There are many businesses located throughout B.C. that offer recreational horseback trail rides. In most cases, a guide will provide some basic instruction on how to ride and then take a group of people on a leisurely ride along trails in the wilderness. On most occasions, the ride is uneventful and people get a unique “cowboy” experience and leave happy. However, anytime you get on a horse, there is the potential for danger, and some people unfortunately get seriously injured.
Do you have a claim?
If you are injured during a trail ride, you may potentially have a claim in negligence against the company and guide. Two sets of considerations are significant: Did you sign a waiver and is that waiver binding, and did the trail riding company and guide meet a reasonable standard of care?
Most trail riding companies will require participants to sign a waiver before commencing a ride that can potentially prevent injured persons from bringing an action. There have been many legal decisions surrounding whether specific waivers are binding, and it is important to be aware that not all waivers will be legally binding. It is important if you are injured to obtain a copy of the waiver in questions and to meet with a lawyer to go over the signing of the waiver and the wording of the waiver. Keep in mind, that waivers are not binding on minors under the age of 19.
For more information on waivers see our earlier posts:
Standard of Care
The trail riding industry is not regulated. As a result, you will encounter varying degrees of safety protocols, level of instruction, and experience of guides. How do I know this? At one time in my distant past, I was retained by an Insurer to defend trail riding companies who were sued. In order to defend the trail riding company in question, I surveyed multiple companies to determine such things as whether helmets were mandatory or offered, the maximum number of guests allowed during a ride, the minimum age allowed to participate and the relative experience and knowledge of the guides. I also interviewed many guides to determine what level of instruction was given to riders prior to the ride and how people would be matched with horses and even the order that riders were placed during the ride. On some occasions, it is necessary to bring in an expert who will provide an opinion on whether the guide in question conducted him or herself in an appropriate fashion. All of these things mentioned can determine whether the reasonable standard of care is met or not. The standard is determined by reviewing the practices of other guiding companies and comparing them to the guiding company in question, or by retaining an expert to look at the actions of the guide.
A word about horses and safety
Horses are amazing and beautiful animals. One of my University summer jobs was working on a cattle ranch. I arrived at the ranch never having been on a horse before. I spent nearly every day for 4 months learning to ride, and by the end I was chasing strays and moving cattle in the mountains. It was an unforgettable experience. I did learn the hard way, however, that horses are incredibly powerful, and at times unpredictable. They can startle easily, and when they do, they can bolt. Although most trail horses are relatively lazy and docile, they are not immune to being startled and acting unpredictably. Almost all trail riding companies offer helmets for use. Some, but not all, make it mandatory for minors to wear helmets (it is legislatively mandated in Ontario for minors to wear helmets). If you do go on a trail ride, I cannot emphasize enough that you absolutely should wear a helmet. Although you won’t be sporting a cowboy look wearing a helmet, you will certainly be in a safer position if you do end up falling off your horse. Sadly, some of the worst cases I defended involved children who were not wearing helmets who sustained serious brain injuries from falls.
Lastly, I don’t want to discourage people from participating in trail rides. Most companies are well run, safely operated and have fantastic guides who are experienced and skilled. I hope you enjoy your experience. Be safe and have fun! Horses really are amazing.