If you rent your home and fall behind in your monthly payments, you know that your landlord will eventually start legal proceedings to evict you. If you board your horse and fall behind in your monthly payments, the barn owner will do the same thing. While the procedure varies according to state law, the barn owner generally files a stablemen's lien, also known as an agister's lien.
Laws vary on how many board payments must be missed before the barn owner can file a lien, and the types of legal notices involved in the sale of the horse. Because that's what horse eviction generally entails -- the sale of the horse so that the barn owner may recoup some or all of her unpaid board.
In many states, the barn owner must sell the horse at a public auction to fulfill the requirements of the stablemen's lien. The auction may be held at the farm when notice is given according to state law, or the barn owner may send the animal off to a local public auction. If it's the latter case, there's always a good chance that a horse could end up purchased by a killbuyer for the slaughter market, especially if the animal is old, unsound or untrained. In other states, a court officer conducts the sale.
What To Do -- Horse Owner
Horses are expensive, and financial problems happen. If you know you can't pay your board, talk to the stable owner. If you're keeping your horse at a high-end barn and could still afford to keep him at a considerably less expensive place, see if you can move him and work out a payment plan for your debt. If your horse remains at the barn and you can't pay, the barn owner must still provide food and care, which costs her money.
Perhaps there are other options. If your barn has a lesson program and your horse is suitable, ask the owner if she can use him as a school horse for board reduction or free board. Perhaps you can put the horse up for sale and pay your back board from the proceeds. But if your horse has little value, those last two options aren't feasible.
What To Do -- Barn Owner
If board isn't paid by the due date, contact the boarder. If the money isn't paid promptly, ask the boarder to leave. Don't let the non-payment drag on -- horses eat every day. Often, it's best just to get rid of the boarder promptly and write off the debt rather than going through the trouble of obtaining a stablemen's lien.
Still, if you do obtain such a lien, you must follow the law. That means you can't arrange for a private sale of the animal if the law states it must be sold at auction -- although such sales are permitted in some jurisdictions. It can take two to three months or more for the stablemen's lien process to go through so that the horse can be sold at auction or privately, and all that time you must continue feeding and caring for the animal.
Arrange to be there when the boarder leaves if the he agrees to remove the horse. Have a written statement prepared with all monies owed outlined, and have the boarder agree to the amount and sign it. This gives you leverage to take the case to small claims court, where you don't need to have an attorney. If the court rules in your favor, you can put a lien on the former boarder's home or have his paycheck garnished.
Sometimes, the stable owner can't tell the boarder to get the horse off the premises, because the boarder is nowhere to be found and the horse is essentially abandoned. If that's the case, you have little choice but to file a stablemen's lien. If you want to keep the horse, you can't just decide you are the owner but must go through the proper channels to obtain legal ownership. Your best bet is consulting an attorney specializing in equine law.