How do you kill time in Central Kentucky between the Rolex Three-Day Event on the last weekend in April and the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May?

If you’re an equine lawyer, the answer in a no-brainer—you show up in Lexington for the National Conference on Equine Law, presented annually by the University of Kentucky College of Law and Office of Continuing Legal Education. This year’s running, the 26th, attracted more than 150 attorneys (and a few brave lay people) from 25 states, the District of Columbia, and two countries.

Conference topics ran the gamut, from the basic to the esoteric, from a nuts-and-bolts explanation of the Thoroughbred auction process to a discussion of equine business applications for captive insurance entities (I’m still not sure exactly what those are). In between the two extremes were presentations on drafting contracts, liability for injuries to horses, collecting delinquent bills, the interaction between state equine liability statutes and recreational land use laws, copyright law and equine photography, immigration, taxes, estate planning, selling horses in Europe, and ethics.

Ethics for attorneys? A contradiction in terms?

Public perceptions aside, attorneys (the good ones, anyway) spend a lot of time worrying about how to provide competent and effective representation within an ethical framework that protects the interests of the client, the legal system, and the lawyer.

Case law and federal legislative updates, presented every year by Lexington attorney Frank Becker and American Horse Council President Jay Hickey, respectively, give a look back at what courts did during the previous year and a prediction about what Congress might do during the coming one. A hot topic this year was legislation that would involve the feds in the race-day medication debate by amending the Interstate Horseracing Act to impose a three-strikes-you’re-out penalty scheme for drug violations.

A presentation on legal issues that arose during the World Equestrian Games was long on contract minutia and short on juicy, behind-the-scenes gossip, but is was interesting to learn about the extent US team members were micromanaged under the competitor contract with the United States Equestrian Federation. About blogging, for example, competitors were allowed to talk about their personal competition experiences, but were prohibited from posting interviews with anyone else. They could use still photographs (with proper permission) in blogs but not video or sound recordings, and the use of WEG terminology was forbidden.

Conflicts among sponsors also were a concern because some of the US teams had corporate sponsors that were direct competitors of Alltech, the WEG title sponsor. The US Para-Equestrian Team was sponsored by Kentucky Equine Research, for example, and the US Reining Team was sponsored by Adequan. The complex contracts in place for the games gave Alltech the nod when there was a conflict over physical presence on the grounds and competition for advertising exposure.

The most practical advice might have come from Julie Fershtman, a Michigan attorney who crisscrosses the country litigating equine liability cases. No matter how well drafted and how well stocked with liability waivers and releases, she reminded, a boarding contract only covers the people who actually sign the document. Separate liability releases and waivers should be considered for family and friends of the horse owner who visit, and for everyone else who comes onto the property. Julie also warned about the use of fill-in-the-blank contract forms available on line or in books that might—but probably do not—meet the specific legal requirements of your state.

The Conference on Equine Law provided fodder for future blogs. What topics would you like to see?