California Riding Magazine • April, 2009

Legally Speaking
Handling the client who stops paying board, training fees or abandons their horse.

by Polly Hey Panos, Equine Attorney and Horse Owner

Each week we receive multiple phone calls asking for advice on what to do when a client stops paying board, training or, worse, abandons their horse. This column briefly addresses the livestock service lien in California and other alternative options to deal with the non-paying boarder or abandoned horse.

California Livestock Service Lien

California Civil Code § 3080 et seq. provides for a livestock service lien. This is a special type of possessory lien that gives a stable owner a lien on the horse whose owner has stopped paying the bills. This lien secures the owner’s contractual obligations to the stable for the board that has been provided, and allows the stable to retain possession of the horse until the outstanding board fees are paid.

However, in many situations the livestock service lien is not the best way for a stable to obtain payment of past due board because of the expenses involved.

Foreclosing on a livestock service lien in California is very expensive. First, a civil lawsuit must be filed. To bring a civil lawsuit the stable has to hire an attorney and engage in what is often an expensive drawn-out legal proceeding. Following completion of the lawsuit, the court can issue a judgment authorizing the sale of the horse. However, during the foreclosure process, the stable has to continue to board and pay all of the expenses on the horse. Additionally a judicial order authorizing the sale of the horse is only valuable if the horse has value itself. In today’s market, with declining horse prices, the sale of the horse may not even cover the board due and expenses the stable undertook to foreclose on the lien.

A Better Alternative

We often find ourselves counseling clients to allow the non-paying boarder to remove the horse from the property and then file a small claims suit to collect the money owed. The benefit of this approach is that a stable owner can often do most, if not all, of the legal work himself, substantially reducing any expenses that have to be paid to an attorney or outside party. The small claims system in California is very straight-forward and allows a person to bring a claim of up to $7,500.
Additionally, a proper boarding agreement with eviction provisions for non-payment of board allows a stable operator to avail himself of this remedy even if the boarder does not want to leave the property. In general, stable operators are often happier in the long run with this approach than they are with foreclosing on the livestock service lien.

An Abandoned Horse

If someone has stopped paying board and the stable cannot reach them, then they may want to consider if the horse has been abandoned. Before making this determination, we recommend the stable contact the owner via registered mail and first class mail. If both letters are returned and the stable has no other way of contacting the owner, then they may want to establish if the horse is abandoned. After making this determination a stable owner can contact their animal control county office. Often animal control does not want to take horses because the expenses associated with keeping a horse are high. Usually the stable owner has to be forceful with animal control to get them to take the horse.

Another option is to contact a horse rescue agency. Horse rescue agencies vary in their policies and sometimes have waiting lists, but are often willing to take abandoned horses.

If you are faced with an abandoned horse, or an owner that will not pay the bills and you have further questions, Polly Hey Panos can be reached at 650-216-6012 or polly@blueribbonlaw.com.