On 10 October 2023, the High Court gave judgment dismissing the Claimant’s claims in negligence and pursuant to section 2(2) Animals Act 1971 in circumstances where a horse reacted to the presence of a dog causing the Claimant to fall and suffer severe spinal cord injury.
Charlie Woodhouse KC of Old Square Chambers successfully appeared for the Second Defendant, instructed by Weightmans LLP.
The summary facts as found by the Court were that the Claimant was a skilled horse rider who had booked a beach horse ride with the Second Defendant. He had signed an acknowledgment “that riding at any standard has inherent risks and that all horses may react unpredictably on occasions” and was aware that he may fall off and be injured. The Claimant also received a short briefing about standard practices such as slowing when the trek leader raised her hand. Owing to his experience, the Claimant had been placed in the most able group, which comprised 3 other riders and a trek leader.
During the ride, a dog owned by the First Defendant ran towards the Claimant’s group. A riding group ahead gave a warning shout about a loose dog prompting the Claimant’s trek leader to signal a stop. When the dog came to the heels of the Claimant’s horse, the horse violently bucked causing the Claimant to become unseated. The Claimant went over the front of the horse landing head first on the hard sand beneath, sustaining serious injuries. The Claimant has been categorised as a C4 ASIA D incomplete tetraplegic.
The Court was asked to consider whether: the First Defendant had been negligent in failing to control his dog; the Second Defendant had been negligent in leading the ride too close to the dog; and as against the Second Defendant, section 2(2) strict liability was engaged.
The Claimant’s claims in negligence against the First and Second Defendants
In concluding that the First Defendant had not breached his duty, the Court found that:
In concluding that the Second Defendant was not liable in negligence, the Court found that:
The Court held that “to require riders, including trek leaders to assume a threat of sufficient magnitude [from every unaccompanied loose dog] is to make riding at a canter on beaches of this sort virtually impossible” and that to judge to a nicety what the precise distance should be between cantering horses and dogs like this one is unduly onerous for ride leaders .
The Claimant’s claim under the Animals Act 1971 against the First Defendant
Firstly, the Court found that section 2(2) did apply to the facts as the damage suffered by the Claimant was caused by the horse’s violent buck that propelled the Claimant to the ground, rather than by contact with the ground. The Second Defendant had argued that section 2(2) only applied where there was an attack by an animal such as a bite or kick and did not apply to riding accidents where a rider falls off a horse. However, the Court found that in this case there was an act by an animal (a violent buck) that caused the Claimant’s injury .
Secondly, the section 2(2)(a) test of the likely severity of the injury was “not one of principle but of fact in an individual case” , per Langstaff J in Lynch v Ed Walker Racing Ltd  EWHC 2484. In light of finding that the horse violently bucked, the Court had no difficulty in concluding that severe injury was reasonably to be expected. The Court consequently found that section 2(2)(b) and 2(2)(c) applied.
However, the Court found that the defence provided by section 5(2) of the 1971 Act applied and the Claimant’s claim failed.
In making that finding the Court had regard to the Claimant’s experience as a rider and his knowledge of the ordinary risks of riding horses, including that a horse might be startled and might react by bucking, causing a rider to fall and sustain injury.
The Claimant argued that, because the ride was being led by one of the Second Defendant’s employees, he did not have sufficient control over the route or pace of the ride and had therefore not voluntarily accepted the risks associated with it. Having found that there was no negligence on the part of the trek leader, the Court rejected this argument.
The Court’s analysis of the section 5(2) defence [99-119] provides helpful guidance on the operation of the defence in the case of riding accidents. In considering previous case law, the Court distinguished between Flack v Hudson  QB 698 where the defence failed because the Claimant needed to have specific knowledge (horse’s fear of machinery) to have accepted the risk and Turnbull v Warrener (2012) PIQR P16 where the defence succeeded because the Claimant had general knowledge of the inherent characteristics of horses and chose to ride notwithstanding knowledge of the risks. On the facts, the Court found that the risks that led to the accident (loose dogs being present on the beach, the horse being startled by a dog, the horse bucking in reaction to the dog and the Claimant falling and sustaining injury) were risks of which the Claimant, and any other experienced rider, would be aware and which they would be deemed to have voluntarily accepted by choosing to ride.
In the absence of negligence by the Second Defendant the section 5(2) defence provides strong protection to riding stables offering riding opportunities to experienced riders.
This case summary was written by Elena Margetts, pupil of Old Square Chambers.
William Meade (Senior Clerk)