Law less ordinary | Equine law

Earlier this year two-year-old Mandarin Princess astonished bookies on her first outing by winning at Great Yarmouth with odds of 50-1. However, a routine scan of the horse’s microchip after the race quickly revealed that the winning horse was actually Millie’s Kiss.

The two horses were the same colour and were both entered to run in different races that afternoon. Stressed by a series of delays before the race, trainer Charlie McBride had inadvertently led out and saddled the wrong horse. Nobody noticed the mistake until it was too late, despite Millie’s Kiss lacking the white markings that distinguish Mandarin Princess from her stablemate.

The case was unprecedented. The disciplinary panel had to balance the mitigating circumstances of McBride’s stress against the strict liability offence of running a different horse to the one entered in a race. In the end, Mandarin Princess (or technically Millie’s Kiss) was disqualified from the race and McBride was fined £1,500.

The case involving Mandarin Princess and Millie’s Kiss was a highly unusual incident in the niche world of equine law. On a regular day-to-day basis, equestrian law specialists more commonly handle issues surrounding property, employment or contract law. Edmondson Hall consultant solicitor Justin Wadham explains: “The law is not always specific to horses. You are providing a service to a company that has all the same issues as any other company. These clients or potential clients have employment issues, they buy and sell properties, they have matrimonial issues and, of course, they die.”

equestrian law, equine law

For the love of the sport

Edmondson Hall is one of the law firms based in Newmarket, which Wadham describes as “the world centre for horseracing.”

“Inevitably the ability to provide a comprehensive legal service to the [Newmarket] community is bound to involve expertise in bloodstock and horseracing matters. Our non-contentious work is primarily focused on the horseracing and bloodstock industries where values are highest,” says Wadham.

“Our contentious work is more broadly based,” he adds. “Obviously issues relevant to thoroughbred horses are also relevant to other members of the equine species and this is why we have a horse specialism which is not merely focused on the racing industry at Newmarket but also on the wider equine world.”

“There are probably no more than half a dozen lawyers in this country that could say with a straight face that they specialise in equine law,” says Keystone Law consultant solicitor Rachel Flynn. “A lot of others say they do equine law but really they’re personal injury lawyers.”

So who are these people that can genuinely claim to specialise in equine law and why do they do it? Many of them had a personal interest or background in horses before becoming involved in equestrian law.

“For me, it was a happy coincidence that the firm acts for the Racecourse Association,” says Burges Salmon partner Laura Claydon. “I knew a lot about horses and horseracing from my own personal interest and owning horses. The firm thought it would be a good idea for me to be involved in equine law.”

Other equestrian law specialists have no prior interest in horses and become involved in equine law almost by accident. Nathan Talbott is a senior associate at Wright Hassall who now assists on equestrian cases.

“I already had an interest in sport and I found Wright Hassall when I was looking for training contracts. They had a good reputation for sport via their equestrian work. I now handle a lot of disciplinary matters dealing with club members, coaches and show organisers,” he says.

Talbott explains that a sound knowledge of racing, training and breeding is invaluable. “The better your understanding of the subject area, the better you are going to be as a lawyer,” he says. “If you do not know about the topic you are dealing with, you are having to rely heavily on your client to say ‘This is not right and this is why.’”

In Wadham’s opinion it is this familiarity with horses that sets equine law apart from other areas of the law. “It is not necessarily specific areas of law that define our specialism but an understanding of the industry in which we operate. I, for instance, have worked closely with thoroughbred horses for much of my life. I am married to a racehorse trainer and am familiar with practices which may be totally foreign to a lot of other people,” he says.

Controversial practices

Within equine law, there are many fields of expertise for practitioners to specialise in. Flynn’s work focuses mostly on breeding, racing and thoroughbreds.

“Racehorses are often bought and sold at auction,” says Flynn. “You would be absolutely amazed at how many horses are sold for millions of pounds without anyone writing anything down.”

Other equine lawyers focus on the racing industry and governance rather than the horses themselves. For Claydon, the biggest case in this area took place shortly before the London 2012 Olympics. The team from Burges Salmon managed to get the Saudi Arabian equestrian team cleared to compete at London 2012 after getting an eight-month ban for doping reduced to two months. The success of the case allowed Saudi Arabia to claim its second Olympic medal ー a bronze in the Team Jumping event.

Claydon explains the difficulties surrounding doping cases. “Certain performance enhancers grow naturally. You’re feeding your horses with natural concoctions. If that grows next to a hemp field, what’s going to happen? You’re going to get cross-contamination.”

Saudi Arabia is not the only Middle Eastern country to be tangled up in equine law troubles. Talbott says: “Generally speaking, horseracing is a sensible sport with sensible people involved. Most controversy is about endurance racing and foreign investment.”

Endurance racing is the current hot topic in equine law and came to a head in early 2016. Five endurance stables in the United Arab Emirates had their trainers suspended and were fined $100,000 each. The penalties were the result of horse abuse during a 120 km (75 miles) race at Al Wathba, Abu Dhabi. The UAE had previously been suspended from endurance racing for four months by the International Equestrian Federation in March 2015 after similar welfare concerns and allegations of faked race results.

Equine law: a nice sideline

Although equestrian law provides a wide variety of work, the number of cases involving equine law each year is fairly low compared to other areas of law. So how do equestrian law specialists find their clients?

“For me, equestrian law is a lovely additional pillar of expertise, but the money it makes wouldn’t justify doing solely equine law,” says Claydon. “If you’re well-known in the industry, clients will be attracted and gravitate to you. If you want to be a successful equine law firm, Newmarket is the place to be.” The other major centres for equestrian lawyers in the UK are Malton and Lambourn.

Flynn says: “There is no such magic thing as bloodstock law or equine law. Being an equestrian lawyer is really about being embedded in the industry.”

And Flynn has one more important piece of advice for people considering specialising in equestrian law: “I would tell anyone that wants to get into equine law that they need to be a good lawyer first.”