During the winter, many people flock to Florida for the equestrian events, and equally as many come armed with the intent of striking a horse deal, either as buyer or seller. With so much horse trading going on year round and country-wide, it is important that both purchasers and sellers be aware of the legal guidelines involved.

Florida Statute 535.16, entitled “Sale and Purchase of Horses: Unfair or Deceptive Trade Practices,” gives the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the right to adopt rules related to the sales process.

Among other things, the Department requires that bills of sale be in writing, and that the bills of sale disclose the legal owner and buyer of the horse, relevant medical conditions, and any defects or surgeries that could affect the performance of the horse.

If the required information is not contained in the written bill of sale and the purchaser sustains damages (i.e. If a horse is determined to have a pre-existing injury which impacts its performance or soundness and that injury wasn’t disclosed at the time of purchase), such failure to disclose is considered an unfair and deceptive trade practice in the State of Florida.

Almost every state has adopted a statute to protect consumers from deceptive trade practices in the market place. Some states, like Kentucky, require written bills of sale and disclosure of dual agency in certain circumstances. California has also adopted a statute similar to Florida’s, which provides that bills of sale for horses have to be in writing with disclosure of dual agency. California’s statute goes further and provides for treble damages and attorney’s fees in certain circumstances.

Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has also established general requirements relating to the sale or purchase of horses. First off, if a person acting as an agent for a purchaser or owner receives compensation of more than $500 from anyone other than the agent’s principal, the payment must be disclosed in writing and the purchaser and owner must consent to it in writing. Additionally, any agent of the owner or seller must disclose any interest the agent might have in the horse. There are also requirements with regards to previous veterinary (or otherwise) interventions. The owner or its agent must disclose certain treatments to the horse, such as extracorporeal shockwave therapy or radio pulse-wave therapy, acupuncture, electro stimulation, or internal blisters, to name only a few. Plus, the disclosure of medical information by an owner or agent to the purchasers shall accurately disclose all information that is relevant to the sale.

Any violations of the Unfair or Deceptive Trade Act “UDTA” provides for attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. An injured purchaser also has claims that could be based on negligence or fraud, which under certain circumstances might entitle the purchaser to punitive damages.

Buyers Beware

Generally speaking, if you are buying a horse always request a written sales contract and a bill of sale with at least the minimum information required by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. You should also request a full disclosure by the owner of:

– the name of the owner of the horse;

– all commissions being paid in the transaction;

– a detailed medical history of the horse;

– any medical procedures that might have been conducted within seven days preceding the inspection of the horse.

Sellers Take Note

The first rule of protecting yourself as a seller is the same as the buyer’s: Always require a sales contract and a bill of sale that complies with the requirements of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. You should also provide for disclosure of the owner and any interest owned by any agent; provide for a full disclosure of all commissions being paid and the amount of consideration being paid to the owner for the sale of the horse and provide a list of all treatments and medications administered to the horse within seven days preceding the inspection of the horse.

Lastly, make sure that your sales agreement and bill of sale have been reviewed by your lawyer for any additional requirements in the state where the transaction occurs. Purchasers of a horse should use the same due diligence as they would use in purchasing a home or a business, while a seller should not look to rush the process by cutting corners.