Question: I am planning an equine activity event, what should be contained in my event release for participants? Generally speaking, participants should sign some form of an event release, liability waiver, hold harmless, and indemnification agreement in connection with an equine activity event.
Some general provisions to potentially include in a waiver/release, include but are not limited to:
- The basics. Tailor the release to the date, location, and scope of the event (e.g. X state, on Y date, for Z type of event). Keep in mind that every state is different with respect to EALAs (Equine Activity Liability Acts) and may have different laws relative to contractual exculpation (excusing an organization for negligence). Depending on the number and types of events that an organization hosts across the year, there may be a “boilerplate” release on file for the organization, but ensure that such document is reviewed and customized according to state specific laws and event scope/parameters and consult an attorney to review and analyze, as needed.
- Address the risks associated with equine activities. The document should outline and address that there are inherent risks associated with equine activities not attributable to and not in the control of the event host, such as (a)-the propensity of an equine to behave in dangerous ways which may result in injury or death to a participant or bystander, or damage to property; (b)-the inability to predict a horse’s reactions to sounds, movements, sudden movements, objects, persons, other animals, regardless of its training and past behavior; (c) hazards of event footing, e.g. surface and/or subsurface conditions and objects whether known or unknown; (d) the experience level of any participant; (e) the condition or age of the equipment or tack; (f) a known or unknown health condition of any participant; and (g) collisions with other horses, animals, people, and/or objects. Ensure that the release has the participant acknowledge these risks and that the event host is not responsible for the risks inherently associated with the activity (i.e. the participant is voluntarily engaging in the activity and assuming the risks associated with the activity).
- Riding Conduct and attire. Consider having the participant agree to following event riding conduct rules and that he/she is equipping himself/herself with the proper riding attire and equipment, including an ASTM/SEI approved and fastened riding helmet and boots when mounted.
- Liability waiver. Include a clause that the participant waives any right to claims and actions associated with, among other things, the riding, instruction, or other activities associated with the event. Consider having this clause waive claims against the event host entity, host employees and/or agents. (Remember: releases are not a guarantee that there will not be a lawsuit down the road and contractual exculpation varies state by state).
- Indemnification and hold harmless. Include a clause that addresses hold harmless and indemnification, i.e. if a claim or cause of action ensues in the future against the participant in connection with his/her activities at the event (e.g. participant or participant’s horse injures another person, horse, or property), the participant will be responsible for the defense of the organization.
- Permission to use. In today’s age of social media, the organization may want to consider having a clause that allows the organization to use any photographs, videos, broadcasts, or other recordings of the participant and/or participant’s horse in connection with the event.
- Signing for minors. Include language that the parent/guardian is signing on behalf of the minor and assuming the obligations associated with the release for the minor. Again, check state specific laws and consult an attorney as needed on this issue because the laws regarding minor releases vary from state to state (e.g. some states will not allow a parent/guardian to waive the rights of a minor for a sports-related injury).
- Emergency contact info. A release is a good opportunity to obtain emergency information on the participant if there is a future emergency.
Question: When should the release/waiver be executed? Consider having this document executed in advance of the event so there is not the predicament of tracking down participants as they check-in on the event date and/or having some releases slip through the cracks. Potentially have this form included in the entry form application and require that the participant must execute and return the same x days in advance of the event. If the organization hosts the same event every year, ensure that a release/waiver is obtained in advance of each event and do not rely on the previous year’s release/waiver.
This list is not exhaustive and does not address state specific laws so consult a knowledgeable attorney as appropriate. Keep in mind for a waiver and release to be upheld it will be analyzed by a court in conjunction with contract principles, state specific laws (e.g. EALAs) that may require specific language relative to the sport and state law, as well as public policy.