A rider who sued the owner of a ‘naughty’ horse that crushed her during a fox hunt has lost her £100,000 legal battle after a judge ruled the animal probably had a heart attack.
Lisa Ford suffered multiple fractures, including a smashed pelvis and internal injuries, when her horse reared up and fell backwards onto her while she was riding with the Beaufort Hunt in September 2018.
The Beaufort Hunt is one of the oldest and largest fox hunting packs in England and is based at the Duke’s 52,000-acre Badminton Estate in Gloucestershire – home of the famous horse trials, and the place where the game of badminton was invented in 1863.
Ms Ford, 41, a groom, sued her former employer, businessman Jonathan Seymour-Williams, 65, as the keeper of the horse she was riding when the accident happened.
She claimed she was injured when the horse, an experienced hunter named Tommy which Ms Ford cared for and regularly rode, reared up because he was ‘a hot horse’ who was ‘being naughty’.
Ms Ford insisted Mr Seymour-Williams should pay damages for her injuries because she had been riding Tommy as part of her job to prepare the horse for his son and daughter to ride out hunting later in the season.
But though he agreed she was working at the time of the accident, Judge Michael Kent QC threw her case out at London’s High Court today.
Lisa Ford sued the owner of a ‘naughty’ horse that crushed her during a fox hunt, but today lost her £100,000 legal battle after a judge ruled the animal probably had a heart attack
The rider, 41, from Badminton, Gloucestershire, suffered multiple fractures, when her horse Tommy reared up and fell backwards onto her while she was riding on the Badminton Estate
What is the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt?
The Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt, also known at the Beaufort Hunt, is one of the oldest fox hunting packs in England, whose hunting dates back to 1640.
Since then hounds have been systematically bred in Badminton for the sole purpose of hunting the foxes.
All the puppies bred by the hunt are put out to walk on farms from as young as six-weeks-old.
The hunting of deer and foxes was first led by the Marquess of Worcester during the 1600s but in 1762, Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort, decided to focus on fox hunting after an unsuccessful day hunting deer.
From this point onwards, Dukes of Beaufort have continued with the tradition and hunt on an area of land between Cirencester and Bath.
During the hunting season, the hunt will go out on four days of the week.
The current master is the 11th Duke, also called Henry Somerset.
He ruled that Tommy probably reared because he ‘suffered some catastrophic internal, probably cardiovascular, failure’ and that her employer could not have been expected to plan for such a freak mishap.
The court heard that Ms Ford, from Badminton, broke her pelvis in five places and suffered a fractured left hip socket, internal bleeding, nerve damage, as well as a psychiatric injury when Tommy ‘reared up’ and fell backward on her during the hunt meet on September 15, 2018.
After falling on Ms Ford, Tommy thrashed around before dying minutes later.
She sued under the Animals Act 1971, claiming that Tommy was ‘triggered’ into performing the dangerous act of rearing by ‘disobedience’.
And even if unbeknownst to the rider, the horse was ‘undergoing a catastrophic internal injury’ which led to his death after the fall, Mr Seymour-Williams – who is known as ‘Jonks’ – must take responsibility, her lawyers argued.
But Judge Kent found today that her employer was not to blame in those circumstances.
Giving his judgment, he said Ms Kent is a ‘very experienced horsewoman’ who had been riding since she was seven.
Describing the accident, he added: ‘After trotting into a field, Tommy suddenly stopped, stepping back or sideways but not going forward.
‘The claimant was encouraging him to move on with her legs and through the reins as well as with a light slap on the shoulder with a riding crop.
‘He then reared up to such an extent that he fell over backwards landing on top of the claimant.
Ms Ford, who cared for and regularly rode the horse, argued Mr Seymour-Williams must pay damages for her injuries as she had been riding Tommy as part of her job to prepare the horse for his son and daughter. Today though, a judge threw out her case
‘She remained trapped under him while he kicked and thrashed about. People came to help, including Richard Iddon, a very experienced horseman who runs a hunting yard, who said he thought the horse was having a heart attack and he sat on its head to try and hold it still to prevent it thrashing about and causing further injury to the claimant.
‘After about five or six minutes, the horse died’.
He found that Ms Kent ‘was indeed acting in the course of employment on 15 September when she was riding Tommy at the time of the accident and that that can be treated as being at the instruction of Mr Seymour-Williams.’
But he went on to say that her claim against him under the Animals Act must fail.
‘Why did Tommy rear and fall?’ asked the judge.
‘I have been presented with two alternative explanations: first that this was simply an instance of disobedience (or napping) on the part of Tommy.
‘The defendant’s case is that the probability is that Tommy reared in a panicked reaction to an internal event that may be described as a ‘heart attack’.
‘I need to resolve this factual dispute. Connected to its resolution is a question as to why the horse died within minutes of falling.
‘No post mortem examination was carried out on the horse.
Tommy thrashed around before dying and Ms Ford remained under the dead horse until an air ambulance arrived
‘In my view, the more probable reason was that Tommy suffered some catastrophic internal, probably cardiovascular, failure which did not cause an immediate collapse but was preceded by sufficient pain or discomfort to cause him to stop and then rear.
‘Therefore, although…a horse might rear in response to a catastrophic internal injury…this was not common knowledge even among experienced equestrians and it was not suggested that the defendant himself had some special knowledge of this phenomenon.
‘In the circumstances, although the claimant was acting in the course of her employment at the time of the accident, my findings do not enable her to satisfy the requirements of section 2 (2) of the Animals Act 1971 so as to impose strict liability on the defendant for her injuries and for that reason the claim fails,’ the judge concluded.