California Riding Magazine • January, 2009

Legal Equestrian
A good contract protects everybody.

Horse people are a trusting lot. Many transactions are sealed with a handshake across the flatbed of a truck in the barn parking lot. Trust is good, says Legal Equestrian’s Lisa L. Lerch, but it should not take the place of a written contract on a sale or a transaction of any significance. This is especially true since the horse world has grown so much. The Internet and other marketing realities make it increasingly common that transactions involve people with no prior knowledge of each other.

In almost any horse-related activity: buying, leasing, boarding, training, etc., time spent clarifying responsibilities going into the deal more than pays for itself in spared time, money and frustrations should things not go as planned. Where horses are concerned, of course, things often don’t go as planned.

Lisa opened Legal Equestrian in Orange County’s Irvine two years ago, after over 10 years of practicing criminal, contract and family law. She has always been a horse person and her return to horse ownership a few years ago had the serendipitous effect of inspiring her current professional focus. As fellow boarders learned of her legal background, Lisa began getting questions regarding various aspects of horse ownership. “I saw a gaping hole in the market for somebody who focuses on those issues.” In the process of helping people gratis, Lisa looked hard at what was out there already. “People were doing things that really make you cringe as an attorney,” she comments.

“Parties often find themselves embroiled in litigation that is expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable simply because they entered into a transaction without a written agreement or they used a standard form agreement that allowed for ambiguity and confusion,” Lisa adds.
A horse sale might seem pretty simple, but there are several points that should be clarified, beginning with who the parties involved are. “It might be a corporation or some other entity and if it turns out you need to sue later, you are better served having the parties referenced correctly,” Lisa explains. Sale price, payment terms, trial periods and who is responsible for what during such periods are important points to put in writing. Horse leases are another transaction that greatly benefit from a good contract.

Unfortunately, calls about the legal status of abandoned horses have swamped Lisa’s office in these tough economic times. California state laws define what constitutes an abandoned horse, Lisa stresses. In most cases, a stable owner faced with a horse that meets that legal definition may be entitled to sell the horse in order to recoup owed funds. Those who take in boarded horses should have clear contracts detailing what constitutes abandonment and stipulating the stable owner’s rights in such a case. Lisa advises her clients to post such messages on their property.

Horse owners are often reluctant to request a contract for fear of offending their trainer or whoever is acting on their behalf. However, a good contract, Lisa points out, is one that provides clarity and protection for everybody involved. “I know it is difficult for some people to get past the trust issue, but if you approach a contract as the best way for everyone involved to understand the terms, then it usually works out fine.”

Through articles on her website and in the Southern California Equestrian Directory, Lisa has been emphasizing education as her main marketing tool. When things do go sour in a horse-related activity, Lisa turns to the tools she developed as a family law specialist. “Emotions run high with horse people, and I find my family law background comes in very handy there.”

Lisa is a mother herself, with a son and daughter who inherited her passion for horses. They spend many hours at the barn together, along with Lisa’s father. While there, Lisa thanks her horses for both the pleasure of their company and their role in inspiring her to pursue a rewarding career path. “Providing this service for people in the horse world has given me back a real love of what I’m doing.”

For more information on Legal Equestrian, PLC, visit www.legalequestrian.com or call Lisa L. Lerch, Esq., at 949-264-1464.