Horses; an uneasy relationship

Aug 27th, 2021

Andrew Fearn, Consultant Solicitor

How things have changed! A hundred years or so ago, horses were very much part of the agricultural landscape; working the land, fetching and carrying. Now, they are still here, of course, but in a different capacity altogether. The vast majority are kept for leisure use, whether privately or in an organised way such as livery or riding stables.

So many occupational agreements are, unfortunately, informal and that is where problems can occur. In this article, we look at the common types of arrangement and whether they work in the different circumstances which most often occur.

A tenancy or a licence?

If the landlord and tenant (usually the horse owner) are sharing possession in some way, then the arrangement is most unlikely to be a tenancy but will be a licence. This has advantages and disadvantages for both parties. The most problematic area is likely to be that either party can bring the arrangement to an end with or without notice. However, the lack of permanence can be helpful, particularly for the landowner. Most horse owners will worry about this lack of security, but it may well work in practice, especially between people who know each other well, especially family members.

Common law tenancy

A similar arrangement is called a common law tenancy but in this case the possession is exclusive and not shared. Often this will be a traditional situation where a field is used for grazing a family horse. Once again there is little or no security as the tenancy can be brought to an end at the termination of a fixed term or simply (where there is no fixed term) by an appropriate notice. Once again it often works perfectly well but, as ever, whilst everyone gets on with each other and agrees!

Is the land governed by statute?

More intractable problems occur when the occupation is governed by statute. The two Acts of Parliament likely to be involved are those governing Farm Business Tenancies (Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995) or Business tenancies (Landlord and Tenant Act 1954). In my experience, the latter is likely to prove more difficult. But what is the difference and how does it matter?

A Farm Business Tenancy (FBT) will involve a primarily or wholly agricultural business use. Where horses are kept as part of that use, they will probably be for farm work (unlikely these days), as farm animals for meat etc (equally unlikely, I suspect) or grazing on a commercial scale. This is an increasingly common sight around the countryside.

Finally, it may well be a Business tenancy where the premises in question are used as a riding school and stables or, maybe, a livery yard.

Thus, it is a mixed picture and its worth taking some time to clarify exactly what your arrangement looks like so that you can take into account the effects and consequences if issues occur. The perspective will be different whether you the landowner or occupier and, remember, agreements in writing are best for everyone.

If you would like to talk to us in confidence, contact one of our agricultural law experts in the strictest confidence.

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