Amy Bower Doucette writes about the equestrian communities for Neighborhood Post. Send mail to 2751 S. Dixie High
Buying a horse or starting an equestrian business is often an emotional experience. The anticipation and excitement surrounding such a big event can cloud even the most levelheaded person’s judgment.
Equestrian lawyer Barbara Richardson of the law firm Shutts and Bowen wants horse people to pause and think before conducting equine business. That pause can make a big difference when things don’t work out the way they are supposed to.
“We often see people after they get into trouble instead of seeing them to draft something to keep them out of trouble,” Richardson said. “People think, ‘It’s just a horse,’ or, ‘It’s just a barn. Why do I need a lawyer?’ Sometimes the parties’ expectations are different and they don’t realize it until they get into a dispute.”
Richardson began riding 10 years ago with her son, Justin. She started in Western and moved on to dressage with her International Sporthorse, Paddington. She has practiced law for more than 20 years and specialized in equine law for the past five. Being a horsewoman gives her an insider’s view of how the industry works.
“Since I’m an equestrian,” she said, “I can point out different things that another lawyer may not think of. You have to think of groom’s quarters, tack rooms, who is going to fix fences and jumps, farriers and risks of loss. I like helping people plan and put their vision into writing.
“Right now, I have a client who is leasing her barn. She needs leasing and training contracts, a lease for the barn itself and liability releases. I’m taking her through the business and helping her with each relationship, whether it’s between her and her boarders, or her and the trainers, or her and the people who come onto the property.”
It isn’t just equestrian businesses that need to know the ins and outs of the law. Even the calmest of horses can spook, and that unpredictability is a big reason for liability releases, even at a backyard barn.
“We have a horse-bite case right now,” Richardson said. “Someone is suing for an extreme amount of money because a little girl was running through the barn and a horse bit her. If they’d had a release, it might have protected them.”
When she isn’t at work in West Palm Beach or at home in Wellington, Richardson is with Paddington at Mesa Farms in Loxahatchee.
“I come in the morning before work,” she said. “It’s me and the dogs and the fresh air. I love the partnership with my horse. It’s something that gets my mind off everything else. It’s total therapy.”
Richardson has immersed herself in the horse life. It seemed natural to join her love for horses with her law career.
“I love it,” she said. “I get to talk to people who are buying horses. I get to go with them to see a horse. I can recommend trainers. It’s a passion of mine. It’s a lot of fun to combine my work with my passion.”