The 17-year-old claimant was riding a horse on a road in Cornwall. The horse stopped and refused to go forward. The claimant was not the most skilful of riders and had had one previous fall.
The way to react to horse not going forward is apparently to release the weight on the reins and kick the horse. An inexperienced rider will hang on with the reins. This is what it was found the claimant had done. As a result, the horse reared and threw her to the ground behind him. The horse then fell back onto the claimant.
Taking section 2 (2) of the 1971 Animals Act part by part, the Judge at first instance ruled, and the Court of Appeal agreed, all three parts were satisfied:
(a) The damage was of the kind which the animal, unless restrained was likely to cause or which, if caused by the animal was likely to be severe.
The Judges found this easy to deal with as a horse that rears and sends someone onto a tarmac road is likely to cause severe injury and even more so when the horse falls backwards onto the rider.
(b) The likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances.
The Judge found that the particular time and circumstance was when a horse does not want to go forward and has an unskilful rider who does not give proper handling and confidence to the horse and consequently the horse rears.
The Court of Appeal made clear that the word “normally” in this context does not mean “usually”. It just means normal characteristics of the animal at a certain time and in a certain circumstance. Helpful expert evidence was given that this applied here by the defendant’s expert, Mr Mackie (and preferred to the claimant’s expert Mr Meade).
(c) Those characteristics were known to that keeper.
The Court of Appeal emphasised that you do not have to have constructive or actual knowledge of the animal in question doing the same act before. You need only know that horses in general tend to do this in certain times.
The Court of Appeal said the House of Lords’ leading case of Mirvahedy -v- Henley showed that, when a horse does something unprecedented (in that case bolting when spooked), you need not show it had done it before but only that it was a general characteristic of horses in certain circumstances. The stable keeper did not have to have more particular knowledge than this if aware of the general characteristics.
The Court of Appeal upheld the Judgment.