DOAG: NEW LAW DECLARING HORSES NOT NATURALLY VICIOUS MARKED IN BETHANY

    NEWS FROM THE CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

                                                        


Contact:                                                                                              August 6, 2014

Steve Jensen

860-713-2519-office

860-983-3556- cell

Steve.Jensen@ct.gov

 

              This article appeared in the Aug. 6, 2014 edition of the CT Weekly Agricultural Report

 

NEW LAW DECLARING HORSES NOT NATURALLY VICIOUS

MARKED IN BETHANY

 

If there was a single ill-tempered horse among the dozens at Locket’s Meadow Farm last week, it certainly wasn’t apparent to a crowd including the Governor that interrupted the animals’ day for a celebration on their behalf.

 

Dozens of visitors to the rescue farm reached through fences and stall doors to pet horses as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ceremoniously signed a bill negating a state Supreme Court decision that ruled horses a naturally vicious species.

 

With horses whinnying behind him at the podium, Malloy said the ruling “simply went too far” and unintentionally would have crippled the horse industry in the state.

 

“People thought it was a strange thing for a governor to be interested in,” he said before signing the bill at a paddock-side table. “But as a guy who grew up riding in Stamford and taking lessons at a farm, I had a special appreciation for the impact this would have on farms in Connecticut. We’re a very horse-rich state and we want to make sure than continues.”

 

The chain of events leading to the passage of Public Act 14-54, “An Act Concerning The Liability of Owners and Keepers of Domesticated Horses, Ponies, Donkeys, and Mules,” began in 2006 when a young boy was bitten on the cheek by a horse named Scuppy at a farm in Milford.

 

 The boy was trying to pet the horse through a fence when he was bitten, losing a large chunk of flesh. The boy’s parents sued the owner of the farm, who later testified that it was the first time Scuppy had bitten anyone in 28 years.    

 

Last year, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld an Appellate Court decision in the case that said a horse belongs to “a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious” and that their owners or keepers are liable for damages if they are proven negligent in failing to prevent injuries by the animals.

 

In response to the ruling, Malloy’s office filed legislation early this year that resulted in the General Assembly unanimously passing the bill that the Governor signed last week.

 

 “This was an example of leadership and getting it right and we thank the Governor for that,” Henry Talmage, executive director of the CT Farm Bureau, said at the July 29 event in Bethany.

 

The Farm Bureau and the Connecticut Horse Council had filed court papers in the case arguing that horses are not inherently dangerous, and therefore their owners should not be held to a higher standard of responsibility.

 

Talmage said Insurance underwriters around the country were following the situation closely, and if left unchallenged the Supreme Court ruling likely would have meant denial of coverage or steep increases in insurance premiums for horse owners. Of particular concern to insurers, he said, was the potential liability posed by the common practice of passersby stopping at roadside paddocks to pet horses. 

 

“That would have been devastating to the horse industry.” Talmage said. “We would have had a mass exodus of horses and horse owners out of the state.” 

 

Under the new law, horse owners or keepers have the duty to use “reasonable care to restrain the animal to prevent foreseeable harm if the animal has exhibited behavior in the past that alerted the owner or keeper to the dangerous behaviors of that individual animal.”

 

Before the owner or keeper can be held liable for injuries they cause, the plaintiff must prove that the animal in question “exhibited past behavior that alerted the owner or keeper to that individual animal's dangerous tendencies and that the owner or keeper acted negligently in guarding against injuries that might be foreseeably caused by the individual animal's tendencies.” 

 

Dept. of Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said the Supreme Court ruling  could have opened the door to a variety of other farm animals being declared vicious.

 

“One of my concerns was that this could have presented a very slippery slope for owners of all kinds of livestock,” he said. “Where does it stop? Pigs? Goats? Geese? I commend the Governor for initiating and the legislature for supporting this very common-sense law on behalf of our farm families and horse owners.”

 

In his remarks in Bethany, Malloy said he is proud that Connecticut leads New England in the growth of new farms over the past five years.

 

“We’re trying to grow the horse industry here,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is pass laws or have court decisions that make it more difficult to do just that. “I took this on and I was proud to do it.”

 

Dana Stillwell, co-founder of Greener Pastures horse rescue farm in Salem and editor of the equine newsletter Steed Read, said the Supreme Court ruling was a hot topic for horse owners in the months leading up to the passage of the bill proposed by Malloy.

 

“All winter that’s all I heard,” she said. “People were ready to pack up and go. I think this outcome is a huge relief for all horse owners in Connecticut and across the country.”

 

Watching both adults and children interacting with the horses at the Bethany farm, Stillwell said the scene was evidence of a horse’s true nature.

 

“They’re the most healing creatures I know,” she said. “They give unconditional love.” 

 

Kim Hynes, who with her daughter Fiona rides at Locket’s Meadow and volunteers in its therapeutic riding program for disabled people, said declaring horses vicious would have had negative consequences beyond increasing liability and expense for their owners.  

 

“It would have broken every barn girl’s heart in the state of Connecticut,” she said.