What Stables and Owners Should Know About Resolving Past-Due Board Disputes

By: Julie I. Fershtman, Attorney at Law

If you’re a horse boarding stable, it’s a matter of time until you encounter a customer who falls behind on board payments. Here are some ideas for owners and stables.

Boarder Options
If you have fallen behind on your board payments, it may be time to take a serious look at whether you truly can afford horse ownership. Regardless of how you try to budget expenses, horse ownership brings unplanned expenses such as a sudden injury requiring emergency veterinary care. For those who believe they can still afford to own horses, here are a few ideas:

  • Try to negotiate a payment schedule with the stable. Maybe the stable owner will give you extra time to pay off the past-due balance. When a stable allows these arrangements, particularly if the stable agrees to waive interest and late payment fees that the boarding contract might allow, all parties benefit from a written agreement. Caution: Boarders should insist on proof of every payment they make, such as cancelled checks or receipts.
  • Show good faith. Boarders who make no payments are almost certain to prompt the stable to seek drastic legal action. Boarders who try to make a stream of payments, by comparison, might encourage the stable owner to be patient.
  • Working off the debt. Some boarders arrange to work off some or all of their board fees by doing barn chores, such as cleaning stalls. Caution: Stables should consider very carefully whether these arrangements generate extra liability risks. Consult first with an attorney and insurer to determine whether you are properly protected.
  • Use the horse in lessons. Other stables, with the boarder’s consent, use the boarder’s horse in their riding lesson program to offset board fees. Caution: Everyone should make sure they are properly protected against possible liability risks.

Stable Options
When dealing with non-paying boarders, stables have several options. The more drastic options allowed by law include the following:

  • Sue the boarder. The stable can sue the boarder to collect unpaid boarding fees. Depending on the terms of the boarding contract and the applicable state law, the stable might also be entitled to recover interest, attorney fees, and court costs. If the stable wins a judgment, the law might allow it to enforce the judgment by eventually selling off the boarded horse. Since judgment creditor laws can be complicated, stables should consult with counsel.
  • Stablemen’s lien proceedings. As this blog has explained in previous posts here, and here, most states have laws designed to allow stables certain lien rights when boarders fall behind on payments. Caution: All of these laws differ. Before attempting to sell off a boarded horse, stables are cautioned to follow the applicable law to the letter.
  • Parting ways. Some stables would rather ask non-paying boarders to leave soon rather than allow the unpaid board debt to grow. Afterwards, stables can consider whether to sue to collect the unpaid balance. Caution: Stables that allow the horse to leave the property could lose their stablemen’s lien rights, depending on the state law.

Payment disputes can generate serious legal issues. Proceed carefully and seek knowledgeable counsel.

About the Author
Julie Fershtman, a lawyer for nearly 31 years, is one of the nation’s most experienced Equine Law practitioners. A Shareholder with Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC, based in Michigan, she has successfully handled equine cases in 17 jurisdictions nationwide and tried equine cases in 4 states. She has drafted thousands of equine industry contracts and is a Fellow of the American College of Equine Attorneys. Her speaking engagements span 29 states. For more information, visit www.equinelaw.net and www.equinelawblog.com.