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Are horses vicious?

A court case in Connecticut suggest that horses are dangerous, but a new bill in the General Assembly states otherwise.

February 13, 2014

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When most people think of vicious animals, they might picture alligators, grizzly bears or attack dogs. Horses don't typically make the list. But the plaintiffs in a court case in Connecticut want to have the entire species classified as "vicious" and "naturally inclined to do mischief" in that state.

Boy and Pony
Is this child in danger? A lawsuit in Connecticut suggests that he is because of the vicious animal next to him.


The case centers on an incident at Glendale Farms, a commercial farm that has a greenhouse and boarding stable. The incident occurred nearly eight years ago, but the case has shuffled through the court system ever since.

  • On May 18, 2006, Anthony Vendrella, a customer of the greenhouse, brought his two-year-old son to a paddock behind the store to see the horses. One horse, named Scuppy, reached his head over the fence and bit the boy on the face, taking a substantial chunk of skin which ultimately required surgery and left a permanent scar.

  • In 2008, the father sued Timothy Astriab, whose family owns Glendale Farms. In 2010, the court ruled in favor of the defendant (the farm owner.)

  • The father appealed, and in 2012 the Appellate court reversed the lower court's decision.

  • The case went to the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments from both sides in September of 2013. The court's decision could take up to six months or even more.

According to court documents:

The plaintiffs filed an opposition to the motion for summary judgment in the spring of 2010, in which they argued that "a horse, by its very nature, is capable of biting someone without provocation or predisposition, and that this was known to the defendants." The affidavit of Bradley W. Amery, a Doctor of veterinary medicine, was filed in support thereof and contained a detailed explanation as to a horse’s propensity to bite…In his deposition testimony, Astriab…acknowledged that a horse, by its very nature, could harm a person who attempts to pet or feed them.

Scuppy himself had no known history of biting or attacking people. Astriab repeatedly testified that Scuppy was a typical horse, and that statement led to the potential classification of horses as "vicious animals" in Connecticut. If Scuppy isn't an exceptional horse and was simply behaving in a way any horse could be expected to behave, then all horses must be vicious. At least that appeared to be the stance taken by the plaintiff.

What would it mean if the state of Connecticut classifies horses as inherently vicious? The Connecticut Horse Council states:

"Please understand that if horses are determined to be "vicious animals," they would be uninsurable and any and all uses would be affected. Training and boarding stables, therapeutic riding, horse camps, petting zoos, trail riding, and other horse-related uses and activities would be impacted."

Presently, no state classifies horses as vicious animals.

There is good news for the Connecticut equine community. Last week, a bill was introduced in the state's general assembly that clarifies that horses and other equines are domesticated animals and not inherently dangerous. If passed, the bill could protect Connecticut's horse industry from far-reaching consequences of this type of lawsuit. The text of the bill states:

Section 1. (NEW) (Effective from passage) (a) In any civil action brought against the owner of any horse, pony, donkey or mule to recover damages for any personal injury allegedly caused by such horse, pony, donkey or mule there shall be a presumption that such horse, pony, donkey or mule is domesticated, is not inherently dangerous and does not possess a vicious propensity. Such presumption may be rebutted by evidence that such horse, pony, donkey or mule was not raised or kept by a person.

The bill, HB-5044, was referred to the Joint Committee on Environment on February 7.

Further Reading
Horses and the Law
Six Types of Equine Insurance

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Reader Comments

Hayley    Orlando, FL

6/28/2014 4:15:16 PM

Well it is the fathers fault for letting his 2 year old son go up to an unknown animal.

You don't need to know    above, DE

3/24/2014 9:25:52 AM

First you guys are all getting way to worked up on it being"all the handlers\own errs fault" Some horses are just that way. Probably a freak or fluke thing. No, horses should not be banned or dogs or cats,or whatever. Everyone should know the risk. Its your own discretion to pe the animals.

Stacylynn    Ashford, CT

2/14/2014 5:03:58 PM

holy cow! where to begin? there are so many reasons why this horse may have bit this kid. what happened to the law about inherent risk? what happened to common sense of the father that stuck his 2 yr old in front of a half-ton animal? the court says the owner needs to make a reasonable attempt to restrain the horse. it was behind a fence, it stayed behind the fence, why can't people take responsibility for their own actions? I can't even fathom the repercussions if they make this ruling.

Elizabeth    Hillsdale, MI

2/14/2014 4:18:37 PM

Besides the pending New York carriage horse ban, this is the second most stupidest case ever. Horses vicious animals!!? Come on. The kid and his father probably never ever saw, rode or even owned a horse and yet they wish the courts to tell us equine owners what to do!! While I do feel bad for the boy's scar and the expense of the surgery, where is the personal responsibility? It doesn't matter if it's a dog, cat, horse etc., when you pet it, whether it is your own or not you are taking a risk that you could get bit, kicked etc. (Not to blame anyone, but what if the horse displayed a poor attitude and it was petted anyways?) Personal responsibility, people!!

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