BY LISA LAZARUS
As much as you might want to be – you can’t be with your horse 100% of the time! Therefore, if you want to provide the best possible horse care, you need to have a team around you that you trust to look after your horses with the same level of love and attention as you do. Caring for horses certainly “takes a village” and whether you have one much-loved old pony in your own back yard or a number of thoroughbreds in a professional barn set-up, you are going to need external help from time to time. From trainers to grooms, farriers to vets, how do you decide who the right people for your team are? We can help you with some of the questions you should be asking – both of yourself and of your team.
Some of these questions are basic. Do you think they have enough practical experience for the task? Qualifications are important, but experience is invaluable. Watch closely when they interact with your horse. Are they handling your horse like you would? Ask for references, and then actually call them! Speak to as many people as possible who have worked with this person before to try and piece together the full picture. Does the person show good judgment skills? Do you trust them to make decisions without you watching over them? Ultimately, most people find that trust is intuitive: if you have a gut feeling that something is not right for your or your horse, you should listen to it.
Ask your team
Other questions you should be asking your team out loud: Do they understand the barn rules? If you participate in FEI competitions, do they understand the rules of your sport? Do they understand the Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Rules? Do they know the protocol for ordering medication? For administering injections? Do they know the importance of a medication logbook? When did they last check the FEI website for updates? Do they have the Clean Sport app? Don’t be afraid to ask them to sign a document confirming that they understand and are willing to comply with your expectations.
Once you have figured out who should be your team, think about how you can bring out the best in them. It is so important to provide your team with appropriate education and training. Training will keep their knowledge current (particularly on oft changing FEI rules and regulations) and can help them to make good decisions.
Why is this important?
It is obviously important that your horses get first class care. It is also important that you, as the employer of your team, do everything possible to minimise your legal risk. If a groom creates a dangerous situation at the barn and a litigant can show that you, as the employer, did not conduct proper background checks – liability may extend to you.
If your horse tests positive for an FEI Banned Substance, liability will automatically reside with the rider. You can only begin to mitigate this by showing that you did, in fact, have an appropriate framework in place for monitoring your support team. Examples of this point often arise before the FEI Tribunal. Mistakes do happen, and when riders are able to show that they took all efforts to have the best people around them, this carries a lot of weight.
By way of example, in 2018, two different riders were able to achieve reduced sanctions by proving the agreements they had in place with their care team. One of those riders was able to show the rigorous procedures she had put in place for her grooms around the purchase of medication. The other was able to attest to the fact that he instructed his vet to never provide any medication to his horse without prior approval. Setting parameters for your team is integral.
Horse care is a shared responsibility. Make sure that you are sharing your horse care with the right people!
Lisa Lazarus is former FEI General Counsel and Head of Equestrian Services at Morgan Sports Law which represents athletes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.