Horse vetting today is not the ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ process that it used to be, which begs the question whether they are worth the hassle. There are many factors which come into making the decision as to whether a vetting is appropriate under the circumstances. For example, some insurance providers will require vetting if the payable purchase price exceeds a certain threshold, or it may be that you simply want to avoid surprise veterinary fees.
SHOULD I GET A VETTING?
The law protects a purchaser in different ways depending on whether you are a private individual or a trader.
Private individual buying from a business
If you are buying a horse from a business or trader, you have a statutory right under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA 2015) that the “goods” you purchase are fit for purpose (horses for this purpose are property and therefore treated as goods), and further, that they are fit for any particular purpose that you have made the seller aware of before purchase. Say, for example, you are looking for a 3* event horse and that requirement is made known to the seller, the horse being sold should be fit for that specific requirement. If a horse turns out not to be fit for purpose, as a consumer you may have: (1) the right to reject the horse; (2) a right to a refund; and (3) a right to a price reduction.
It is therefore not surprising that these days vettings are not a simple pass or fail. You may want to view a vetting as an assessment of the horse’s suitability for any particular purpose you have made known to the seller. This concept is even reflected in the way vetting reports are drafted, giving the vet’s opinion on balance as to whether any conditions identified might prejudice the horse’s suitability for the intended use.
Purchases from a private individual
Unfortunately, the rights provided by the CRA 2015 do not apply when purchasing a horse from a private individual. The principle of ‘buyer beware’ applies to purchases from private individuals, which can be a deciding factor in taking the plunge and paying for a vetting. Strictly speaking, a private seller does not necessarily have an obligation to tell you about issues with a horse that they are aware of (let alone those even they do not know about!). If a horse purchased from a private seller turns out not to be what you expected, but you failed to make the appropriate checks yourself, you may not have any recourse. However, you may be able to make a claim for misrepresentation if a seller misled you.
Business to business purchases
In a similar way to the protection offered to consumers by the CRA 2015, a trader purchasing a horse from another trader may be protected by the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (SGA 1979), which can imply a term into a contract that the “goods” be fit for purpose, or again, a particular purpose that is made known to the seller. The difference between the application of this act and the CRA 2015 above is that traders could agree to exclude the effect of the SGA 1979 from their contract. In that case, the buyer may want to verify for themselves that the horse they are seeking to buy will suit their needs, as the seller may not be liable for ensuring the horse is fit for their intended purpose. This is a good reason to pay attention to the terms of any sale and purchase agreement you might be looking to sign.
Overall, it seems sensible to make your intended purpose for a horse clear to any seller you are engaging with, and to conduct a risk analysis exercise to decide whether vetting is worth it for you. If you do undertake a vetting, it would also be beneficial for both buyer and seller to set out the terms of what happens when a vetting takes place under a separate sale and purchase agreement (see our article on this here).
Our team of equine specialists can help you with any queries you might have with regards to purchasing a horse, such as drafting or reviewing sale and purchase agreements, or with any disputes that have arisen as a result of a “failed vetting” or horse purchase.
This is only intended to be a summary and not specific legal advice. If you would like further information or advice, please do contact a member of our team.