Horses Abandoned at Boarding Facilities? Bo - what do you do?
In the past year and a half, my husband and I have had to deal with 5 horses that were left at our boarding facility by people who were unable to pay their board, and unwilling to rehome their horses before they became too far in arears.
I have 3 questions:
1. I'm curious as to how other barn owners have handled similar situations?
We have BO friends who have just simply sold the horses after a period of time, without even having a contract or anything: to us that seemed like it was crooked, so we wanted to make sure we did the "upstanding" thing and tried to be more-than-fair to the people who owned the horses. We also know of boarding facilities who just ship their abandoned horses to auction without a care as to where they end up. We didn't want to do that.
2. What sorts of ramifications did you face from the former owners of the horses? Did they drop of the planet? Did they harass you? Did they accuse you of stealing?
We had a variety of situations (with the 5 horses there were 4 owners), 2 awful ones, and 2 non-ideal but manageable ones. The details are below.
3. What is the general opinion of people who leave their horses?
Here is a synopsis of our situations:
After over a year of non-payment on 3 of the horses (and over a year and half of no attention to the horses by the owners), we had to pursue the Michigan Agister's Lien foreclosure process for 3 of the horses, one beautiful little Arabian, and two gorgeous Saddlebreds. The former owners of these horses had each not only failed to pay board on their horses for over a year, they didn't visit for several months prior to that. During the first few months of missed payment they were told "Please come pay what you can and move your horses to a location you can afford." Nothing happened: we were given empty promises to pay every couple of months. Then they all of a sudden made themselves unavailable (changed phone number, did not respond to mail, etc). As you can imagine, the horses health needs were not taken care of: these horses went a year without wormer, shots, coggins, and farrier services. We never saw any ads that indicated they were trying to rehome their horses, so what their thought process on abandoning their horses was seems to only have been either "I don't want to deal with it, I will just wash my hands of my horses" or "I will get them back somehow".
Boarding Contract: Our contract specified that owners were responsible for keeping horses utd on shots/coggins/farrier/worming, our job was to feed the horses and turn them in/out daily. To pursue these services on our own without consent from the legal owners meant that we would likely be stuck with the fees and potential legal ramifications if the horses had a reaction to shots or wormer, or the farrier trimmed the horses too short. We essentially had our hands tied.
Eventually, we pursued the legal services of a very reputable equine attorney who walked us through the lien foreclosure process, and we sent notices to the former owners: one notice regular mail and one certified. The owner of the saddlebreds managed to keep the "regular" mail notice, but refused the certified mail notice. The owner of the Arabian accepted both and called us, sounding like she either needed to be on drugs for her mental state or was on illegal drugs that altered her mental state. We told her "Look, obviously you are so far gone with payment that we know you can't make it up: find a place to take your horse and pay us what you can." Strangely enough, she refused to move the horse so we told her we couldn't work with her. After many midnight phone-calls from this woman in a drunken/drug induced state, we eventually had to get a restraining order.
At the lien foreclosure, only one person showed up, and we ended up bidding on the 3 lien foreclosure horses and bought them. We found homes for 2 of them, the third one we kept for a while planning to condition and sell him later. We still have the third horse, and the former owner's daughter has been a nightmare to deal with. She has posted various ads for the remaining horse "for sale" and even listed him as "stolen" online in different forums. While she seems to have backed off of those ads, she still keeps posting pictures of him (even ones that were my own photos, taken within the last year) and saying "These are my horses". The latter isn't so bad, just annoying because she knows she no longer owns the horses, but the stolen ads had us contacting our attorney and contemplating legal action (which, if it starts happening again, we will pursue). I just don't understand the thought process of these people. YOU NO LONGER OWN HORSES - WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM!?!?! You need to probably just start fresh and hope to acquire a new horse someday, when you can actually afford horse ownership :think: How is that for a thought?
Horse owners, this is my plea to you: if you couldn't afford your horse, you should sell it or lease it out before you lose it. You should not ignore letters from the owner of the barn where you keep your horses detailing your horses needs or reminding you of barn policy. Unfortunately, your life situation doesn't excuse you from the responsibilities involved in horse ownership, if you plan to actually keep your horses. You don't get to just "drop off the planet" and then show back up like nothing has happened. Essentially, what you are doing is thinking it is okay to starve and ignore your horse: the exception being that you left it in someone else's care who is not willing to do that, and eventually they will likely do something to remedy their awful situation. We couldn't even exercise the horses!
The other two horses that the owners quit paying board on were eventually handed over to us to rehome as we deemed appropriate. The first horse was left without any contact or payment for over 6 months when the owner finally sent a friend out with registration paperwork and letter handing over ownership to us. The the owner dropped off of the face of the earth. We found the QH mare a new home with a man who wanted a horse for his grand-daughter. The other horse's owner tried to work off some of her board until she was forced to move out of state because of the lovely Michigan economy. She kept up with us, letting us know what was happening, and even sending us small payments to try to catch up every week. Although the situation resulted in us owning a horse that was useless to us, we were able to maintain a decent relationship with the former owner. She wrote a letter signing the horse over to us, we forgave much of the back-owed debt and we placed the horse with an awesome horse rescue where the young lady who formerly owned her is free to visit. While none of the situations were ideal on any level, at least the latest owner recognized their troubles, wanted to ensure a better life for their horse and was just an all-around honest person who fell into financial trouble - they were concerned for their horse's welfare and knew they couldn't afford the many financial demands of horse ownership. Best of all, for us, she knew we didn't want a horse we didn't choose to own and offered us the option of rehoming it as soon as she realized the situation just wasn't workable for her.
We treat our boarders like they are our family and expect nothing but the same in return. Currently we have a stable full of responsible, considerate horse owners whom we are proud to consider friends, and we are very blessed. :grin:
We would like to encourage any barn owners to do their best to work with people, and to contact an equine attorney when negotiations result in nothing but a headache, just to make sure you have done the best you can given your situation.
Just realized there is a legal forum for horsey stuff on here :-) Ooops, this post would probably have been better recieved in that forum.
I also want to make note that at the time of the lien foreclosure, we pursued that route because the horses were in desperate need of care/attention, not just exercise, but hooves needed trims very badly, all 3 horses were a year behind in shots (2 of them our vet wouldn't vaccinate, period, as long as the horses were owned by the former owners), and all 3 REALLLLLLY needed to be wormed. We weren't willing to provide these services "under the radar", and we also weren't willing to pay for those services for horses whom we did not own, and benefit the owners who thought so little of us as the barn owner that they felt payment was not necessary.
In BC, Canada, where I live, if board isn't payed on an animal for three consecutive months, it is considered abandoned and the BO is free to sell it, so long as it is sld by any form of auction.
Is there a law like this in th US?
The laws vary by state, unfortunately, which makes it really hard for any one BO to say to any other BO "This is how you deal with it..."
Our state law required Sheriff's Auction - we had to hire a local sheriff (county law enforcer) to oversee the auction we held... the people who left their horses are very lucky we havn't sued... yet. If shenanigans keep up from former owners, however, law suits aren't out of the question. We are still entitled to the amount remaining on the balance that was not made-up for at the auction. With the horses we auctioned, that amount is still a lot :-/ and according to state law, we are still entitled to it - plus legal fees.
If we word our contract to state something other than the state-law mandated "sheriff's auction", then we have to follow that. Needless to say, for our current boarders our "In the event of non-payment" clause is worded very specifically as to how "non-payment" will be handled. Nowadays, after 60 days of non-payment we own your horse outright, registration rights (if applicable) and all.
Variance in the laws from state to state is why I posted this thread - if Barn Owners have had similar experiences, it might be helpful to other current barn owners in these situations or even insightful to hopeful future barn owners to hear other people's stories, you know?
And also - just to be clear: question 3 of mine is referring to "are the people you've experienced sincerely in a crappy situation and tried to work with you and do their best for their horses?", or "are they crooked and wicked and evil?" or "borderline between the former?" or something entirely different?
You can put that in your boarding contract. At my old barn, if you were 3 month late on board, the horse was theres. No questions asked. I signed it and everything.
where i am. if you do not pay your agistment for a length of time, or abandon your horse. we sell it to recoop costs.
I have just signed a new boarding agreement for the first time ever (I have had horses for MANY years, in many places) that specifically states 3 months of no pay and the horse is theirs. This is in Va. They also have a rather stiff late fee-1 day late=10% ($45). Pretty strict, IMO, but will not be an issue with me! Also-if they find your horse "dangerous" (pretty subjective) they will give you 24 hrs to move it. That one seems pretty tough, but again, if my guy is "dangerous", we all have a problem. He is about the easiest ever!
I would think the 3 month stipulation could work for you BO's or against you. People who may have an undesirable, unsellable horse may use that to "dump" it.......knowing you all have a conscience and will not send it to auction. Tough situation.
In Ny where I board, it is a smaller town, and most horsey people know each other......the only non-pay where I board is the BO's cousin.....:( and she has no strict contracts.
My heart just breaks for any horse who is "dumped" and abandoned. :( If it were I, I would turn them into lesson horses and keep them for myself.
Our original contract stipulated "state law" be used when handling default on payments. In Michigan, state law has not been changed in over 100 years, so that might give you an idea of the length of time we had to have the horses without payment before we could pursue the Agister's Liens. Grr. Our contracts now state that after 60 days we become the owners of your horse and you lose all interest in the animal. We realized that for people who are upstanding citizens, this sort of a thing isn't going to be a problem - like you said FrankNBeans... doesn't matter when you actually intend to pay! The people who balk are the people we don't want here, plain and simple.
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