A Lot Riding on a Bill to Limit Liability For Connecticut Horse Owners

Apr 8, 2014

Are all horses naturally vicious? The State Supreme Court didn't answer that question in its recent ruling about a horse named Scuppy who bit a toddler in 2006.

Given the recent court rulings, businesses worry they'll become uninsurable or see their policies go up.

However, a majority of justices agreed that all horses are inclined to bite. This presumption has upset horse owners and equine business owners in Connecticut, who say a lot is now riding on legislation that would reduce their liability to personal injury lawsuits.

Daryl DeCarli said she was like many little girls who fall in love with horses. She talked her parents into riding lessons. After college, she bought her first horse. Now, she takes care of them year-round.

"We've got about 35 horses here," DeCarli said, "so we are a boarding and a lesson stable." Outside, she shows me a beautiful chestnut brown thoroughbred named Mack. 

Mack, a 12-year-old thoroughbred.
Credit Lucy Nalpathanchil / WNPR

Mack stops chewing his hay long enough to inspect my fuzzy microphone before continuing to munch. DeCarli said every horse is different, but she disagrees with the idea that all horses will bite.

"I've got 35 of them here," DeCarli said, "and I wouldn't say one of them is vicious. I've got a couple that are little bit spooky, and will tend to run away, but I don't have any that would come at you."

Boarding horses and providing space for riding lessons is costly for the DeCarli farm.

Ronald Hocutt, who sells equine insurance and is a member of the Connecticut Horse Council, said, "For a business such as Daryl's, that's thousands and thousands of dollars. It increases with the more activity they do. The insurance costs keep pace with that. The more lessons she does, the more she pays with insurance. It's not unheard of at all to have an insurance policy that can be $10,000 to $20,000 a year."

Since the beginning of the recession, equine businesses have seen hay and other supplies double in cost, while the number of people who can afford lessons has dropped. Given the recent court rulings, the businesses worry they'll become uninsurable or see their policies go up. 

DeCarli Farm in Ellington, CT boards horses and offers space for riding lessons
Credit Lucy Nalpathanchil

The Horse Council worries that businesses like training and boarding stables, therapeutic riding programs, horse camps, and petting zoos will have to close. That's why they're closely watching legislation introduced by Governor Dannel Malloy to limit their liability.

Meanwhile, horse owners are waiting to see what happens in the Scuppy case, now that the lawsuit against the horse's owner has been sent back to a lower court.

DeCarli said the case has made all of them a little more guarded towards the public. "I'm very cautious now," she said. "We used to let people drive into the driveway, and just say hi to the horses. We'd caution them to watch out for the electric fences, and don't feed the horses. But am I going to do that again? I don't think I can."

The bill is waiting on a vote before the legislative session ends next month.