Britons are a nation of horse lovers, but the associated costs do not come cheap. While you may dote on your horse, you may also be looking for ways to keep costs down.
If you are trying to keep a lid on expenses, one area where you can’t afford to economise is equine insurance. Horse insurance offers cover for the unexpected and could save you some heartache should the worst happen. Here’s a closer look at what it covers and how to buy the best policy.
1. What is horse insurance?
Equine insurance will offer cover for death as a result of sickness, disease or injury. It will also cover loss by theft, or if your horse strays. This may include a sum for you to advertise or put up a reward for the safe return of your animal.
While these things are all helpful to have, one of the most important features of any horse insurance policy is likely to be cover for medical costs. Horse owners know all too well that if an animal becomes ill, looking after it can be very costly. Sophisticated veterinary procedures can be eye-wateringly expensive. Emergency surgery, for example for a colic operation, can easily cost several thousand pounds.
2. Public liability cover is vital
Aside from cover for vet fees, one of the other essential features included in an equine policy is public liability insurance.
You need this cover, also known as ‘third party cover’, in case a third party is injured by your horse, or in case your horse damages property, such as a car. While accidents may not be all that common, the cost of damages can potentially run into six figures.
If you are a member of an organisation such as the British Horse Society, you may already have third party insurance included as part of the membership fee. Third party cover may also be available through equestrian sport governing bodies, such as British Eventing and British Showjumping.
To avoid doubling up, check carefully before purchasing cover.
3. How to buy cover
The best way to buy horse insurance is by going online and comparing prices carefully. You can do this using a comparison site. Simply input your details, and you will be given a list of potential options.
You may find that insurers offer different types of insurance, such as a horse plan, a rider plan, and a dedicated plan for older horses. Resist the temptation to go for the cheapest option, as the most basic policies may offer inferior cover, or, may be riddled with exclusions (see below).
For peace of mind, it’s likely to be worth paying a bit more for more extensive cover.
4. How much cover do I need?
When buying equine insurance, you need to think carefully about the cover you need. As a guide, you should look to have around £6,000 for theft and death, and around £2m for public liability (some insurers offer up to £5m).
You should also look to cover your horse for vet fees up to around £5,000 for each unrelated incident, injury or illness. Always scour the Ts and Cs before parting with any cash to ensure you fully understand the level of cover you’re getting.
Be sure also to find out about the excess. That’s the amount you agree to pay towards any claim. Some insurers will charge a flat rate of, say, £250 or £500 for each condition, while others will charge a percentage of the claim. With the latter, as the cost of the claim goes up, so the amount you pay as an excess goes up. If in doubt, speak to the insurer to clarify before you buy.
5. How are premiums calculated?
The cost of horse insurance will vary considerably, but premiums are calculated based on a combination of factors including the horse’s age, breed, height, medical history and its intended use. Premiums will also depend on which optional extras you select as well as the level of cover required.
6. Watch out for exclusions
As with any type of insurance, policies can often be riddled with exclusions, so you need to check carefully to understand exactly what you are, and are not, covered for. For example, some policies will:
Not cover alternative or complementary therapies, such as physiotherapy, or will not cover the full cost of such treatments.
Place a cap on what you can spend on specific diagnostic treatments. For example, some policies will only meet 50% of an MRI scan. Always read the small print before agreeing to any procedure for your horse.
Place a limit on the amount you can claim per incident, or the total you can claim in a year.
Cover foals from as young as just 30 days (but not all will).
Not cover horses aged over 20 for illness.
7. What about pre-existing conditions?
If your horse has any pre-existing conditions, you must declare these to the insurer when applying for a policy. Typically, these will be excluded. Tempting as it may be to be dishonest, this could be a false economy. You could find out that further down the line your insurer turns down a claim you made – leaving you out of pocket.
8. Make sure your policy covers ‘intended use’
When buying horse insurance, it’s important to check the policy covers any activity the horse is likely to take part in such as hacking, local shows, gymkhanas, riding club events, show jumping, dressage and eventing.
Typically, a policy for a horse used mostly for gentle hacking will be a lot cheaper than a policy for a horse used regularly for eventing or hunting.
If you decide to take up a new activity, or start to compete at a higher level of, say, show jumping or dressage, you must inform your insurer, as you may need to upgrade. It’s important to get the appropriate level of cover.
9. Additional extras
With most equine policies, you will be allowed to build your own policy to suit your needs. You may be able to ‘bolt on’ a range of additional features, such as:
Personal accident cover for the rider (typically £10,000 or £20,000). This will pay out if you get injured while riding or suffer a permanent disability.·
Accidental damage to, or theft of, tack, saddlery or equipment.
Cover for your horse trailer if it is lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed.
Cover for stables.
Cover for ‘loss of use’. This may be helpful if, say, your horse gets injured and can no longer be ridden, but you still want to keep it as it’s in good health otherwise.
‘Veteran horse plan’. If your horse is approaching 20 years of age, you may be able to pay extra for dedicated cover. This typically covers your horse up to age 25, although some policies will offer cover up to 40 years.
Cover for disposal. This pays towards the cost of removing your horse’s body following death or euthanasia (typically around £200).
10. Get sufficient cover for tack and equipment
Given that claims for stolen tack and equipment could easily run into thousands of pounds, it’s important not to scrimp on cover.
As a guide, look to take out around £5,000 of cover for your saddlery and tack. Also be aware that insurers may stipulate that equipment is kept securely in a building locked with an approved lock.
11. What if I ride out from a livery?
If you do not own your horse or have a horse ‘on loan’, you may be able to get ‘rider-only’ cover.This is likely to include features such as third-party liability, personal accident, emergency vet fees and cover for riding equipment.
12. Tips to keep costs down
As equine insurance can be costly, it’s important to shop around at renewal time to find a new deal offering the best value for money.
Aim to insure your horse while it’s young, as costs are likely to be lower than when it’s older and more susceptible to illness and injury.
Consider opting for a higher excess. A higher excess can mean cheaper premiums, but you must ensure you can afford the excess to which you’ve agreed.
Try changing the level of vet fee cover. By lowering the ‘maximum per incident,’ you can reduce the premium. But make sure you’ve still got sufficient cover in place.
Opt to pay your premium upfront annually in a lump sum, as insurers can add interest to monthly instalments.
If you have more than one horse, you may get a discount for insuring them on the same policy. Typically this might be 10%.
13. Other questions to ask
How quickly are claims paid?
Do payments go directly to the vet? Or do you have to pay the vet and then claim a refund?