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.
 

 

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.

Overview of Texas Stock Breeder's Lien

Who has a stock breeder’s lien, and to which animal(s) does the lien apply? An owner or keeper of a stallion, jack, bull, or boar confined to be bred for profit has a preference lien on the offspring of the animal for the amount of the charges for the breeding services, unless the owner or keeper misrepresents the animal by false pedigree. In the case of a stallion, the lien would be on the foal resulting from the breeding, but would not extend to the mare that was serviced by the stallion.

How long does the stock breeder’s lien last? The stock breeder’s lien remains in force for 10 months from the day that the foal is born, but the lien may not be enforced until five months after the date of birth of the foal. The lien exists during these time parameters, regardless of whether the mare or foal is still in the possession of the stallion owner.

How is the stock breeder’s lien enforced? Your foreclosure has to comply with Sections 54.044 and 54.045 of the Texas Property Code. The stallion owner would seize the foal produced by the stallion, usually with the assistance of the sheriff’s department. Before selling the foal at public auction, the stallion owner must first send the mare owner a written notice complying with Section 54.045 of the Texas Property Code.

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

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).