Hermione obtains an injunction for the return of a horse

Wed, 31 Jul 2013

Six years ago Alexis Jacobson sent her 18 year old Irish Draft cross gelding Oscar out on loan as a companion after he had been diagnosed by her vet as suffering from “kissing spine” and she made the decision to retire him as a riding horse. 

Within weeks of sending Oscar off to his new and seemingly idyllic retirement home, Alexis became concerned when she was unable to contact the lady who had taken him. After an abusive phone call and exchange of emails she realised that she had been duped and that Oscar had been stolen from her. The theft was immediately reported to the police, Farm Key and Essex Horsewatch but Oscar had disappeared.

Alexis persevered and after four years of continuous advertising in equestrian magazines (including being featured in Horse and Hound News article “Sold- on-loan scam exposed” in July 2007), websites and tack shops, as well as posting messages on various online forums, she finally tracked Oscar down to a livery yard in Kent. She found that he had been given a new passport and “sold” in February 2008 by a local riding school to a couple for £4,000 as a 14 year old warmblood riding horse under the name of Syd. Oscar had therefore changed hands a few times and was not in the possession anymore of the lady that she had loaned him to. 

Despite being provided with evidence of Oscar’s true identity, age and medical condition, the couple were unwilling to retire him or return him to Alexis maintaining that she had received a monetary payment for him and that they had bought him in good faith.

Alexis sought legal advice from SA Law partner Belinda Walkinshaw, who herself owns and produces two  team chase horses for the National Champion team “Relentless”, and they commenced court proceedings for Oscar’s return. The case finally came to a two day civil trial at the end of April 2013. Alexis was represented by Barrister Hermione Williams of No5 Chambers, daughter of former Racehorse Trainer Sarah Williams. 

The Judge found that despite having received the sum of £50 for Oscar’s saddle, Alexis had never intended to relinquish ownership of him. Despite finding that Oscar remained her Property, the Judge still needed to be satisfied that he should grant an injunction for his return, rather than order the couple pay her monies. This depended upon a consideration of all the circumstances in the case and where the balance of justice lay. Such a question may seem strange to the outsider and it reveals the difficulties that can be faced by a person finding themselves in Alexis’ position where property has passed through a number of hands. Fortunately, the Judge preferred the submissions of Miss Williams that the balance tipped in favour of the Jacobsons, honest people who had been duped and deprived of their property for over four years. Oscar had been part of their family since Alexis was 15 and justice demanded that he be returned. Oscar, now 24 years old, is set to finally enjoy his retirement on a local farm.

This case highlights the importance of thoroughly checking out the credentials of any potential loan home before parting with your horse on this type of arrangement. It also reveals the ease with which horse passports can be obtained and the necessity of ensuring the true identity and ownership of any horse before purchase. Despite the fact that Oscar was freeze-marked and registered with Farm Key as having been stolen, his age and breeding were wrongly described on his new passport. After leaving Alexis’s care he passed through the hands of a horse dealer and a riding school and went through a two stage vetting without being identified as having been stolen.

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