“Absolute Insurer” Liability
Extended Beyond Trainers
Effective December 1, 2015, USEF Rule 404, which holds trainers responsible for equine drug and medication violations, has been extended to apply to persons other than trainers. The new rule identifies two groups of persons who may be held accountable for drug and medication violations: Persons Responsible and Support Personnel.
“Persons Responsible” include the individual who rides, vaults or drives a horse or pony during a competition.
“Support Personnel” is defined to include, but is not limited to, grooms, handlers, longeurs and veterinarians, if those persons are present at the competition or have made a relevant decision about the horse or pony.
Traditionally, the United States Equestrian Federation has operated under the “Absolute Insurer” rule, holding the trainer ultimately responsible for any drug or medication violations. The theory underlying this approach is that the trainer is deemed to be the best individual to hold accountable for the condition of a horse because either the trainer or someone under his employ is likely to be with the horse at all times. The new rule seeks to impose liability on those persons who share responsibility for the care, custody and control of the horse.
In order to avoid liability, the person charged must show, through “substantial evidence,” that he or she was not responsible or accountable for the condition of the horse and/or pony. “Substantial evidence” means “affirmative evidence of a clear and definite nature.” From a legal standpoint, this probably means that, at a minimum, the person charged must show that it is more likely than not that he or she was not responsible for the condition of the equine.
Professional riders probably have the most to be concerned about. They often have very little involvement with the horse – perhaps meeting the horse at the show ring just prior to the competition – and yet they face, potentially, the same fines or suspension to which the trainer is subjected. Professional riders should give serious consideration to obtaining hold harmless agreements from all owners or trainers who hire them.
View a copy Revised Rule 404, with the new language in red.