Agistment in theory is an easy way to make money. But what happens when the owner stops paying? Just because an owner no longer takes an interest in their animal, doesn't mean that you have to grin and bear it.

Lien and default notices

Under the Impounding of Livestock Act 1994 (the Act) a landholder/agistment provider may claim a lien over the horse if agistment fees are at least 14 days overdue. A lien entitles the agistment provider to retain possession of the horse until fees are paid. This prevents the owners from moving the horse to alternative premises while fees remain outstanding.

It is a criminal offence under the act to remove or retain custody of a horse over which a lien is held without the permission of the lien holder. It should be noted however that the lien only relates to the horse and not to any equipment stored at the property. (NB the lien and default notice only apply to unpaid agistment and do not include additional fees such as training fees or competition costs.)

If the default continues, an agistment provider may then serve a Default Notice on the owner, and if payment is not made within 28 days of the notice being served, the agistment provider is entitled to exchange, dispose of or destroy the horse.

Should the owner make contact within this time, all outstanding fees, plus any fees (including vet fees) incurred from the time the notice is served plus costs must be paid by the owner before they are entitled to take their horse back. If an owner objects to the notice, an application must be made with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal within the 28 days.

Due to the series nature of the Default Notice, we recommend that both agistment providers and owners keep detailed records of the agistment of the horses, including any verbal representations made by either party.

Written Agreement

A formal written agreement between the parties is always a good start to any agistment relationship as the owner will be made aware of the consequences of non-payment and both parties will agree on the services to be provided.

Moreover, a written agreement may also be tailored to include a lien over any tack or other equipment such as floats stored at the property and may expressly include training and other costs as part of the agistment fees. As noted above, the Act only applies to the horse itself and as such, owners would be entitled to come and remove their equipment unless expressly prohibited in an agreement.

An agreement should also include grounds on which the agistment may be terminated, for example an owner's poor behaviour or treatment of other horses agisted at the property.

Conversely, any owner looking to agist their horse should also insist on an agreement between the parties being drawn up. This will ensure that the expectations of both parties are met and that any disputes may be dealt with efficiently.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. Madgwicks is a member of Meritas, one of the world's largest law firm alliances.