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Loan horses - ownership disputes

Last night, the 'owner' of our loan pony came and took her away from us. He said because his ex-girl had threatened to take the pony. We have another horse on loan from the same couple.

I think he paid for the initial buying of the horse, but that was it...he then gave it as a gift to her.  So whose horse is it???  Our family have paid full time for both horses over the past 2 years.

Do we still have a right over the horses as we've been the only ones to take care of them??

I have no legal base whatsoever from which to reply, so this is just my personal opinion.  I take it you did not have a formal written loan agreement?  But there appears to be no dispute that the horses were on loan, not given to you.... that being the case, I suspect that you have no rights whatsoever, unfortunately.  As for who actually owns the horses, if the boy had gifted the horse to the girl, and she had then paid for its keep, then I think she could argue that it was legally hers... did she do this before you had the horse on loan?  Or has it been in your care all the time?  If she has not paid for its keep, then I suspect that the boy could argue that the horse is his property.  Either way, as an outsider I would say that the sensible thing to do would be to walk away from this situation, and let them sort it out.  I know it's not as simple as that for you, because you are obviously attached to your horses, but it is the wisest course of action.... and there are plenty of lush horses out there for loan, who don't come with custody suits!

This is a short practical reply from a legal perspective:

1. The horses are not owned by you. There is no written agreement of loan - the terms of a verbal one are hard to prove.  If he came and removed them I doubt the police would do anything. If you went to court he would probably lie about any verbal agreement and it would be very expensive.

2. re the agreement with your dad - he can't agree for his ex - she will have to sign it too (unlikely)

3. Who actually owns the horse between the two of them will be a question of evidence if it went to court.  They will both lie to meet their own ends so no way of telling who would win and get the horses.

4 The good news - unless the horses are very cheap and it could go to the small claims court -or they are unemployed and eligible for legal aid, they will need lawyers which are VERY expensive.  They are more likely to scream and shout then fix it between themselves.

Once it has been decided who owns what, you will either get to keep them on loan or if they decide to sell - you may be able to make them a cheap offer which they may accept to make the whole thing go away.

Conclusion - Unlikely it will go to court (expensive),  unlikely he will take them (as he will have to pay livery ) - more likely things will calm down and a long term solution will be reached in the next few weeks.

There are two essential elements to the analysis of this situation: the strict legal rights and wrongs; and the practical reality of what can and cannot, should or should not, be done about it.

On the strict legal position, we are dealing with a horse, which is treated by the law as a chattel - a mere item of moveable property. There is an ownership dispute between the man who loaned her to you and a third party to the loan relationship. That dispute is not your dispute, but it can affect your position, because it may turn out that the man who loaned the horse to you is not the true owner of the horse.

If the man who loaned the horse to you is NOT the true owner of the horse, then the true owner is entitled to take the horse back from you, irrespective of the terms of your loan agreement. It is as if I were to offer to lend you my brother's car. Even if I had given you the keys, and you had driven it home and parked it on your drive, the law would still be on my brother's side if he came and took the car back.

If, on the other hand, the man who loaned the horse to you IS the horse's true owner, then whether or not he is entitled to come and just take it away depends upon the terms of the agreement you have with him. If there is an term requiring him to give you a certain amount of notice, then he if he comes and takes the horse back without giving you notice he is technically in breach of contract, and liable to compensate you for any loss which you suffer as a result. If there is no term specifying a notice period, then the loan agreement will be terminable at will by either party, and he is perfectly within his rights simply to turn up and say "the loan is now at an end, please return my horse" (just as you would be entitled to turn up at his house and say to him "the loan is now at an end: here is your horse".

If there were to be litigation (i.e. court action) over this horse, then it would probably be assigned to the Small Claims Track in the County Court. This is used for claims with a value of less than 5,000 and no legal costs are awarded. If the horse is worth more than 5,000 (which very few loan horses are) then it will probably be assigned instead to the Fast Track, in which only limited costs are recoverable. You therefore do not want to be caught up in any sort of litigation if you can possibly help it, because it is not your dispute, but you would probably end up incurring costs which you could not recover. There is also the possibility that one or other of the parties disputing ownership of the horse, rather than going to the civil courts, would attempt to involve the police by alleging that either you or the other possible owner had stolen the horse from them. This really is not something that you want to be involved with, either.

For the time being, therefore, I think that your best option (hard though it may be) is to sit back and let them carry on their dispute about the ownership of the horse without you. It really is not something that you should want to get caught up in.

If, at the end of the day, the man claims "victory" and agrees to leave the horse with you on loan under a written loan agreement, you should ensure that the written agreement includes a warranty of title from him - i.e. a written statement that he is the true owner of the horse - and a covenant by him to indemnify you against any costs incurred should any claim be made against you by the other woman in respect of the horse in which she alleges that she is the true owner. This will not be a perfect guarantee, since it is ultimately worthless if the owner is penniless and so unable to pay. But it is very much better than having no sort of comeback at all if it turns out that he is not the true owner after all.
thanks for your help guys.

My dad has written up an agreement (which was our mistake in the first place)
so hopefully it will never happen again.  We are also looking to get the legal ownership transferred to us.

In order to avoid any possibility of dispute in the future, you need to observe two points when arranging for transfer of legal ownership:

1. Make sure that BOTH the possible owners sign a document transferring to you "all such rights of ownership as I may have" in the horse (this can either be a single document which they both sign, or two separate documents which are each signed by one of them), and

2. to be legally effective, there must EITHER be some CONSIDERATION (fancy legal word meaning price: but "consideration" is actually a slightly wider term than "price", because a consideration does not have to be in money) passing from you to them, or else the documents must be in the form of a deed and properly executed as such. It is probably easier to have a definite consideration (i.e price) as this is much more difficult to get wrong. In the case of the one who seems less likely to have any rights of ownership, it can be merely nominal (traditionally, a single peppercorn is given as nominal consideration. Alternatively, use one pound). And include in a the document a statement that the owner (or possible owner) of the horse acknowledges receipt of the consideration.

NB one trap to avoid: it does not work to say that the consideration for the transfer of ownership is the expense you have incurred in the past looking after the horse, because of the legal doctrine that "past consideration is no consideration".


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