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LIABILITY OF RIDING INSTRUCTORS

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Could you give me a source to explain liabilities when conducting horseback riding classes on my property? I have been certified by NAHRA. Does this help me to avoid liability difficulties.

Adelle Canon
City, CO

Adelle,

Your liability as a riding instructor can be summed up easily by saying you are totally responsible for the care, custody and control of any students and their associates (family or friends) from the time they step foot on your property until the time they leave. There are many ways you can limit your liability, for instance by having facilities that separate your clients from horse areas, having separate and confined areas for spectators, making sure releases are signed and warning signs and safety rules are posted, assessing your student's riding skills and mounting them properly, doing thorough safety checks and providing direct supervision at all times (to name just a few). The four most common areas of equine related lawsuits today, according to attorney Julie Fershtman, are: 1) equipment failure 2) rider mounted on unsuitable horse 3) improper supervision 4) vicious horse I would recommend a book by attorney Julie Fershtman called "More Equine Law." It is a very informative book written in plain English and covers many aspects of the horse business. Also, CHA publishes a booklet called "Standards for Group Riding Programs," which lists about 60 safety standards concerning your facility, the program you operate and the management of both (record keeping, policies, procedures, etc.). It is available for only $10 by calling CHA at (800)399-0138. CHA also sells Fershtman's books (I think it is $23). Being certified does not reduce your liability, because if you are offering riding lessons, you have a responsibility to offer a certain level of care to your students and therefore are liable for whatever happens to them. The best way to reduce your liability exposure is through knowledge, awareness and good management. The books above will help you establish a good risk management program. Being certified may help you to defend a lawsuit, if that were to occur, to prove that you had a certain skill level. If your certification is through NARHA and you are teaching able-bodied students, certification may not be so helpful. You may want to look into another certification for standard arena instruction. I would recommend CHA certification; it is the oldest and largest certifying body and offers a "hands-on" clinic. For more information on that, see www.CHA-ahse.org. One caveat about certification: if you are certified and do something (or fail to do something) that is specifically against the standards or policies of the certifying body, you are even more liable. The reason why is, by having the certification it is proof that you knew about (or should have known about) the particular standard of care, so you couldn't plead ignorance (not that ignorance is a valid defense). Good luck to you. One thing I can tell you is that simply by asking these questions and showing some concern in this area, you will already be offering a safer program, reducing your liability exposure.