Protecting Your Horse During a Dispute

Texas law provides liens for two specific types of services provided to horse owners: 1) the stable keeper’s lien, (Tex. Prop. Code §70.003) which secures payment for charges related to the care of horses; and 2) the stock breeder’s lien, which secures payment for breeding services. The stable keeper’s lien also applies to an animal fed in confinement for slaughter, and thus can also be asserted by feedlot operators. See Tex. Prop. Code §70.005(c).

Unlike many other states, Texas does not provide veterinarians or farriers with a lien on a horse to secure payment for professional services rendered. However, the stableman’s lien in Texas does provide a farrier or vet who had a horse in his or her care a lien on the animal for costs of boarding the animal.

Two things to be considered are that 1) a service provider may attempt to hold your horses for nonpayment, even though no statutory lien exists. This may result in the necessity to get a writ of sequestration to regain possession; and 2) horse owners need to be aware of the lien laws in other states when shipping their horses across state lines in the possession of a service provider.
When a service provider refuses to turn over the horses until the full amount of the bill is paid, the local sheriff’s department and the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers will rarely assist the horse owner in regaining possession of his horses due to the civil nature of the dispute. Without the aid of law enforcement, a horse owner may decide to pursue a lawsuit for conversion asking for the return of the animals that includes an application for a writ of sequestration to regain possession of the horses and to seek damages.

A writ of sequestration will enable the owner to regain possession of the horses within a short time, without a trial on the merits, and maintain possession until the lawsuit is disposed.

In the context of horses, a writ of sequestration is available to a plaintiff in a suit if the suit is for possession of horses or for foreclosure or enforcement of a lien or security interest in horses, and a reasonable conclusion may be drawn that there is immediate danger that the party in possession of the livestock will conceal, dispose of, ill-treat, waste, or destroy the livestock or remove it from the county during suit. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §62.001 (Vernon 1997). The defendant’s use of the livestock while the suit is pending is not enough for a writ to be granted. The plaintiff must fear that the livestock will be sold, mistreated, killed, or concealed. Mere depreciation in the value of the livestock during the pendency of the suit probably will not constitute injury that would warrant the issuance of a writ of sequestration. Commercial Acceptance Trust v. Parmer, 241 S.W.586 (Tex.Civ.App.—Fort Worth 1922, writ ref.)(involving depreciation of motor vehicle).

“Sequestration” is not a cause of action, but rather, a remedy available after suit has been filed, but before a judgment has been obtained. Its purpose is to prevent the destruction or disposal of property until the court can reach a final judgment.

To avoid these situations, horse owners and service providers should put all terms of the service agreement in writing. The contract needs to specify what the service provider has been hired to do with the horses, where they will keep the horses, and the expected payment for the care and services provided. Horse owners should ask all service providers to send a detailed bill at least once per month and be sure to pay bills timely.

Owners should not entrust their horses to anyone in whom they do not have full faith and confidence, and should keep in close contact with the person or company in possession of the horses. Similarly, a service provider needs to check references to make sure they are not accepting a client who will not end up paying for the services.
 

 

Does a Bank's Prior-Filed Security Interest Have Priority Over a Stableman's Lien?

No.  In states that have adopted the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), courts will probably hold that the possessory stableman's lien is superior, even if the bank's UCC Financing Statement was filed before the stableman took possession.

When Does the Conflicting Lien Situation Arise?  If someone borrows money to buy a horse or horses, the bank will often require the borrower to sign a security agreement pledging the horse(s) as collateral on the note.  When the borrower stops making payments on the loan, the bank normally will repossess the horses and sell them to foreclose on the note.  In some instances, when a borrower stops paying the bank, they also stop paying the boarding facility that is taking care of their horses.  The nonpayment of board gives the boarding facility a statutory stableman's lien on the horse(s) as long as the boarding facility maintains possession.  Let's assume the bank's lien was first in time--i.e. the bank lent the purchase money to the owner and filed a UCC Financing Statement before the boarding facility took possession of the horses. The question becomes, who is entitled to the first lien on the horses...the bank or the stableman?  Also, is the bank entitled to come onto the boarding facility's property and repossess the horses?

Under Section 9.333 of the UCC, the Possessory Lien Has Priority.  Section 9.333 and its Official Comment under the Texas version of the UCC states that "the possessory lien has priority over a security interest unless the possessory lien is created by a statute that expressly provides otherwise...the possessory lien takes priority, even if the statute has been construed judicially to make the possessory lien subordinate."  This means the bank's lien, even if prior filed, is subordinate to the stableman's lien.

WARNING--Courts May Follow Old Cases.  Even though the UCC is clear on this, a trial court in one of my cases found that the stableman's lien was subordinate to a bank's security interest.  The court cited Blackford v. Ryan, 61 S.W. 161 (Tex. Civ. App. 1901)(holding that a bank's pre-existing security interest is superior to an agister's lien when a horse was placed in a stable without the bank's knowledge).  This case, as well as several other pre-1930 Texas cases with similar holdings, interpreted the common law agister's lien and not the statutory lien under Section 70.003 of the then non-existent Property Code.  These cases were also decided before Texas adopted the UCC.  But the cases are still presented in Texas Jurisprudence and other legal treatises as being current law.  There are many cases that have found the possessory lien to be superior when it comes to garagemen keeping automobiles under Section 70.003, but no Texas cases involving stablemen.  Despite the current lack of appellate review on the issue, I think most courts will defer to the UCC and the car cases and hold that the stableman's lien is superior.

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.

What Happens if Lien Foreclosure Sale Proceeds Not Enough?

In many cases, the proceeds from a stock breeder's or stable keeper's lien foreclosure sale will not be enough to satisfy your debt.  In those cases, you may sue the owner for the deficiency, if any.

The law suit may not be worth it, however, as you could end up spending more on legal fees than you are owed. For these reasons, I recommend that everyone who takes a horse to be boarded or bred obtain a written contract providing an agreement for the customer to pay for your services as well as the services of third parties for their horse's care while in your possession. 

Ideally, the agreement would include either 1) credit card information from the customer and an agreement that it will be charged for your services; or 2) the customer’s agreement that you may sell their horse at a public or private sale without notice to them if their account is in arrears more than 30 days.

This is especially important for farriers and veterinarians, as Texas law does not provide them any statutory lien to secure payment for their services.

What is a "Public Sale" as Referenced in Texas Lien Statutes?

The law is vague as to what, specifically, constitutes a “public sale” as referenced in the stock breeder’s and stable keeper’s lien statutes. This clearly would not include a sale by private treaty to a third party without the possibility of others bidding on the horse. If you are foreclosing on either the stock breeder’s or stable keeper’s lien, the safest thing to do is to put the horse, upon proper notice to the debtor, in a horse or livestock auction that is being held in your area. You could also hold your own auction, provided that you provide sufficient public notice (i.e. put information about your sale in the “notices” section of the local newspaper or on the designated area of the courthouse steps in your county) so that the public may show up to bid on the horse.

How to Enforce Texas Stock Breeder's Lien

Fortunately, unlike many states, Texas does not require holders of stock breeder's liens to file suit or involve the courts in order to enforce their liens—provided the enforcement provisions in the statute are precisely followed.

If you own or stand a stallion and a mare owner does not pay for the breeding services, you have a stock breeder’s lien on the resulting foal (but not the mare) under Section 70.201 of the Texas Property Code. You may sell the foal in a public sale and apply the proceeds to the unpaid stallion fee and related service charges. Your lien remains in force for 10 months after the date the foal is born, but importantly, it cannot be enforced until 5 months after the date the foal is born.

Note: If you are in possession of the mare that was bred and the owner has not paid for board on the mare, you may also have a stable keeper’s lien on the mare and may enforce it as set forth in my previous blog entry, How to Enforce Texas Stable Keeper's Lien.

STEP 1

As soon as it becomes apparent that the mare owner is not going to pay for the breeding services, it is advisable (but not required) that you file a UCC Financing Statement putting the world on notice that you have a lien on the resulting foal (whether born or unborn at the time the debt accrues) for unpaid stallion service. The Financing Statement is best filed in both the county where you stand the stallion as well as with the Texas Secretary of State. Be sure to provide sufficient information in the Financing Statement to identify the foal (registered names and registration numbers of your stallion and the mare; date and place of stallion service, etc.) Instructions on filing the Financing Statement can be found at the Texas Secretary of State's website.

STEP 2

When the foal turns 5 months of age, send a notice of sale to the debtor.  For a form of the notice of sale, click here.

STEP 3

Sell the foal at a public sale 30 days or more after you send the notice of sale referenced in Step 2.

Note: If you are not in possession of the foal when it becomes 5 months of age, you may need to take your notice of sale and UCC Financing Statement to the sheriff’s office of the county where the foal is located and have them help you seize the foal so it can be sold.

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.

Liens for Veterinarians and Farriers in Texas

Unlike many other states, Texas does not provide veterinarians or farriers with a lien on a horse to secure payment for professional services rendered. The stableman’s lien in Texas does provide a farrier or vet who had a horse in his or her care a lien on the animal for costs of boarding the animal. Also, both vets and farriers can obtain contracts with their customers providing for a contractual lien on the animal to secure payment for work done.

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).