My yard is closing and there’s one horse I’d like to take on, but her owner has disappeared abroad, so my instructor took the horse to the riding school where she’s been based for the past year. As she does not legally own the horse, where would we stand if we were to take him on as our own?
Richard Chamberlain answers:
Who owns this horse now will depend on what was said at the time the original owner left the horse in your instructor’s care, and the conduct of the original owner and you, the yard owner. If the horse was lent to you and this was the clear understanding between you both, the horse still belongs to the original owner who will be able to reclaim him if she wishes.
If the original owner simply left the horse in your instructor’s care or at the yard, without any agreement with you as to his future care, the time that has elapsed since then may indicate that the owner has abandoned him. Horses and ponies are in law regarded as property. Generally, for property to be abandoned, it is necessary to show either…
- That the owner had clearly demonstrated, by his or her actions, that he or she had given up all rights to the property.
- Or that the original owner had demonstrated an intention to knowingly relinquish control over the property.
An intention to abandon property may be established by actions taken by the owner or by words to that effect, or it may be implied from the circumstances surrounding the owner’s treatment of his or her property.
It is difficult to apply these legal principles to horses, but if the horse was left with you by an agreement under which both parties expected the owner to take him back at some time, then it will not be possible to show that she had abandoned the horse when leaving him at the yard. However, if you have paid for all the horse’s care and keep, this indicates that even if the owner had not abandoned him when he was left at the yard, she did subsequently abandon the horse by failing to take any interest in him since then.
It is impossible to advise as to the current ownership of this horse with any certainty. However, on the basis of the information provided, I’d suggest that if you decide to take this horse on, you might reasonably claim ownership of him in due course on the basis that he has been abandoned by his former owner.