A win in an important competition usually does not result in a lawsuit.

But sometimes it does.

Butterfly Painting had a good year in 2009. The horse won that year’s Virginia Field Hunter Championship and also was named Reserve Champion in the Junior North American Field Hunter Championship. It would have been an opportune time to market Butterfly Painting as a proven winner, except that no one was quite sure who actually owned the horse.

Rita Kaseman originally bought Butterfly Painting as an eventing prospect. When that did not work out as planned, Kaseman struck a deal with Robyn Harter, a Virginia horsewoman who hunted with the Snickersville Hounds. Harter would ride Butterfly Painting and take care of the horse’s expenses. She rode Butterfly Painting in the Virginia Field Hunter Championship and some press reports listed her as the horse’s owner when a young rider took the Reserve Championship in the Junior version of the field hunter event.

Kaseman considered herself the legitimate owner of Butterfly Painting and apparently thought of the arrangement with Harter as a lease, although no money changed hands. She wanted to sell put Butterfly Painting, and reportedly offered Harter half the proceeds, but Harter refused to return the horse. She claimed that Butterfly Painting had been a gift from Kaseman and that the horse really belonged to her. Kaseman and Harter wound up in General District Court for Loudoun County, where a judge decided who owned the horse.

Laws in every state have provisions allowing a person to go to court and claim that someone else has possession of property that rightfully belongs to the person filing the lawsuit. In Virginia that civil cause of action is called a "detinue" proceeding.

The District Court judge ruled in favor of Kaseman. Harter was required to prove that the transfer of Butterfly Painting had been a gift rather than a lease or a loan and she could not meet that burden. Evidence leading to the ruling in Kaseman’s favor included the facts that Kaseman had retained the original registration papers and that she sent an e-mail to Harter explaining that only copies of the paperwork were being provided to her.

Butterfly Painting was returned to Kaseman and a few months ago the horse was ridden by a young rider to Reserve Championship honors in a division of the 2010 Junior North American Field Hunter Championship. Kaseman was listed as owner.

The lesson to be learned from this dispute is simple: get it in writing. A written agreement is important because it forces the parties to discuss their respective expectations of the deal. A writing also can be a preemptive strike against misunderstandings by providing a record of the parties’ rights and obligations.

Out With The Old, In With The New

The 111th Congress wrapped up at year’s end without final action on a number of bills affecting the horse industry, among them the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2009, the Restore Our American Mustangs Act, and the Horse Transportation Act of 2009. Whether similar legislation will be introduced in the coming year, and whether anything substantive will happen if these bills show up again on the Congressional docket, is anybody’s guess.

You have to wonder whether our legislators have a genuine interest in equine welfare, or whether the bills that get introduced every session are just window dressing to appease supporters. What do you think?