Do Horse Trainers Have a Lien on Horses they Train for Unpaid Training Fees?

In most states, trainers do not have an express statutory lien for unpaid training fees and training-related expenses unrelated to the care of horses such as show entry fees and hauling.  This means, unless a trainer has a written security agreement signed by the owner providing a lien on the horses in the event of nonpayment of training fees, the law is unclear as to whether a trainer can hold or sell the owner's horse when training fees remain unpaid.  You need to check your state's statutes, however, as some states' stableman's liens do expressly provide a lien for training services. Oklahoma's stableman's lien statute, for example, expressly includes a lien for training services.  You can find your state's lien statutes on Equine Law and Horsemanship Safety.

What if My State Has a Stableman's or Agister's Lien Statute but No Trainer's Lien?  Currently, every state except Rhode Island has a stableman's or agister's lien statute.  These statutes provide those who care for, board, pasture, or stable the horses of another with a lien on the horse if charges related to the care of the horse are not paid.  Charges related to the "care" typically include the monhtly board rate, supplements, wormer, vaccinations, farrier, and veterinary services paid or advanced by the caregiver on behalf of the owner, and other services related to the care, health, and maintenance of the horses.  See Carney v. Wallen, 665 N.W.2d 439 (Iowa Ct. App. 2003)(holding that a trainer who provided only training and did not also provide board or other services related to the "care" of the horses could not obtain a stableman’s lien because training services do not pertain to actions or services performed in the course of acting as a stable keeper).

What if a Trainer Both Boards and Trains a Horse?  In most states, a trainer who both boards and trains a horse has a lien on the horse for unpaid charges related to the careSee Davis v. Sewell, 696 S.W.2d 247, 248 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1985, no writ)(holding that a person hired to both train and board horses had a lien arising from unpaid charges for the care).  While the law is unclear in most states, an argument might be asserted that if an owner is current on his board and all charges related to the care and maintenance of the horses, a trainer must allow an owner to pick up his horse and cannot sell the horse to satisfy the unpaid training fees unrelated to the care and maintenance of the horses.  If an owner is delinquent in both board and training, the trainer can hold the horse until fees for board and care are paid, and sell the horse to satisfy the board and care charges but not the training bill.  There are no cases in Texas to-date that currently address the issue of whether training fees are included in the Texas stable keeper's lien.

What if a Trainer Has Been Boarding and Training a Horse, but There is No Boarding Agreement?  Absent a contractual provision concerning remuneration, a stableman is entitled to the reasonable value of his services. O’Neal v. Knippa, 19 S.W. 1020 (Tex. 1892); Crenshaw v. Bishop, 143 S.W. 284 (Tex. Civ. App.—Fort Worth 1911). Thus, the amount of the lien in such circumstances would be the reasonable value of the boarding and care services in the area or county where they were provided.  This will also depend on whether the service provided was stall board, pasture board, full care, etc.

How to Enforce Texas Stable Keeper's Lien

Fortunately, unlike many states, Texas does not require lien holders to file suit or involve the courts in order to enforce the stable keeper's lien—provided the enforcement provisions in the statute are precisely followed.

If you are boarding someone else’s horse, the board bill is 60 days or more past due, and you still have possession of the horse, you have an enforceable stable keeper’s lien under Section 70.003 of the Texas Property Code and may sell the horse in a public sale to satisfy the debt.   In order to enforce a stable keeper’s lien, you must follow the following steps:

STEP 1

If the owner’s residence is not in Texas or not known, you do not need to send the notices set forth in Step 1 and Step 2 below. You may sell the horse at a public sale without notice to the owner—provided the board bill is at least 60 days’ past due and you have possession of the horse. Still, it is advisable that you keep some proof that you billed the customer and they did not remit payment before proceeding with the sale.

If the owner’s residence is in Texas and known, you start the lien enforcement process by sending a demand for payment by certified mail and regular mail to the owner’s last known address.  Form Demand Letter.

STEP 2

If the owner does not pay the amount owed before the 11th day after the date you sent the demand letter referenced above, send out a notice of sale by certified mail and regular mail to the owner’s last known address.  Form Notice of Sale.

STEP 3

Sell the horse at a public sale 20 or more days after you send the notice referenced in Step 2.   

Note: If you are fortunate enough to get more for the horse at auction than you are owed, you must pay the overage to the owner. If the owner has moved out of Texas or its residence is unknown, you must pay the overage to the county treasurer of the county in which you boarded the horse.

Remember—the stable keeper’s lien is a possessory lien. This means that if you give the horse back to the owner before the bill is paid, the stable keeper’s lien is, practically speaking, no longer enforceable. In that case, you will need to file suit against the debtor to collect the unpaid board. This is why it is essential to obtain a written board agreement from every customer that contains the date you started boarding the horse, sets forth your fee for board, and includes an agreement that your customer will pay out-of-pocket expenses for care such as worming, farrier, supplements, and vet work.

Overview of Texas Stable Keeper's Lien

Texas law provides liens for two specific types of services provided to horse owners: boarding services (the stable keeper's lien) and breeding services (the stock breeder’s lien).   This blog provides an overview of the stable keeper's lien.

How does a stable keeper's lien work? The Texas stable keeper's lien, also known as an “agister’s lien,” is a possessory lien that applies when one person takes care of horses or other livestock of another by providing board or pasture for the horse or other livestock. If you run a stable or keep other people’s horses on your land or land you are leasing, you may keep possession of the horse until your board bill is paid by the horse owner. If the nonpayment persists, you can have the horse sold to collect the amount owed.

How do I foreclose on a stable keeper's lien? Your foreclosure has to comply with Section 70.005 of the Texas Property Code. Under that section, you must: 1) have possession of the horse for 60 days after the date the charges accrue; 2) make a written request to the owner to pay the unpaid bill; and 3) if the charges are not paid on or before the 11th day after you made demand for payment, you may sell the horse at public auction after giving the horse owner 20 days’ written notice.

What if someone is interested in buying the horse? Can I sell it to them or does it have to be sold at an auction? Texas law provides that you must sell the horse at a public sale. This is to prevent boarding facilities from selling a horse worth a lot of money to a friend for much less than the horse is worth, just to satisfy the debt. To get around the public auction requirement, boarding facilities can draft clauses into their boarding agreements allowing them to sell to horse by private treaty. The boarding contract may also provide for interest and late fees for past-due board.

My boarder left a lot of tack at my barn and did not pay their board. Can I keep or sell the tack to satisfy the bill? No. The stable keeper's lien only covers the horse itself. Boarding facilities may not hold tack or other equipment as security for payment of past-due board. Again, a boarding facility may draft a clause into their boarding agreement allowing them to keep or sell tack or other equipment belonging to a boarder who does not pay their bill.

This entry only addresses the current law in Texas.  The University of Vermont's website, Equine Law and Horsemanship Safety, provides a list of agister's lien statutes in other states
(scroll to bottom to find your state).