of her riding ability, but also to take into account the particular behaviours of the horse, as well as Miss Harris’ expressed insecurity in relation to riding it. Had she done so, the Court concluded that a reasonable person would have reached the decision that Miss Harris was not experienced enough for the horse and would not have allowed her to ride. The Court found for Miss Harris with damages to be assessed.
The moral for horse owners is to ensure that proper assessment of riding abilities is always undertaken before allowing another to ride your horse or one for whom you have responsibility. Failure to do so, could end up in the catastrophic outcome that happened for the young lady in this claim. Whilst such claims are hard, they can and will be brought.