My wife and I rent out a barnkeep's apartment in an equestrian community, and thus live very close to about a dozen horses. I've never owned a horse, but my wife did when she was a girl, and some members of the community ask her to feed and care for their horses sometimes when they are out of town, which she is more than happy to do because she just loves being around them.
Recently, one of the couples in the community approached us with a proposal. They have 19 year old mare named Mel that they have not ridden for a while due to having two younger horses that they are training. They intend to sell the mare, but until they find a suitable buyer, they asked if my wife would be interested in leasing the horse for the cost of the stall fee (60/mo). The owners would still feed and care for the horse, all they wanted was the stall fee payed and the horse to get exercise. We were told the horse was sound, and bomb proof. My wife happily agreed, it sounded like a fantastic arrangement. We just agreed to an informal arrangement for the short term, until we decided if we wanted to write up a lease for a set period of time.
A week after riding, my wife took the horse over some tiny jumps (less than a foot) and heard popping from the horse's legs. She immediately called the owner, and was told the horse had arthritis and shouldin't be jumped. My wife apologized and agreed not to do it again, but was confused since the owner didn't mention any kind of medical conditions when we started the lease. The horse didn't show any signs of discomfort after the jumping, but my wife didn't ride her again for several days just to be safe.
A week later, the owner's husband invited my wife to come along with him on a trail ride because his younger horse would not enter the woods without another horse. She agreed, but told him she'd be comfortable riding the third horse, a 6 yr old gelding, instead of Mel, since she was arthritic. He said don't worry about it, Mel needs the workout, and she saddled up and followed him. He set the pace, nothing more than a trot, and they were back within 30 minutes. My wife wanted to let the horse roam the pasture a bit to cool down, but the owner put her back in the stall immediately. The next day, there was a sign on the door that said LAME HORSE, NO RIDING. The horse was limping a bit, but it was hard to tell just how bad since the owner refused to let her out of the stall. My wife and I immediately cancelled the agreement, sa we were becoming very distrustful of the owner. We'd been lied to about the soundness of the horse, and did not like the owners growing resentment towards my wife.
Now, it has been a week since we cancelled the agreement. We did not ask for the other half of our money back, but the owner is now standing around whispering with the other women in the community, who are all treating my wife like a leper. She is blaming us for the horse being unsound, now claiming that she can't sell the horse. We've even overheard her say something about personal injury and small claims court.
Not knowing anything about horse law, are we in any kind of position that she can hold against us? My wife was lied to, told to push the horse and get her some exercise, and when she pushed the horse even a little, the horse was suddenly lame? I don't know if this makes sense or not, my wife says it doesn't. We never signed anything other than a liability waiver saying we can't sue the community if we get hurt by a horse, which we signed anyway when we rented the apartment. We never agreed to be responsible for the health of the horse, in writing or otherwise. We only paid to ride the horse.
Any advice / insights would be appreciated. I apologize for the long post!