Agistment Agreements

An agistment agreement is an agreement between a land or facility owner and the owner of a horse which sets out the terms on which the horse can be kept at that land or facility. There are a wide range of agistment agreements, from verbal agreements to written documents. There is no rule that agistment agreements need to be in writing, and similarly, there is no ‘standard’ or ‘template’ agistment agreement for horses in use in New Zealand. This is because of the range of situations where a horse can be kept, from a bare grazing block to a full livery service.

But a written agistment agreement is a good idea whether you are the land/facility owner or the horse owner because a well-written agistment agreement will set out each party’s rights and liabilities as well as the key details of the arrangement. This means if anything goes wrong the parties know where they stand and can avoid disputes and the owners have security about where their horse is kept.

What should be in an agistment agreement?

As well as the basic information – the location of the grazing, the duration of the agreement, the horse description, the fee and the method of payment – an agistment agreement should cover each party’s obligations. This will depend on the type of land or facility you are using. An important example is feeding: if the land/facility owner is to feed the horse, the agreement can specify how much and at what intervals, e.g. one slab of hay in the morning and one at night. The agistment agreement should set out expectations of what each party is to do, such as picking up manure, worming, where the horse can be ridden, securing of gates and maintenance of the water supply.

A good agistment agreement will deal with who bears what type of risk in relation to the grazing. As anyone who has owned a horse knows, many things can (and will!) go wrong and sometimes neither party is to blame. But having clear, defined terms in the agistment agreement can help to identify who is responsible for what, and to resolve issues before they become serious. An example of things going wrong is if the horse becomes injured or sick – the parties might agree that while the horse is at the property it needs to be insured, or that if the horse catches an infectious disease like strangles the horse owner needs to notify the facility owner.

What if things go really wrong?

Agistment agreements can include dispute resolution clauses which should describe the process by which the parties try to resolve a dispute. A common dispute resolution clause might require a party to give written notice of an issue, and then allow the other party 10 working days (2 weeks) to resolve it, and then could refer the dispute to a nominated third party. There can also be notice periods for breaching the agistment agreement. As horses are sensitive to being moved, and with good grazing being difficult to find, horse owners will want a long notice periods, but land or facility owners may not!

Can’t we just shake hands and agree?

Of course! But both from the perspective of the land/facility owner and the horse owner, this can be risky and unclear down the line. We will all know of grazing situations that have somehow gone wrong and often both parties would happily pay the drafting fee just to get out of that situation. But the good news is that you can set yourself up well at the start so that both parties – and the horse! – have many years of happy grazing ahead.

Disclaimer: None of this should be taken as legal advice or relied upon as such! Each situation is different and turns on its own facts – it is best to consult your lawyer for specific legal advice.  

Dentons Kensington Swan can help with providing that legal advice. Contact me at kate.rouch@dentons.com or send me a text on 027 880 4526.

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