Purchased Registered Horse is Unregistered -
Now What?

By Rachel Kosmal McCart

        Q:  Hello.  I bought an 8-year-old "registered" Paint horse in October 2006.  I paid $2,000.  Well, I have a contract with the lady I bought him from stating that when the final payment was made in November of 2006, I would receive his registration papers.  Well, final payment was made in November of 2006.  I still don't have his papers.  Yesterday, I called her and she told me she found out that the horse was not registered.  I am totally blown away by this.  What are my choices?  I now own a $2,000 "grade" horse.  I will NEVER be able to sell this horse for anywhere near what I paid for him.

           A:   First, I would like to pat you on the back for having a written purchase contract!  The fact that the contract specifically addresses the delivery of registration papers is very helpful, because it evidences the seller's obligation to do so (and also implies that the horse is in fact registered).  Without that written contract, if you had to pursue a legal claim, you'd be forced to prove that the seller represented the horse as being registered and had also promised to deliver the registration papers.

            I would recommend politely calling the seller and asking her for a partial refund that reflects the difference between what you paid and what the horse was actually worth at the time of purchase.  It sounds as though she was legitimately mistaken, and therefore she may be happy to rectify the situation.  However, if she refuses to work with you, here are your legal options. When you purchase a horse sold to you as registered, and the horse turns out not to be registered after all, the seller has breached the sale contract by making a material misrepresentation about the horse.  If the seller knew the horse was unregistered and intentionally misrepresented it, that may form the basis of a fraud claim in addition to breach of contract.  Note that this is true even if the parties had an oral contract, although of course in the case of an oral contract, the wronged party would have the burden of proving what the terms were (whereas a written contract alleviates this burden). 

            When a horse sale contract is breached, there are generally two possible remedies.  Money damages can serve to compensate you for the difference between what you paid for the horse, and what its fair market value was at the time of purchase.  Note that the horse's fair market value is measured as of the time of purchase.  Another possible remedy is rescission of the contract, which means that the parties are put back into the positions they would be in if the contract had never been executed.  So, in this case, if a court granted rescission, you would return the horse to the seller (in the same condition in which you purchased it), the seller would return your purchase price in full, and possibly, the seller would have to compensate you for your out-of-pocket expenses relating to the horse (such as farrier care, vet care, etc.).  However, because the amount of the purchase price is only $2,000, it would be cost-ineffective to pursue this matter in regular civil court (where you would have to hire legal counsel to represent you) and therefore your best option is likely small claims court.  In small claims court, you can represent yourself (eliminating the expense of legal counsel), but your remedies are generally limited to money damages. 

Additional Resources:
                  Description of the small claims process, its advantages and disadvantages, and tips for success with your case: 

                  More information about the legal landscape of horse sales: 

                 Legal Aspects of Equine Management - an online course offered by Horse Courses Online: 

                 Horse purchase and sale contracts: 

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