The day after I purchased my first post-college, adult-life horse, Helios, I called my chosen equine insurance company and created a policy for him. I had just sunk what little money I had saved into a young, green jumper prospect, and I was going to protect that investment at all costs. I signed on for the mortality and major medical/surgical coverage typical of many healthy sport horses.

My insurance company covered Hannah's pricey shock wave therapy.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

Based on past experience as well as the claims representative's recommendation, over the next year and a half I proceeded to call the insurance company with details about every off-step my horse took or laceration he received. OK, I'm exaggerating quite a bit, but I did keep them apprised of all radiographs and vet exams Helios underwent. The response was always the same: Essentially, "We'll note this in your file, but it's not something we cover," or "We might be able to cover that but you haven't met your year's deductible yet." Eventually I stopped making the calls and just paid the bills.

Fast-forward several years to this summer when I my veterinarian and I ran the diagnostic and treatment gamut trying to figure out the cause of my youngster Hannah's subtle hind-limb lameness. Chiropractic, acupuncture, repeated lameness exams, ultrasound of the ovaries, ultrasound of the pelvic joint ... by summer's end the list had grown long. The vet bills had also mounted to the point that when my veterinarian suggested doing a few rounds of expensive shock wave treatments to see if they'd make Hannah more comfortable and expedite healing, I balked.

That's when a barnmate said, "You know, if your horse is insured the company will probably cover all these treatments."

Duh! Why hadn't I thought of that? There's a reason, after all, why I insure my horses. A quick call to my long-lost claims representative revealed that not only did they cover shock wave, but they could also cover Hannah's other pricey diagnostic tests and veterinary exams. There was only one caveat: Because I hadn't been reporting all her procedures from the start of the year, they could only consider reimbursing those done in the past 60 days. The hustle to get veterinary forms completed and invoices faxed ensued. By the time I reminded my veterinarian to fill out the detailed form listing every exam done, date completed, and diagnosis made, another week of that 60-day window had already passed.

In the end, I received a nice check to cover a good chunk of the work Hannah had done this summer and fall. However, had I been communicating with my insurance company all along, I could have reached my deductible sooner and received more extensive veterinary coverage.

Fortunately, Hannah is now sound and in full work gearing up toward (fingers crossed) her first year of competition when she turns 6 this spring. But in light of learning a valuable lesson, I reached out to my insurance company and asked if they had any additional tips for reporting horses' veterinary treatments. Lance Allen, DVM, director and executive underwriter for Markel Direct, provided some suggestions and also explained why this process is so important:

First of all, he said, it's written in every equine insurance contract--regardless the company--that you must inform them within a given period of time about any health abnormality or lameness issue your horse develops. While this window is typically 60 days, he said there's probably no need to panic if you don't file a claim until the 61st day. Chances are the company will still honor it.

"(Reporting health issues) also helps the owner be aware of what the real-world value of their insurance is," Allen said. "If you don't report a lameness or health issue such as colic, at your renewal there might be an exclusion (precluding you from receiving full coverage or even reinsuring your horse) that you won't know about."

Worst case scenario, say your horse does not survive a severe colic. You inform your insurance company, the claims adjuster contacts your veterinarian, and the vet reveals the horse had colicked before--you just hadn't told them about it.

"Built into these contracts it says pre-existing issues aren't covered," Allen explained. "If you don't tell the company your horse had colicked and he dies of colic, there's a pretty good chance it won't be covered."

Now, not only have you just lost a beloved horse, but your insurance policy is near-useless.

On a similar note, don't avoid calling your insurance company for fear that future health issues will subsequently be excluded from policy coverage. "If you have a veterinary exam that results in some treatment, just because you report it doesn't mean it will be excluded," Allen said. "That history will be in there, and you might just need a follow-up exam to renew your insurance."

But does this mean that, like I used to do with Helios, you need to call your company every time your horse sneezes? Not necessary, said Allen. If you call your vet out to look at your horse, but he does not require any treatment and a few days later is perfectly healthy, then there's probably no need to sound the alarm.

So, my simple advice to fellow horse owners: Keeping your insurance company informed helps ensure you get the most out of your policy.

What insurance success stories or suggestions do you have?