Ownership 101
Do I Need Insurance?

“To insure or not to insure” is a question faced by all Thoroughbred owners. The overview below of the various types of insurance that can be acquired. This material is provided courtesy of Kirk Horse Insurance.

One good reason for you to purchase insurance is that it is priced very competitively and closely tracks what loss experience you are going to have whether you are insured or not. Instead of being subject to the vagaries of Mother Nature, buying insurance breaks down the loss factor into predictable increments. In a sense, it is a useful planning device to ensure that you budget for the inevitable horses that die or foals that don’t get born.

But, the best reason to insure is that Mother Nature is very unpredictable, at least during the short term. Even the best cared-for horses sometimes die just when they are reaching their peak value. A partial listing of just the most famous and expensive horses which died between 2001 and 2004 is attached as Appendix A. This doesn’t begin to cover all the “ordinary” $250,000 and $500,000 horses which died.

As a horse owner you should also protect yourself from the unpredictable nature of horses who without warning may cause injury, death or property damage to a third party.

Horse Owners Liability is insurance that covers injury or damage to persons or property caused by the horse. It is the equine equivalent of product liability or medical malpractice coverage. Some people assume they are covered for this in their homeowner’s policy, but homeowner policies almost always exclude “commercial pursuits” from coverage. So, any obvious commercial horse activity, such as a racing stable or show horse operation, would not be covered.

Insurance experts consider this form of insurance really mandatory for a horse owner as without it, your entire net worth might be at risk if your horse accidentally injured or killed someone. In today’s litigious society, you could be sued for negligence and, even if the case is ultimately decided in your favor, the legal expenses of defending yourself could be sizable. Most Owner Liability policies will cover any damages you might be liable for and your legal expenses.

Horse Owners Liability Coverage is a standard part of a Farm-owner policy. If you don’t have a large enough operation to justify a Farm-owner policy, you can purchase coverage through a Private Horse Owners Liability policy. The cost for $1,000,000 of liability coverage is currently $95 per horse, with a $190 minimum policy premium.

A Horse Owners Liability policy typically does not cover injuries to employees of the horse owner who care for the horses. A Workers’ Compensation policy will be needed for such coverage.

A Horse Owners Liability policy also does not typically cover damages to horses boarded for other owners which are under your care, custody and control. There is specialized coverage for that exposure and the cost depends on the number of horses being boarded and their values. For example, if you board twenty (20) horses owned by others and the most valuable of the horses is $200,000 or less, you could probably get $500,000 in Care Custody and Control coverage for about $1,650 per year. If the maximum value of any one horse was $50,000 or less, the premium for this same number of horses would likely drop to approximately $825 for $250,000 total coverage.

Anyone who has paid veterinary bills can appreciate how easy Major Medical insurance is to sell. This relatively inexpensive type of coverage is widely used for show horses and for racehorses which have been retired to breeding. It is usually not offered for horses being used for racing because of the rigors of training. Typically, the cost of $10,000 of Major Medical coverage is about $275 per year per horse.

It is very important to compare Major Medical policies to determine what veterinary procedures are covered. Some companies take the position that only life-threatening conditions are covered, and, oftentimes, the diagnostic work-up to determine whether it is life-threatening may end up not being covered.

The types of coverage which involve the most premium dollars are mortality and fertility insurance which fall in the category of “discretionary purchases”. That is because the typical horse owner is usually wealthy enough to self-insure if the cost of the insurance isn’t fair. In effect, this competition from self-insurance is what has always kept the horse mortality and fertility market very competitive.

There are two broad types of coverage against death of the horse.

  • Specified Perils (Fire, Lightning, Transportation, and Windstorm) coverage starts as soon as coverage is bound — examination of the horse is not required. It costs between ½% and 1% of the horse’s value. It does NOT cover the most frequent causes of death – colic, other sicknesses, diseases or injuries.
  • All Risks (or “Full”) Mortality covers most causes of death and the premium rate is usually about 3% to 5% per year. So, a $100,000 yearling would cost about $3,000 per year to insure. Larger stables often use an “annual aggregate deductible” approach which gets the premium rate down to the 1.5% to 2% range. The deductible is normally about 2% of the total insured value on the policy.

Full Mortality coverage usually requires a veterinary examination to prove the horse is in good health prior to inception of coverage. Vet exams are frequently waived for horses insured at “fall-of-the-hammer” at public auction (based on the premise that a buyer has had a more extensive “pre-purchase” exam done by a veterinarian prior to bidding on the horse).

Veterinarians should not delay completing an insurance exam pending a horse’s recovery from a sickness or injury. There is some debate between veterinarians and underwriters as to whose job it is to determine if a horse is insurable. It is not really the veterinarian’s job, although some still believe it is. The veterinarian’s role is to use his/her expertise to accurately evaluate and report on the horse’s health. It is then the underwriter who ultimately must decide whether the condition is acceptable. Naturally, opinions differ among underwriters.

Renewability – Most companies require evidence of good health (via an updated veterinary exam) prior to each annual policy renewal. If a horse is sick or injured at renewal, the companies will provide an “extension of coverage” for 30 days to 1 year (depending on the extent of coverage purchased by the horse owner). If the horse dies during the extension period as a direct result of the sickness or injury previously reported, a claim is typically honored (assuming proper veterinary care was provided).

If the horse is still alive at the end of the extension period, there are typically three options:

  1. terminate coverage;
  2. continue coverage at a higher premium rate that reflects the increased risk; or
  3. continue coverage with an exclusion for the (now) pre-existing condition.

Higher valued horses are generally scrutinized more carefully before coverage is renewed if the horse has become impaired.

Some insurance policies contain a “Guaranteed Renewable” provision (without any veterinary exam requirement) for horses up to 14 years of age. The company specifically agrees to continue coverage at standard rates regardless of the horse’s health. After age 14, renewal is subject to an acceptable veterinary exam just like most other companies.

“Actual Cash Value” vs. Agreed Value – Many companies have an “actual cash value” type of coverage, whereby they reserve the right to pay the “actual cash value” (as they determine it) immediately prior to the injury or sickness that leads to death. Racehorse values fluctuate constantly depending on recent “form”. Even the value of a broodmare can change sharply depending on the stallion to which she has been bred (and whether she is in foal or has aborted), and based on whether the mare has an early or late “last service date”.

A policy with Agreed Value is superior to an Actual Cash Value policy. There is no extra charge to have an Agreed Value policy vs. an Actual Cash Value, you just need to request it in the beginning and you and the insurance company need to come to a value. If the horse has previously been insured for its full value and the value declines, a new value can be negotiated. Usually the insured will initiate a reduction in value before the insurance company even notices the horse has declined in value. Most people are not looking to over insure their horses and want the premium refund that will result from a reduction in coverage.

Fall-of-the-Hammer insurance is not a separate type of insurance, just a term used to describe the point in time that your mortality insurance coverage begins when you purchase a horse at public auction. For owners that already have policy in place they can have it set up to automatically add horses purchased at public auction “at the fall of the hammer” which is when, per terms of sale, most auctions companies dictates ownership transfers from the seller to the buyer. For those without an existing policy you need to establish one up prior to the sale you plan on purchasing from.

It is important to be aware of this simple yet very important clause because sales are a stressful hectic places. Your new purchase could become injured walking back to the barn after it leaves the sale ring, or loading on the van to leave the sales grounds or it could fall ill shortly after purchase. If you plan on insuring your new purchases make sure you have “fall of the hammer” instructions on your insurance policy.

The value of horses purchased at public auction are usually based on the purchase price or RNA price.

Vet exams are usually waived for horses insured at “fall-of-the-hammer” at public auction based on the premise that a buyer has had a more extensive “pre-purchase” exam done by a veterinarian prior to bidding on the horse.

Yearling Insurance is a special pricing of mortality insurance for yearlings only and can be purchased on a 12 month plan that can prove economical during the first year of ownership for sales yearlings before your horse actually races. If a yearling purchased in the fall makes its first start in June of its 2yr-old year, it would still be covered under the yearling rate.

These policies are full mortality plans and typically cover losses due to accidental injury, illness, or disease, or you can opt for non-comprehensive coverage and address specific risks such as fire or transportation. Plans may also include coverage for colic surgery or other emergencies.

It’s the most economical premium rate there is. The premium rate for a yearling is about two-thirds the rate of an already racing horse. If you buy full mortality coverage on a yearling/potential racehorse, and that horse begins racing before the fall of the following year, then you’re enjoying the benefits of the policy at a much-reduced rate.

Stallion seasons are usually purchased on either a “live foal” (LF) or “no-guarantee” (NG) basis. With a NG season, the purchaser bears all the risk of his mare failing to conceive or produce a live foal. In fact, even if the stallion dies before ever covering the mare, the NG season owner is usually not entitled to any refund.

There are different versions of LF contracts, but the common thread in all is that the purchaser gets his/her money back (or does not have to pay it in the first place) if his/her mare does not produce a LF which can “stand and nurse”.

An NG season is typically sold for much less than a LF season. If the discount is great enough, it could save you money if you purchase the NG season and use an insurance policy to convert it to the equivalent of a LF contract.

This can be done via what we call a Conception and Prospective Foal (C & PF) policy.

With the use of insurance, the NG contract can actually be made superior to the LF contract. This is because the LF guarantee in a LF contract is usually not transferable if the mare is sold. In fact, there are some LF contracts that terminate the LF guarantee as soon as the mare shows up in a catalog for a public auction. In contrast, if you have purchased a NG season and used insurance to guarantee that a live foal will be produced, the coverage can be transferred to a new owner. Obviously, this could be an inducement for the prospective new owner to pay a higher amount for the mare.

Alternatively, as the original owner of the mare, you could simply request termination of the insurance policy once the mare has been sold. In this case, you would be entitled to a refund for the unused portion of the insurance coverage.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of mortality coverage during an air shipment between different countries. Some policies provide coverage only for death during the transit, due, for example, to a crash. Other, more suitable, policies also provided coverage for illnesses contracted during shipment which lead to death after the transit is completed.

In order to reduce the risk of disease transmission, almost all countries have quarantine requirements for newly arrived animals. Our USDA has certain blood tests that must be performed during quarantine which must be passed before an animal is released for permanent entry in to the USA. It is possible to purchase insurance to protect against a horse being denied entry into a country (called Frustration of Import coverage).

Whoever wins the draw in a claiming race is completely liable for the horse they are claiming as of the instant it leaves the starting gate. If the horse has to be destroyed as a result of injuries sustained in the race (within 24 hours or 48 hours, depending on the terms of your policy and with cause confirmed by two licensed racetrack veterinarians), the claiming owner must still buy the “dead” horse for the pre-agreed claiming price, and even pay the expense of having it removed from the racetrack. In terms of insurance, there is nothing “automatic” or even probable about reimbursement in this case. IF you already have a horse (or horses) at that track which are covered by an annual policy, ask your broker whether or not your policy extends to other horses you may suddenly acquire (i.e., claim). If not, you may want to take out Claiming insurance before you enter a claim on a new horse. One problem: you may not be able to get it. Claiming insurance is the loss-leader in equine insurance. It is extended only as an accommodation to owners with large stables already insured, or to trainers with good histories and good relationships with the insurance carriers. IF you can land Claiming insurance, it will cost only .85% to 1% of the claiming price listed for the horse (obviously, a good investment). How Premium Rates Are Determined.

Underwriters develop rate tables by charting historical trends and these are the rates filed with the various State Insurance Departments. But, in the final analysis, competitive pressures in their rawest form often forge rates. For example, from 1986 to 2002, rates for horse insurance were under considerable downward pressure and many companies consistently lost money. Some experts believe there were simply too many companies wanting to write horse insurance. It took the combined onslaught of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome in 2001 and 2002, numerous and huge Stallion losses all over the world, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the collective D&O coverage debacles at Enron, Tyco and World Com to turn things around. There were no less than six MAJOR markets for horse insurance that ceased writing coverage between 2001 and 2004. In addition, most underwriters at Lloyd’s cut back on their maximum exposure per horse during this same period.

One of the most frequent mortality insurance disputes arises because the owner fails to provide proper notice of sickness or injury to one of their horses. Insurance carriers almost always require immediate notice of life-threatening injuries or sickness. Generally, it is not a valid defense that the owner was unaware of the condition requiring notice. It is the owner’s obligation to inform the people taking care of their horses that they are insured, and that the insurance company must be called immediately if the horse is sick or injured. The reason insurance companies are very sensitive to this provision is that they want to be certain that proper (and sufficient) veterinary care is being provided.

What constitutes “immediate notice” depends somewhat on the severity of the problem, but is generally in terms of minutes or hours rather than days

One rule of thumb on what is a “life-threatening” condition is any condition where the veterinarian cannot reasonably give assurance that the condition is not and likely will not be life threatening.

Another possible coverage dispute arises if a horse is transported to another country without informing the insurance company. Most mortality policies have a defined coverage territory and if the horse is transported to a different country, the owner must notify the insurance carrier, and perhaps be subject to an additional premium. After all, the hazards one might face in Iraq might be a bit greater than Lexington, Kentucky.

Some insurance brokers go to great lengths to stress the difference between themselves and insurance agents. Technically, a broker represents only the customer and is supposed to have access to many different insurance companies, whereas an agent is thought to represent the insurance company’s interests.

The fact of the matter is most of the leading horse insurance agents now represent multiple companies. The agents find this is a competitive necessity, and they routinely get quotations from two or more companies before making a recommendation to their client.

The Lloyd’s of London “market” is actually made up of about nine underwriting “entities”. The entity may be an insurance company such as XL Capital or the Lexington Insurance Company (a division of AIG) or they can be syndicates which issue coverage only under the Lloyd’s of London banner. Each of the nine entities at Lloyd’s has a maximum capacity per individual horse depending on their financial backing and appetite for risk.

Every admitted company must file their premium rates and policy forms in compliance with the Insurance Department regulations in each state where they transact business. Premium rates vary by age and use of the horse. For example, a horse currently racing commands a premium rate of roughly 4.5 – 5.5%, whereas the rate for a young broodmare, stallion, or yearling is about 3.25%. Some leeway in rates is generally permitted by the company’s rate filing. The simplest example of this is a volume discount for large amounts of coverage. In addition, each underwriter will generally have his own view as to which category of horses offers the best profit potential and will tend to be more “receptive” to horses in those categories. Since there are only a relative handful of underwriters, the better agents know the type of risk each underwriter prefers and will direct his business accordingly. For example, underwriters who have had a long and profitable association with a particular farm may be extra competitive for any client who boards at that farm, even if the client might not qualify on his own for a volume discount.

Underwriters at Lloyd’s can choose to work together on a particularly high valued horse, or group of horses, or they can choose to compete with one another just like they would do against an American company. Some underwriters prefer to go it alone, or at least be the “lead underwriter” (and, typically, take the largest share of the exposure) even when they are working in cooperation. Others prefer the exact opposite and almost never take the lead. Some Lloyd’s brokers, however, will occasionally bypass the agents and deal directly with the retail customer.

The two largest American companies insuring horses are North American Specialty Insurance Company (Swiss Re Group) and Great American Insurance Company.