It is now the recommended industry standard for livery yard owners to have contracts in place between themselves and their livery clients. This applies whether you offer basic grass livery, or a fully serviced bespoke full livery package. Not only will this help you keep proper records of your clients, but also help both parties understand the limit of your services, payments and notice periods, and to have a clear and concise reference point in the event of any disputes that may arise.

A livery contract is not just for the yard owners’ benefit, it is designed to protect and clarify the agreement to the benefit of both parties. Your livery clients should have no genuine reason for not signing an agreement because, if well drafted, it protects them too. Anyone accepting your services and making regular payments in exchange for them is already a party to an informal contract with you, however, this can present problems if there is a dispute, since the first challenge is to determine what is included in the informal contract. A well-drafted formal written contract eliminates this challenge.

Quote from Jodie Seddon, Partner, Aria Grace Law

Jodie Seddon, Partner and Equine Law Specialist at Aria Grace Equine Law, says “A clear, well-written contract will benefit both your business and your clients. You can gain peace of mind that you and your clients are on the same page with respect to key issues, and ensure that the level of risk you take on is appropriate and understood. However – a poor or incomplete contract can cause more problems than it solves, so it is worth investing time and seeking advice to ensure your arrangements are effective and reflect your business properly.”

Make clear what is included in your services and what they cost:

A contract should clearly lay out the agreed services and costs, as well as any other contractual obligations for both parties. The contract should also lay out the payment terms, as well as any consequences for late payments or failure to meet contractual obligations. This means that both parties are clear on the business arrangement, and the consequences of breaking the contract terms contained therein.

It helps you keep records:

A contract gives you a formal record of your clients, their details, and the terms on which you provide your services. You should have one contract per horse, not per owner. There is important information about your client and their horse that should be recorded on the form: name, address, passport number and passport issuing authority as the very minimum.  At the time of receiving a signed contract back from the client, it is ideal to also request a completed horse details form, a proof of ID and address from the client, the Horses passport (or a copy of their passport if DIY), a copy of their vaccinations and a copy of the horse’s insurance, subject to your requirements. All this paperwork can be stored in an individual file for each horse which can then be easily referred to.

No one can deny a notice period:

A contract should clearly lay out the terms of notice that must be given if a livery client wishes to leave your yard. Even if a client wishes to relocate within the notice period, you may then still charge for the full notice period in accordance with your contract. It is generally accepted that a notice period of 30 days is fair for both parties. However, it is worth including a clause stating that in certain circumstances (such as behaviour deemed as gross misconduct- theft, criminal behaviour, failure to follow rules, negligence etc) that a yard owner can give notice with immediate effect. Of course, if mutually agreeable you can give also be lenient at your discretion to the normal notice period but its best to show a fixed notice period in the contract for clarity.

It helps you clarify your yard rules: 

A contract is a great way to clearly communicate to your clients the terms of their livery arrangements, and of your expectations of them whilst on the yard. You can make your livery clients aware of any specific rules or obligations they must adhere to, and ensure clients formally acknowledge and accept these rules by signing the contract.

A good contract will include the key points of risk and responsibility, and provide an opportunity for the yard owner to issue yard rules covering the more detailed, day-to-day requirements for the yard. A significant breach of the yard rules may give you sufficient cause to give notice to a client (if you consider it appropriate); and keeping yard rules separately allows you to update and reissue them as you see fit without seeking the agreement of every livery client. If this is provided, you should also include a clause in your contract for your client to acknowledge receipt of this.

It helps everyone know where they stand with regards to care of the horse: 

A good contract will make clear your responsibilities as the yard owner, the responsibilities of the horse owner, and help protect you or your staff in claims against you that were negligent in your duties of care. Whilst verbal agreements are acceptable, the fact that a livery contract is accepted and signed by both parties can be used to support your case in the event of disputes. You clients will know exactly what provisions and services they are receiving under their chosen livery package. It also clearly lays out the package your client has opted for, and the services included within that package. This can be useful if a client starts requesting additional services within their standard package, are not fulfilling their own yard duties and responsibilities, or claim services are not being fulfilled.

It will help you retain your clients: 

A good contract should help you retain your clients and have less turnaround of horses on your yard. If all livery clients know what to expect, and they agree to abide by the contract when they arrive, there will be less disputes and, in the event, that any ‘issues’ arise these could be easily remedied by referring to the contract. It means that from arrival, clients know what services are included, and what they are expected to pay for these on a monthly basis. The contracts show it all in black and white so there is no excuse that a client didn’t know the cost or what was included.

It can help you recoup debt or protect against financial losses:

By having certain clauses in your contract relating to late payments, security deposits and debt recovery processes, this can forewarn livery clients about procedures that would be taken in the event that they fail to pay their livery on time, leave without serving appropriate notice, or abandon the horse at the yard.

It can help you cover all eventualities: 

There are some important points that should also be considered for inclusion on a livery contract. A couple of examples would be, how things will be dealt with following death of the owner and veterinary emergencies or death of the horse. A livery contract should give you authority to carry out certain tasks on a basis of welfare for the horse, such as authorising emergency veterinary treatment or euthanasia in the event of not being able to contact the owner. You may also have clients that do not own their horses, and as such a lien for retaining the horse or equipment would go no way to retrieving losses if they leave with a debt, or leave the horse abandoned on the yard. In such circumstances, it’s important to consider a contractual relationship with the horse owner too, by way of a guarantor for the livery client. Many situations like this are not deemed important to yard owners as they may never happen. However, inclusion of clauses like these can ensure if it does happen, there are procedures in place.

Its good business: 

A contract is a formal way to allocate risk within a commercial relationship. As a proprietor, you can be clear about the level of risk you accept in relation to the services you provide, and ensure that your clients are also fully aware of their responsibilities towards their horse and you.

Having a contract will convey your business as organised and professional. It will also ward off any unscrupulous clients who do not want to sign a binding contract and do not intend to pay fees nor abide by the rules. The clarification of details within a contract can help you deal swiftly with any problems, recoup any losses and keep good administrative records. These can all help to be a better organised and proactive business.

It can help you manage your business sustainability:

A contract should also allow you the option to increase, or at the very least review, your livery fees on an annual basis. This is an opportunity for you to review your outgoings and livery costs, and ensure the packages you offer are working for the business. If price increases are necessary, then a clause allowing this- with the suitable notice being given in writing to your clients-  should be included in your contract.

And really the most obvious reason to have a livery contract with your clients is because it is cost effective and can save you money in the long run. In effect, it costs nothing to draw up a basic livery contract. There are numerous template agreements that can be found online and amended to fit the needs for your yard, clients and circumstances. However, to ensure that the contract properly reflects how your business operates, so nothing important is missed, and that you meet the necessary legal obligations within, we strongly suggest that you get intended contract checked over by an equine law specialist.

This sounds great, how do I do it?

It is quick and simple to introduce a livery contract to your clients new and existing. For existing livery clients simply issue them all two copies of the contract, already signed by you, and a covering letter explaining the reasons for the contract. Advise that this simply lays out the existing conditions they agree to on a verbal basis by being your livery client  and that it introduces this on a more formal basis to protect both parties. They sign both copies, retain one for themselves and return the other one to you along with copies of any documentation that may also be requested (such as passport, vaccination certificate etc). Give a deadline to ensure they are all received within a reasonable time frame and encourage your clients to speak to you if they have any queries or concerns.

For new clients, you can show them a copy of the agreement when they view the yard, and ensure that this is signed and the necessary paperwork given to you promptly on arrival on the yard.

Aria Grace Equine Law is led by Jodie Seddon who, over the last 4 years, has developed an extensive equine law advisory practice, combining her legal expertise with her equestrian knowledge to advise all types of participants in the equestrian industry, from young professionals starting their businesses to established brands, and governing bodies to start-up companies offering all types of services to the equestrian market. Jodie has worked with LiveryList and the Yard Owner Hub to ensure that the template livery contract documents on the Yard Owner Hub are well drafted, legally compliant and suitable for a range of uses.

About the author

Cheryl Johns, SEIB Equestrian Business Writer and the founder of LiveryList and the Yard Owner Hub, is a qualified and experienced yard manager, marketing advisor and business consultant with experience across a range of industries.

About SEIB

SEIB have been arranging livery yard insurance and riding school insurance for over 60 years. This experience allows us to tailor policies to suit your circumstances and ensure that you and your horses are covered should the worst happen.